Monthly Archives: January 2014

Housebreaking a Puppy (or Likely a Rescued Adult Dog Too)


Hi there.

Charlie has been growing like a weed. He put on two pounds each week he’s been here and one time when I walked him for a pee break after a long nap, I was positive his legs had grown. His body continues to lengthen and he’s developed a waist.

We don’t know exactly when his birthday is, but the vet estimated when she first met him about three weeks ago that he was between eight and ten weeks of age.

So he’s been with us for almost three weeks and that would put him to almost three months old, which I feel is pretty close to where he is. If he continues at this rate, he will be about 25 pounds at about four months, which is the point when you double the weight to get a close guess of what his final weight will be. So, probably in the neighborhood of 50 pounds, which is where I was thinking.

Lots of people ask me about his breed. I have no clue other than to suggest that he’s a serious herder and his legs are showing that characteristic marbling that so many border collies possess. But specifics on his breed elude, so my son and I came up with one, but it’s in German, to sound exotic: he’s a verlassen Hund, which translates to “forsaken dog.” If you’re new to his story, please go here to read about his rescue; it’s a “page turner” and “an amazing story about heroism for our four-legged friends who have no where else to turn.” –Me.

But you didn’t come here to learn about him as much as you might’ve come to check out my housebreaking tip(s).

I’ve made many comparisons between our verlassen Hund, Charlie, and my six-year-old golden retriever, Murphy. Because Charlie was a rescue, who’d likely never seen a human until the night he was scooped up and placed in a hatchback, we’re working on his manners. These include:

  • Not snarling and snapping at anything that dares to give or take a toy or go near his food.
  • Not pissing and shitting wherever he feels like it.

I thought I’d have a longer list (and believe me, I do, but those two top it), so, that’s pretty much it. This is all new to me; rescue dogs, every dog I’ve ever had with my family has been a dog from a breeder and with them, you hope (at least) there’s lots of human interaction before the dog comes home.

Charlie, being a verlassen Hund, has a different aspect on all of this “training” business. To him, it’s all noise. “I shat. Where’s the treat?” is all he’s about.

I love training dogs though, so we’re doing lots of affirmative “clicker” training to help him understand when he’s doing something right and repeating it. When he does something that needs refining, we stay at it until he’s better.

The not-snarling thing is something that we’re learning (due to his lack of human interaction and my inkling on his breed, if he’s a Border Collie, he’s going to be a nipper genetically) needs to be performed in every area of the house / property — especially outdoors, because that’s where he was whelped and raised, along with repetition and reinforcement.

The housebreaking is going to be a little harder, and I’m coming to realize, it will also need to be performed in every area of the house as well. This is all given with the caveat that you’re crate training your dog for overnights and while you’re away; you’re not letting your dog sleep in his detritus, and that you’re taking him out several times a day to eliminate.

Here’s my tip: dogs don’t want to eat where they shit.

That’s it.

How do we fix this? How to we reinforce positive behavior? Two three ways:

  1. Feed them in every area of the house on the floor surface. That means put kibble down on the bare wood or tile or carpet and let your pup / untrained / rescue dog eat off that surface.
  2. Let them be with you in those areas of the house under supervision for several hours a day and play with them there and do training / tricks in there so that their scent joins your scent and they begin to understand that your home is one giant crate that they don’t want to shit in.
  3. When you take the dog outside to poop or pee, use the clicker when the dog is finished eliminating and immediately give a treat along with your specific praise for the act. In our house, we do this: Click, say “Good outside!” and give a treat along with a quick rub on the back of the dog.
This is Charlie learning to not shit where he eats. It will take some time, but it will be worth it.

This is Charlie learning to not shit where he eats. It will take some time, but it will be worth it.

For us, as a friend just said, Charlie spent likely seven to nine weeks without a human. It’s going to take at least that long for him to get this right. If he gets it right sooner, then he’s a genius and we should nominate him for a Peece Prize. I’m not placing any bets. It’s frustrating to walk into a room immediately after he pees outside for a treat and a smooch to encounter a warm puddle and his wee sparkly black eyes saying, “HI! I FEEL BETTER!”

Charlie is a great little guy; he’s like a clown. He greets us with kisses and wags his tail so hard I feel like it’s going to fall off one of these days. He is full of enthusiasm and genuine curiosity. He makes us all laugh. He is one grateful albeit mannerless verlassen Hund. Every time I walk in on him and Murphy playing, it’s like I’ve interrupted their scheming to overthrow the world.

… Just gotta get that “don’t shit where you eat” thing down and we’re off to the races. Or the cattle show.

Thank you.

I Have Two Teenagers Now. How to Stop the Madness.


My second son, Thing 2, turned 13 today.

For some reason, I’m not totally blown away by it. Probably because he has been prepping me for it for about 12 years.

I don’t like to really write about my kids on my blog; I like to write of them; there is a distinction. My children have their own stories to tell and I don’t ever want this blog to be a reason why they would feel exploited or have them be the pedestal or shoulder upon which I stand to be seen, heard, noticed.

I write to my dear second son, who is so unique and special in our family.

Dear Thing 2,

The world is in a state of flux. In your lifetime’s small window terrorists have attacked our country and we theirs; we have been in a war as long as you’ve been alive and more and more people are dying of gunshot in public places. Just yesterday horror struck a shopping mall not an hour from where we live. The day before that, three teenagers who were minding their own business walking alongside the road were struck down by drivers who were bent on drag racing in the middle of the day on a busy suburban street; they too lived in Maryland.

I think about the world I am leaving you. I have a long time to go before I leave you, as far as I’m concerned, but I still wish things were simpler.

This is sounding rather depressing, isn’t it? Well, I don’t mean it to sound so sad. Despite what I say, research has shown, somewhere (and statistics can always be shown in one light or another to benefit someone) this is the least-dangerous time in recorded humanity. Piffle.

What I want it to do is to remind you that when all the world has lost its shit (I can say that to you now), that you can stop the madness. You have a light inside you, dear one, that can bring you peace and that can make people smile. You can be and already are a beautiful human being. Friends will come and they will go. Don’t try to save a friendship that has done all it can; learn the lessons you can from it and thank it for enriching your life. Romances fade; love is eternal. Stick with your God-given talents; they will take you far and will always be there for you.

I think about the day you were born. I can’t help it on a day like today: it’s cold out like it was then. The sky is confused. The sun shines behind me but I see gray skies behind the bare trees which stand so tall outside the windows of our cozy house on our little street. This is the first place you’ve ever lived. This is the only place you’ve ever lived.

When you were born, you almost flew out of me you were so ready. I know, “ew, MOM, DON’T…. UCH…” but I will. You were one eager son-of-a-gun. The doctors caught you, just in time, and immediately, you started to howl and curl your tiny body. You were so strong, and so fierce. You reminded me of rope that sits on a dock beside an ocean liner. Your voice, full and real and sweet was so alive, so strong that there was no doubt that you would not only make it, but that your passion would be the biggest part of you. It’s ok though — you are a soul, just like I am and just like everyone else is — and you were just trying to find your way then, as you are now.

Your skin is gorgeous and smooth. Your eyes are bright like copper pennies and your love you wear on your sleeve. Your smile is ready and your kindness knows no bounds. Your imagination gets you into trouble on this one-dimensional world; be sure to keep it alive but also try to tolerate we less-evolved persons who inhabit your planet. Owning our shortcomings makes us bigger people.

You move like a cheetah on the soccer pitch. When you think no one is listening, I hear you sing with passion and a sense of tender gentleness that I didn’t think your body possessed because you live so largely and you feel all your feelings.

The world is a crazy place, young Thing 2. Being 13 just means you’re going to hear more about it, but don’t let it get you down. Do what I do: go inside your beautiful head, say a few prayers for the crazy in the world and then go out and make people smile. Tell a joke, make a friend, sing a song, dress like Batman for no reason and wave at the cars passing by; do the things you already do. Don’t listen to those who want to bring you down to meet them. 

I realize now that what I think is an education is actually a burden for you. Your brain is not wired the way the school system thinks it should be. You are still that piece of rope on the dock — you have so much energy inside you that I know, when you set your mind to something, you will achieve it. Just make sure it’s legal and ethical. That’s all I ask.

Cure cancer. Bring an end to poverty but keep capitalism alive. Make a video which makes people laugh. Write a song that brings people to their feet or to their knees. Keep it real. Be real. Keep evolving, never stop growing and learning.

There’s a song I love. John Mayer’s “Stop this Train.” It’s all about life going too fast. On days like today, when you, my middle child begins his teenage years, I want only to jump on the tracks and stop the train.

I am left with only one more son to hit his teenage years and then that’s all we’ve got… besides new puppies and marriages and babies you might make, this is what I have to look forward to in terms of my engagement as a mother on this planet. It’s not that I’m sad, it’s that I want you to live your life so fully, Thing 2, that I want all your fears removed and when you kick them to the curb, I want to take them and put them in a black velvet bag, stomp on it and push it into a cannon, the old-fashioned kind they have on Bugs Bunny versus Yosemite Sam cartoons and light the fuse and shoot it toward the moon, where Marvin the Martian, like on your hat, can vaporize it with his Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator before it gets there.

I love you Thing 2. Never stop being you.


Thank you.

Charlie’s Story — 5: The Finalé “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words” #photography #humanitarianism #heroes #dogs #rescue


Here are some pictures from the rescue site, of Mini on her own the day before the reunion and of the reunion and the ride home.

If you’re just catching this post now and you haven’t read any of their story, please start here at “Something About Mini.”

This is Mini on Thursday Morning, January 2, safe and sound in Maryland, but definitely needing some nursing pups.

This is Mini on Thursday Morning, January 2, safe and sound in Maryland, but definitely needing some nursing pups. (I said I wasn’t going to say anything in this post, but I have to say this. Call me a weirdo, but Mini looks distracted here. If you compare her to the later images after her pups’ rescue, she just seems … content later.)

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Ahhh! Charlie and Tip.

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Charlie and Tip preparing for the ride home in a nice warm jacket. They look so tired and dare I anthropomorphize again and suggest: relieved??

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All Dogs In The Caaaaar! Annnnd, they’re out. I think that’s Charlie’s butt on the far right, I can see some of his brown wool.

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Um. Yeah. This is where they were lived and from where they were rescued. Here’s me… I’m thinking while I’m imagining this story, and before seeing these images, “trailer” “ramshackle” “dilapidated” and “fixer-upper.” It never occurred to me that upon the countless properties I’ve driven past in my lifetime which resemble this image, that anything, six anythings in fact, could be living in them. This whole thing brings a new perspective to me.

Roof, anyone?

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Believe it or not, this is a different view. All this cozy homesteading can be yours for the low, low price of … your soul.

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Over here, we have a lovely al fresco dining nook, complete with convenient trash depository area. When I saw these pictures, all I thought was “crack den” and feared “loose needles…”
Amy … Michele … holy canoli. You are heroes!

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Amy captioned this one, “The beginning of the tunnel under the foundation.” I think this is where she started digging. With her bare hands. At night. In 28˚ and falling temps.

this is where they were found. this is the hole Amy dug.

this is where they were found. this is the hole Amy dug.

Amy is a photographer. These next pics are so lovely. This is the ease I was suggesting earlier in Mini’s disposition.

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Amy and Michele — I remain speechless and humbled by your commitment. Thank you Thank you Thank you.

Several readers have asked me if the dogs have all been placed. Yes. All the dogs have been placed. Everyone’s heart just grew that much bigger…

Thank you.

ps — all of these images are copyright of and appear courtesy of Amy Santiago, (c) 2014.

Charlie’s Story — 4: “Who Wants to Go Car?” #dogs #rescue #heroes


So I told you all that the women who rescued Charlie and his mom, Mini and his sibs Freckles, Tip, Drama and Sleepy were named Annie and Mandi. I also told you those names were fake, because I didn’t want to disclose their names without their permission. I received permission. Annie is really Amy and Mandi is really Michele.

If you’re new here, please go to the first installment of this story. You’ll be glad you did.

When we last left Amy and Michele, Amy was desperately and exhaustedly trying to get Freckles from the teardown. It was terribly late, cold and she was soaked. She was calling in a favor, so to speak… Just not with the use of a phone. Those of you who have a sense of intuition and familiarity with channeling your friends as models in various moments will completely understand when Amy said, “My friend Margo is an animal catcher extraordinaire. She can get cats out from when they’re stuck between walls and other situations and so I just summoned her. You just need to go for it and see what happens. I feel like that’s what you need to do when you catch animals.”

“I’m not a natural animal-catching type person, but I thought of Margo and I just shoved my hand through the hole … and he started licking me. But the hole wasn’t big enough for the puppy and the puppy was too scared to come out. So for the longest time I would sit there and put my hand in and pull it out slowly, but he wouldn’t come out. He was the most stubborn … So again, I summoned Margo. I put my hand in and grabbed as much fur as I could just yanked as hard as I could against the hole and … he came out.”

“And then, he was just a little puppy! He still backed away and you couldn’t touch him without him flinching, but he was out, and fine, healthy and wonderful.”

Here’s me: Amy, you are officially an animal-catching type person now. Well done!

The seven-hour saga was over. Finally. There wasn’t a sixth puppy that they could discern, and it seemed as though everyone was where they needed to be.

It was after 3:00am.

After this, Amy and Michele, took Mini and her puppies to the nearby Days Inn hotel where they ate bologna and bread, probably their first solid food ever, and stayed until morning. No one slept though. The puppies spent a good deal of what was left of the predawn darkness screaming at the walls.

“I had made the error of telling someone at another hotel that we had rescued these puppies and they told me we were going to have to pay for any mess, so we left and went to the Days Inn… and we didn’t tell them about the puppies,” Amy said.

Although sleep was a nice idea, the fact is that no one was really able. The adrenaline rush from finally getting all the dogs out safely and then watch them eat bologna and bread was all Amy and Michele could ask for. “We just sat together on the floor for like a really long time, and watched them just be alive, and then we tried to sleep.”

“When we eventually woke up in the morning, the pup we named Sleepy, was the only one who was still asleep after everyone work up. Before that she was nameless, but then that seemed to work for her, since she was still asleep.”

So before heading home, for Maryland, Amy and Michele went back to the site in the daytime to make sure, absolutely sure that there wasn’t a sixth puppy and to try to get the male dog who was with Mini earlier. I know you guys were likely wondering… But they went back. They could see in the daylight that this wasn’t a trailer park at all. It was just three trailers, one that was absolutely decrepit, the one where the dogs were and the one where the kind woman lived and another abandoned one.

“We had a long conversation with the woman’s found out that there are all sorts of dogs that go through there. There’s one with a curly tail and another one — a bunch of other strays that come in and out of there who eat the leftover good she puts out. And so we tried to get the dad, by leaving food and Mini out, but she was food-aggressive against him, so that wasn’t going to work out because she ran him off from the perimeter of the car. So then, there was just no way. If Mini wasn’t on board, there was no way we’d be able to get him in the car with us. But we stayed there a few hours and then we went and spoke with some cops and see if they could help us. We were there a while trying to work that out.” It was hard to leave them all behind.

Amy told me that when they were ready to leave to head back home and call it a day and a half, they laid out the blankets in the back of the car and the dogs all laid together as a group. “But for at least a half hour to an hour, the dogs were screaming and yelping and howling in the back of the car. Michele and I, we just laughed.”

What else can you do? I like to think they were singing. That’s easy enough for me to say… I wasn’t in the car.

After dropping off Michele and a few of the pups with her at her home, Charlie among them, Amy finally headed home to her own house, “completely unprepared” to have a bunch of puppies stay with her.

Still, a little reminder: this was three days after they first found Mini and then two days before the first Polar Vortex. We just had the second Polar Vortex hit yesterday here; with snow this time. I am loathe to think of how the dogs would have fared during this second hit were they not spared from the first one.

So our conversation went on and we talked about the dogs and how they are all doing, and how they were adjusting to their new lives without one another and without the trailer and their new open spaces and families.

It seems that everyone is doing well.  I’ve written about Charlie here on the blog already, comparing his feisty, scrappy ways to the regal and more poised affectation of my gorgeous thoroughbred Murphy, for whom I wanted Charlie to be a friend. It was hard for me, bringing in this new dog, and unknown breed and unknown story. To trust him with my golden boy, was going to be asking a lot, and trusting Murphy to be kind to him and to not be mean. I felt in no small way that I was betraying Murph. That I was bringing home another baby to my first-grade son, because in effect, that was what I was doing. I told Amy about how Murphy has returned to us, how he’s come out from his hiding. I didn’t know it would’ve worked and I’m so happy it did.

I told Amy that I see myself as the person who gets to have Charlie, rather than as the dog that belongs to me. I’ve considered these animals, even before I met Charlie, as everyone’s dogs, because they were born without anyone, and it’s humanity’s job, as a whole to look out for its fellow man as much as it is to look after its fellow mammals and earth. Granted, Charlie is “ours” and my sons are in love with him, but the relationship between him and Murphy is what this is really about. They get along beautifully pretty well.  Murphy can appeal for respite any time he likes by going up the 14 stairs that lead to the upper level; this is something Charlie has never considered.

Charlie cries in his crate still, when we put him in it each night at bedtime, and Murphy walks on by, with a satisfied air, knowing he has paid his dues. Charlie sounds like Robert DeNiro in the closing scenes of “Cape Fear” when DeNiro goes down with the sinking riverboat, attached by handcuffs as it was slowly swallowed by the churning water amidst a torrential downpour in some backwater North Carolina backwater. It’s a scene I’ll never ever forget, because DeNiro knew he was going to die and he was crying out scripture in English and in tongues, mixed with some odd southern twangy Cajun, “blahdebla God will not forsake me… bluudobloodo blodo judgement is mine… Thus sayeth The Lord… glaalabalaggagh bloodooblotablaaah… Counselor!”

He quiets down now, much sooner than his first nights here, in a few minutes. He is safe, in his little crate with his wooba toy, his wrestling towel, a little nylabone and a bacon sock (a Molly original — it’s an old sock tied in a knot with some bacon oil on it for good measure). He loves it. He loves it all. Sometimes he will take a toy of Murphy’s and then Murphy will return the favor.

In other areas of the house, he has a little day care area:

charlie zone.

charlie zone.

I’ve tied a plush squeaky toy bone to a long string which is attached to a door knob leading from the kitchen to the dining room. When he pulls on that toy, he keeps himself detained in the kitchen, which is pretty ingenious if I do say so myself.

Murphy is showing interest in his own toys again. When I write, they are behind me in the doorway between the playroom and this office. Murphy used to lie at my feet, but now he’s got Charlie to play with. Sometimes all I hear are snorts and teeth clashing followed by the occasional toy squeak and tiny pounce of 15# paws on a carpet.

Charlie has lived with us a week now, longer than any other human family on earth. He has put on almost one and one-half pounds since his arrival. He goes on a daily six-fireplug tour, which lasts about 15-20 minutes, depending on how often he decides he’s done with the walk. Then after that, he and Murphy play the leash-a-lympics. He greets his humans at the door with a happy wagging tail and a measure of enthusiasm that should be harnessed to power small homes. He smiles up at you, giving you the sense that he is really super glad to be alive.

We feel blessed to be a part of this little brood’s legacy. Charlie is one of a kind. You can’t go to a breeder and ask for a Charlie from Mini. That’s what’s great about mutts; they break the mold with each incarnation.

Thank you Amy and Michele.

Today, I am feeling sympathy for the wife of Noah (Ark). I’ve got four animals and 11 fish in my house. The animals can’t go outside for long because it’s 7˚ out with wind chills of -10˚.

there's a dog in my son's hands. he's so dark, you can't see him.

there’s a dog in my son’s hands. he’s so dark, you can’t see him, but you can make out his paws and the tip of his nose.

I’ll be writing more about Charlie and Murphy and the cats who pretend the dogs aren’t here. Please do come back tomorrow to see some amazing photos from the rescue site. I don’t want to plug them in here because words fail and because I saw them after I finished this post. Suffice it to say, I believe they warrant some form of award to Amy and Michele for their over-the-top efforts to rescue these dogs. (It’s also a pain in the butt to insert photos into posts.)

Thank you.