To the girl who started it all, the one who fit the missing space in our family, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love you.
You are magic. Your presence has changed our family for the better since the day we saw you; first on Petfinder, with your terrified eyes and ridiculous looking picture – you still make yourself look like a fat turtle in some photos – and then, in person, at the rescue. Again you looked scared beyond belief but you rose above your fear to protect your fellow adult rescue, cutting her off to keep her from pacing too close to the wires where she would jump up and cut her feet. That’s who you are. A lover, a protector of other animals from whatever possible abuses you had experienced at the puppy mill where you had been churning babies out for years.
Even in your eyes on the car ride home, I could see the love blooming, despite your understandable myriad of fears.
I can’t fully put into words just how special you are, Callie, instead I have a photo tribute. Happy First Gotcha-Day baby girl!
Callie did amazing in her first obedience class.
And then she got to learn what a real vacation was on our Cavalier & Mother’s Day vacation at Wilburton Inn in Manchester, VT.
So much so, he taught you to play –
Dinner cake (boiled beef and pumpkin… YUM!)
Less Scary to eat on the chair
Mom made her dinner gotcha-day cake, although sitting at the table was a little scary!
I love you forever Callie Wag. I hope we will be so lucky as to be celebrating your gotcha-day next year when you turn 8.
If you want to see another small tribute to Callie, check out this post from the mini version of Callie’s Wag, a new blog on a local website called the DailyUV.
Today is the day dedicated to educating the public about the horrific conditions in which many dogs are being bred.
Today is a day devoted to dogs like Callie and Charlie. Callie who spent six years in a mill, being bred over and over and over again. Charlie, who was lucky to escape the cycle at 3 months and end up with people who understand and are willing to deal with his luxating patellas.
To dogs like Dewey, who was rescued by Cavalier Rescue of Alabama at a mill dog auction and is learning love with his foster mom, waiting for his forever home.
I had the chance to interview Brittney Wilk, Co-Founder & Rescue Coordinator at Cavalier Rescue of Alabama and foster mom of Dewey, among several other dogs at the house.
Me: How long have you been rescuing?
B: I have been rescuing for about nine years. I started doing it privately and then found Cavalier Rescue USA. There I was the coordinator for Alabama and Georgia for several years before my rescue partner, and I co-founded Cavalier Rescue of Alabama together in January 2015.
Me: What got you into it?
B: I got into Cavalier rescue after I purchased my first two Cavaliers – Like so many people, I felt I had done my research but at that point didn’t have a trained ‘eye’ to pick up on ‘red flags’ and ending up discovering that I had purchased from a substandard breeder.
My two puppies were very, very ill with pneumonia for months. Throughout their journey of getting them well and afterward, I heard of so many people with similar stories as mine and felt it was so important to help educate and advocate for the breed. Learning more and more about substandard breeding and Cavaliers being so prolific in that industry, I found rescue and felt that is where I could make a difference.
At that time I got involved in Cavalier Rescue USA, there was not an in-state coordinator there, and the role sort of fell into my lap. I had no idea what I was necessarily getting in for and certainly had no idea that it would be so life changing and lead me to where I am today.
Me: Do you work outside of rescue or has it become your full-time job?
B: We are an all-volunteer organization, so none of us collect any salaries or stipends for the rescue work we do. Therefore we do have to manage full-time jobs in addition to our rescue work which at times can be challenging and overwhelming as our rescue work is definitely a full-time job.
Me: How many hours a week do you think you put into rescue?
B: I have never kept track of my rescue work hours, but it is certainly around the clock from the moment I open my eyes until I fall asleep. If I had to make a best guess, I would say on average about 60 hours a week with there being times of heavy intake when we put forth much more than that.
Me: How many rescues do you personally have?
B: I have four rescues, and am currently fostering two. I have two rescue alums from Cavalier Rescue USA and two rescue alums from Cavalier Rescue of Alabama, and then two current Cavalier Rescue of Alabama fosters.
They are all puppy mill survivors as my expertise is in rehabbing abused, neglected, emotionally damaged and under-socialized dogs.
Me: Why did you rescue?
B: I rescue because I know I can provide a home, family, endless love, and wonderful care to Cavaliers in need. My favorite thing is seeing [my rescue dogs] relaxed and peaceful after enduring such suffering and stress.
Here’s the most important thing though – today may be Puppy Mill Awareness Day – but every day these dogs are stuck in mills, every day these dogs need you to fight to end puppy mills, to stop the breeders that are cruel, that breed without care, that shove their dogs into tiny cages. FIGHT BACK FOR THE DOGS.
Fight for the love that these dogs still have, somehow, inside them.
On Tuesday I wrote about the importance of last week’s focus on Puppy Awareness Week in the UK and this coming Saturday’s Puppy Mill Awareness Day. If you’d like to read that post, you can here.
My way of bringing awareness is through my writing and my blog. So, today I would like to highlight a couple who built their lives around rescuing older and special needs Cavaliers. I am overwhelmed by their story, not many people can take on the workload and the heartache that they do daily.
Peabody and Jason Johanson didn’t initially start out with the intention of rescuing special needs and elderly dogs, but, as Peabody said, “We just bought a one level house (for the older dogs) with 1/3 of an acre all because of the dogs. We concluded that this is how we were spending the rest of our lives, adopting senior and special needs Spaniels.”
Many people that get into rescue adjust or renovate their homes to fit the dogs’ needs, but it’s not often one gets a chance to purchase a home that happens to fit exactly what is required for their rescues.
It all started with Peabody’s first dog, Skoshi, a Cocker Spaniel rescue. Peabody said, “Her last year with us she developed an allergy to the yeast on her own skin and got MRSP (like MRSA but for dogs) several times because of it. We had to give her daily baths and wrap her in bandages three times a day.
My husband and I both realized that we had the patience to deal with dogs with special needs. When she got cancer, we traded sleeping on the floor with her for months.
We knew she was nearing the end and we started talking about what kind of dog we would want next since we knew we would want a dog right away.”
Peabody and Jason were active fundraisers for Old Dog Haven, an organization that has over 300 senior dogs in their care,
“They are all in final refuge foster homes and pay all medical bills. They find the un-adoptable seniors in the shelters and give them loving homes no matter if that is a year, a month, a week, or a day.”
The couple decided that they would rescue a younger Cavalier from Cavalier Rescue USA and then get an Old Dog Haven foster. But, life had other plans in store for them.
First came Mickey.
“The day after our cocker died, Mickey popped up on the website. I just looked at him and knew he was my dog. He was 8 and deaf with two spinal conditions (SM/CM and altano-axil malformation where his C1 overrides his C2) as well as behavior issues. He was fostered by a mutual friend, and we set up to meet him right away.
We were smitten the first time we met and had another meetup and decided to adopt him. We were told he was not a typical Cavalier in that he did not love everyone. His owner, a single female, had passed and his spinal condition was never diagnosed until rescue, so he was in pain his whole life. While he is not the typical Cavalier he does love me, his mama, something fierce and is very much the typical Cavalier to me. Mickey is now 10 1/2 and has MVD as well and is in stage B1 with a grade 2 murmur. ”
Mickey was not comfortable around men, and Jason felt that lack of connection, so the couple contacted Cavalier Rescue USA again.
Then came Holly.
“Four months after getting Mickey, Holly came into our life. She was just turning 8 and was a breeder release, and sadly was in Congestive Heart Failure. They warned us that it would be hard to watch her decline, but we chose to take her anyway. We only had a year with Holly, but she brought such joy to our life. Because of Holly my husband and I decided to focus on taking in Cavaliers with heart issues and Syringomyelia which both she and Mickey suffer from. Holly passed just a month after her 9th birthday of complications from pneumonia due to her heart being too large.”
“She came from a woman who bought her from a breeder (breeder release) but couldn’t keep her as she did not have a fenced yard and Daisy was a runner. We didn’t expect to take her as she was only six with no real health issues but we fell in love with her right away. Daisy loves any and all people that she meets, in true Cavalier form. Daisy just turned 8 and knock on wood continues to be healthy.”
And the sweet Crissy.
“Crissy was also from Cavalier Rescue USA. She was 10 with MVD. Her owner was going into hospice. She is a total love and the perfect mix of sweet and sass. She is now 11 1/2 and has sadly progressed to a B2 stage with a 4/5 murmur and has started medication. We focus on enjoying each day with her that we have left.”
An English Toy Spaniel Rescue, Georgia.
“Georgia came to us from a place called Panda Paws Rescue they are out of southern Washington state. They specialize in special needs breeds of all types. A friend who followed them had tagged me in a post about a couple of English Toy Spaniels they had. One of them had Syringomyelia, and they were looking for someone familiar with the condition. I talked to a friend that also had English Toys’s, and we decided to go for it. Georgia was a breeder release (once they knew she had SM they decided to let her go) and was very well socialized; she fit in immediately.”
And the most recent addition, Tulip.
“This last March the same rescue, Panda Paws raised money and went to a puppy mill auction in Missouri to rescue as many as they could. They had a few English Toy’s, and so I just said that if no one showed interested in the extremely shy ET that we would take her. Tulip had no inquiries and so after she had a month in foster care, where she was spayed, had a dental check, and had stenotic nares surgery, she came to us.
She was beyond shy when we got her. Typical puppy mill dog where she was fine with the other dogs but petrified of the humans.
We have had her five months now, and she is making a lot of progress. She will sit on your lap and likes pets but will still run from you when go to pick her up. She does come to us but then runs away, but each day she gets a little more brave. Tulip is our youngest at age 2, and so we hope we have lots of time with her to watch her flourish into a trusting dog.”
Peabody couldn’t be happier with her pack of special needs dogs, and neither could Jason. “Both my husband and I are bleeding hearts, and so we just seem to keep collecting spaniels.”
But that’s ok, Peabody, because we need people like you!
It’s been a little difficult to find playmates for Charlie. Callie isn’t big on puppy play although within the last week or two she has started to wrestle a little and play back when he gets obnoxious.
Due to his health issues, we were delayed in signing up for a puppy class with an obedience instructor I like and trust, so we’ve now missed out on that chance for socialization as he will be too old to be in a puppy class during the next session.
All of the other young and/or playful dogs Charlie has met are larger than him, usually by quite a bit. These bigger, bouncy, playful dogs tend to intimidate Charlie although there are a couple, like my ex-h’s excellent Lab, Cyrus, with whom Charlie has learned he is safe.
I was beginning to get frustrated, not even running into other people with small playful dogs, so I wrote to our local listserv. Yes, that’s right, here in the boonies we still work with listservs and they are GREAT! The basic idea is – every town around us has their own listserv where people can send in messages which get delivered in a daily digest to subscribers emails. There is also one for, what’s called, the Upper Valley, which is the region we are in. I sent a message to the main listserv for the whole Upper Valley as well as for my local town asking if anyone else had younger, smaller puppies they were looking to exercise/socialize and if so, to contact me to set up a play date.
The next morning I had two responses!
The most exciting, for me anyway, was an email from a woman who lives in our town and owns two Cavaliers, Gibby and Cider, 3 & 2.5 years (L, feel free to correct me if I got their ages wrong.) While the two dogs weren’t as young as I had hoped, one of the things I have been really missing is a little local “cavpack” of my own that can hang out together. Many of those on Twitter live near each other in the UK and can have meetups with the dogs, to which I am endlessly jealous.
L (Gibby and Cider’s mom) described the dogs, and they sounded like a great match, so we met for a walk.
Gibby is a big goof who loves other small dogs, although he, like Charlie, has had some chance encounters, and unlike Charlie, remembers one particularly not nice one that involved a larger dog. They are working on that.
Cider is a sweet, petite beauty who loves to play but, like many female dogs, is also happy to be independent among other dogs.
The walk went GREAT! We went down to a boat launch area, and Callie even thought about swimming! Callie, out of the two, was not the one I would have guessed to be the water dog, but we have to get her out swimming as it is such great exercise and easy on her stiff joints.
After the test walk, we decided to have a play date at L’s house as she has a fenced in yard. Her daughter, A, is 12 and fantastic at helping handle the dogs. She really made the playdate happen! I think L and I were too busy talking. 🤣
The doggie date was awesome. All the dogs had nothing but waggy tails and big grins the whole time. And when no one else would play puppy games with Charlie, A stepped up and was psyched to have a puppy to run around with again!
Callie, of course, found herself a new boyfriend.
And the best part is, we get to do it again today!
Brook, a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, was sitting in a high-kill shelter in Arizona with just two days to live when she was rescued by Janice Wolfe, founder and CEO of Merlin’s KIDS. The nonprofit organization rescues, rehabilitates and trains shelter dogs to work as service dogs for children with autism and special needs, as well as to assist disabled veterans. After extensive training Brook returned Wolfe’s kindness by transforming the life of Julie, 21, who is developmentally delayed due to a premature birth.
Wolfe describes Brook as a “rock star,” a calm sweet dog with the perfect temperament for working as an emotional support service dog. Julie’s mom, Ellen, couldn’t agree more.
“Brook has given Julie a greater sense of confidence,” Ellen said. “They are always together and Brook definitely knows that it’s her responsibility to take care of Julie.”
Before being paired with Brook, Julie was afraid to go outside the house on her own. Now she and Brook take walks down the block or sit together in the yard. Julie has become more outgoing and enjoys speaking or singing in front of people.
“Brook has become an emotional support for all of us,” Ellen said. “I can’t believe that they almost put her to sleep. She is the love of our lives!”
Another Merlin’s KIDS graduate, Willow, was rescued from a beach in Aruba where she ran with a feral pack. She was so scared that nobody could touch her. With patience and love her foster family won her love and trust. Now after completing the training program, the 40-pound sweet-natured cunucu dog is ready to join three other Merlin’s Kids service dogs in the Animal Adaptive Therapy program at the Calais School for special needs children in New Jersey. Willow is a cortisol detection dog trained to detect stress signals in students and to alert the counseling team so that they can intervene before a problem escalates. She will also work with students to learn the social, emotional and behavioral skills they need to succeed in life.
Willow and Brook are just two of the 1,300 dogs that have been rescued, rehabilitated and trained as service dogs by Wolfe, a canine behavior rehabilitation specialist and author of “SHH HAPPENS! Dog Behavior 101.” In addition to Rhodesian Ridgebacks, the nonprofit organization has rescued and rehabilitated Labrador mixes, pointer mixes and coonhound mixes to work as service dogs. The goal of the organization is to ensure that service dogs are available to families in need regardless of financial circumstances. To fulfill this mission it depends on financial donations and sponsorships.
Wolfe said that Merlin’s KIDS service dogs are highly trained and highly specialized. They can do anything from keeping a special needs child from wandering away to opening doors or picking up pencils for children with disabilities to alerting before the onset of a seizure. It’s important, the trainer said, to make sure that the dogs are physically capable of doing the jobs being asked of them and that they have the right temperament.
“I’m very careful when placing dogs with autistic children because these kids can have such erratic behavior and the dogs have to be able to handle that,” Wolfe said. “Service dogs who will be tethered to a child have to be really chill and calm”
When it comes to autistic children Wolfe’s dogs are trained to serve the individual child. For example, dogs are trained to help children who are overstimulated by interrupting behavior patterns, and they can prevent children from opening a door and running out into the street. Some children need deep pressure to fall asleep so Wolfe and her team train service dogs to lay across their laps at night.
“We have a lot of autistic kids who had never slept in their own beds until they got a service dog,” Wolfe said. In addition to donations and sponsors, Merlin’s Kids is always in need of volunteers and foster families.
Again and again the power of our relationship with dogs is breathtakingly beautiful.
If I carried on writing about dogs and sharing articles with you for a thousand years, I still don’t think I would become immune to the joy and wonder of what dogs mean to us. (Luckily for your sake you won’t have to follow this blog for quite those many years!)
Turning to us, the measure of a compassionate and caring society is how it looks after those who, through circumstance and bad luck, are disadvantaged. While there are many in such a situation who are the wrong side of twenty-one there’s something especially important, critically so, in reaching out to help our youngsters.
So why this switch from dogs to disadvantaged young people?
Shelter Dogs and Special Needs Kids: A Match Made in Heaven
Stories from the life of a rescued puppy mill mama and the second rescue, a puppy Charlie, who arrived seven months later. Dedicated to other stories about rescues as well, particularly those from puppy mills.