What I Haven’t Said ~ Horses

Many people have commented over the years that I don’t share much about the horses – and with the one exception of when I was living in Maryland, attempting to possibly make a go of it one last time – this true. It was simply too painful to write about them. Things went skewed for my plans with the horses and farm, but my time on the Eastern Shore was priceless in terms of experiences and events that led on to other ones. Once it became clear that at this point in my life, there just isn’t a place for me to work with horses (and be able to support my own). It was time to change focus. Accepting that, I slowly started the mental process of selling my Andalusian mare and finding a more permanent boarding place/home for my beloved older horse Domino. These things are hard in person, and 4 time zones away and strained communication with family made things 100x more difficult. I don’t really want to go into the details, but after months of attempting to have conversations with family members starting in the late Spring – I learned in mid July that my Father had sold all the horses, tack, and associated equipment. I can logically understand that it was time for the horses to be sold. My issue with Dad is not that he sold the horses, but how he sold them, the fact that he didn’t tell me beforehand, didn’t let me know after, and then had everyone else in the family keep it a secret. For weeks. Again, I’ve no desire to go into the details (I am sure I have already upset a few people by now as it is), but to say that this didn’t affect me – is a huge understatement. See, my mare Domino I had since she was about 4 years old. Or to put in terms you may know – since I was around 12 years old (possibly younger). This horse SHAPED how I approached all other horses and eventually their people. Domino is the main reason I got into horse training. Domino is why I learned more about equine psychology than any other type of area I could have spent my teenage years pursuing. Domino was my best friend, when the human world didn’t understand. I had Domino longer than my best friend Lorien and I have known each other… And I didn’t even get to say goodbye. By the time I tracked down the man who had bought the horses (no one in my family was forthcoming with this information due to reasons still unexplained to me) – he had already auctioned her off to somewhere in VA. I cannot explain the heartbreak and distress the weeks during and after these events brought me.

Even now, months later, I have little to say to my Dad. I love him, always will. But I have little to say to him now. I don’t expect most people to understand, nor do I need them to. The way he handled the events following his selling of the horses just doesn’t lend to a casual conversation over the phone or a ‘nice’ family visit on my part. He rationalized that due to me spending next to no time at the farm or with the horses, it somehow wouldn’t bother me. He couldn’t have been more wrong. My time at the farm and in TN is clearly a thing of the past. People move on, and often to places you cannot be in.

My last horse – Mikka – who was originally Mom’s horse is safely being boarded long-term with the Myerson family (who have been beyond amazing in helping me with her and all things that involve TN). She will stay with them as long as it works for them or more subtle place for her becomes apparent. As the last living animal that my Mother dearly loved, I will not give her up (unless it is because I can no longer safely care for her) even though horses don’t seem to have a place in my life anymore. She is very well cared for and living with horses she knows, and gets to spend time with people who genuinely enjoy her. I couldn’t ask for a better home away from me. As one of my Mother’s good friends – Barbara gets a lot out of having her as well. For all of this I thankful.

At this point in my life I have my faithful companion River, and make sure Mikka is getting what she needs. All my other animals are gone, some in the most heartbreaking of ways. Everything about who I used to be as a horse person is gone. Even my saddle. After the way this went down, I cannot say if I’ll ever try my hand with horses (outside of Mikka) again. To not even get to say goodbye to one of my most loved animals of all time – is particularly devastating to me. This experience, like many others – is just another painful part of my life that I hide behind pretty pictures and book quotes. Because in the end, it is mostly just I who cares, and will still feel this loss and lack of consideration years from now. This is another of those ‘what I haven’t said’ events.

~J

How does River survive the cold?

So upon my FB status of ‘negative temps’ in Anchorage and how River and I arrived back in the state, a few people were curious as to just how River is able to join me in the outdoor adventures of cold and occasionally sub-zero Alaska. Well, see, her being a Long-Haired Dachshund really, really helps! Her Short-Haired cousins DO NOT LIKE THE COLD. If you end up with a ‘naked’ Dachshund as I tend to call them, for the love of all, get it a SWEATER, a heating pad too if you live somewhere cold. And be warned, they will steal your blankets.

Due to her coat, River is able to handle temps down into the teens without much help from me for a quick potty walk – I usually only bundle her up for weather 20+ if we are going to be outside for a long time/romping in the snow. She gets a jacket if it’s a cold/freezing rain as well – which was common in Seattle’s winters.  The jacket also helps with the snowball clumps that stick to her fur. If it is below say 15 degrees F, She will get ‘layers’ if we are going to be out for a while.

The Evolution of ‘Bundling River Up’.

River had a basic ‘winter coat’ that I brought with me from Tennessee in the winter of 2011 when she finally joined me in Alaska – Below you can see how short her fur-coat was the first few months!

River's 1st 'warm coat' 2011

River’s first ‘warm coat’ – 2011

Below: River in the early days of ‘layers’ with one of her training – demo dog shirts.

River in Layers 2011

River in layers – 2011

By the next year, I had found a new jacket and coat on sale for her- the coat was a bit too big so I improvised with safety pins. It was quite eye-catching, if I say so myself! River had also grown a much thicker fur coat – which helped immensely

River in her new and improved 'layers' 2012

River in her new and improved ‘layers’ – 2012

Her jacket hoody up – makes me think of a gnome.

River in her jacket 'hoody' 2012

River in her jacket ‘hoodie’ – 2012

When it isn’t cold enough to warrant both layers, she sports her hoodie.

River in just her Jacket 2012

River in just her jacket – 2012

River’s newest jacket/base layer is the best fitting one yet – probably because it cost the most… Roughwear is well worth it if you have need of such things. Finding jackets long enough in the torso, deep enough in the chest and short enough in the leg cuffs for a Dachshund is no laughing matter. River wore just this one while we were in Taos, NM with temps of -4 F. She did just fine during our hikes as did the late Rosie who also had one.

River's newest jacket - 2013

River’s newest jacket – 2013

River has a great time adventuring with me regardless of the weather; this summer it looks like I will have to find her a life jacket for the boat we are going to be on in the Gulf of Alaska. My baby seal 🙂

Below: an epic shot of my Super Rat flying over the snow. Ears up, tail out, paws stretched!

River flying over the snow - 2011

River flying over the snow – 2011

Hey, if my Mini Dachshund can tough out the cold, you can too!

~ J

Very Sad News

On Saturday my second Dachshund Rosie, was killed via being ran over by a car. She wasn’t just my dog as many know, but originally Mom’s (Renée) dog. Mom loved Rosie and took her just about everyone with her. Once it became clear that Rosie wasn’t doing well at the Farm in TN after Mom was gone, I began to try to find a solution when Jackie mentioned that Grammy Gail Roissier (Mom’s Mom) asked about Rosie and what would happen to her. I called her up and was shortly in route to Sun City Arizona to take Rosie to her new home. Rosie perked up fairly quickly once off the farm and by the time we arrived in AZ was doing better. She bonded quickly with my Uncle Ricky who was also living with Grammy Gail. Rosie loved them both but enjoyed playing with Rick. After Uncle Ricky died Rosie was Grammy Gail’s companion. Otherwise by herself, Rosie kept her active and social. When the sad, sad day came that Grammy Gail was also gone, I took Rosie back and while she had major adjustments, she blossomed with River, Reuben and I. Rosie developed a special bond with Reuben and learned how to be a dog again. Both Reuben and I did training and work with her and within 6 months was a totally different dog. Younger, more social and outgoing, and more like the dog she was with Mom.

Curious Rosie

Curious Rosie

When it was time for me to move, Rosie came with me, which was incredibly hard for Reuben who was very much bonded with her. It was important that she be kept within the immediate family and he graciously understood that. Reuben was planning to visit the dogs and I sometime this summer, I suspect to see Rosie just as much as me.

Rosie & Reuben

Rosie & Reuben

Rosie travel with Jackie and I across the United States in the car along with River. She did amazing. She was adjusting pretty good in Maryland minus the bugs, and really loving the open land to romp in.

Rosie Lounging

Rosie Lounging

I of course brought her with us when we drove to Tennessee for a few days. Dad and the Kids hadn’t seen her since August 2009 and were excited to get re-acquainted.  Which just makes her passing all the more painful and shocking in the suddenness. Rosie was greatly loved by everyone in the family on many levels, along with many friends who knew here. There is a whole Sun City, AZ crowd that loves Rosie, Reuben and many of his friends and co-workers love Rosie,  Aunt Michele and Aunt Suzi love Rosie and of course; Dad, the kids and myself. Very sad day. I wish I had better words to say, but more than a simple dog was lost this weekend.

Rosie & River bounding

Rosie & River bounding

~Joannie

Cross-country Road Trip Vol II ~ The Road to Yellowstone June 2013

An early afternoon start out of Seattle afforded us the time to stop a little along the way to see the changing landscape. Once outside Seattle, clear streams and mountain views were to be had. We pulled off for a quick doggie break and pictures.

Light Rays on the Cascades

Light Rays on the Cascades

The drive through the Cascades was clear (shockingly so) and the clouds were doing all sorts of strange formations.

Evergreen Hills & Strange clouds

Evergreen Hills & Strange clouds

The higher peaks still had plenty of snow and the air was crisp.

A Peak

A Peak

Narrow waterfalls lined the mountains with snow-melt coursing down.

Snow Melt Waterfalls

Snow Melt Waterfalls

River and Rosie were pretty excited at first, wanting to be up front, on our laps and ready to spring out if we stopped, but they were banished to the back to ‘their spot’ on all my crap we’d stuffed the Black Dragon with. All in all, the girls had a good deal, with a comfy bed and blankets stacked to window-viewing level (this is highly important as any Doxie owner can attest to…). It took them a few hours to realize their good fortune.

The Girls resigned to their back-seat fate

The Girls resigned to their back-seat fate

Weaving through the mountains, I noticed odd-shaped cloud-like things in the distance. Closer inspection revealed it was indeed an actual cloud but looked more like a UFO. I can see how the flying saucer theme is easily run wild with.

UFO Cloud

UFO Cloud

I believe this is Easton Lake in Washington along Rt 90. The other possibility would be Keechelus Lake, which is near Lake Easton and on the same side of the highway, but bigger.

Easton Lake, WA

Easton Lake, WA

The blues and greens were incredible in the sunlight. The Tough Camera captured it very well.

Mountains over the lake

Mountains over the lake

Once out of the mountains, Jackie took over driving and I caught up on some much-needed sleep. The result was no pictures except this one of Eastern Washington – which is noticeably different from Western Washington. Due to our late spring departure, things were still a nice green even in the drier side of the state.

Eastern WA

Eastern WA

We entered Idaho as the Sun set, driving through mountains almost entirely made up of Sempervirens (evergreen) trees. It was only within two hours that Montana was on the horizon since the part of Idaho we drove through was the northern, narrow part of the state.

Entering Idaho

Entering Idaho

Last of the setting Sun as we cruised down the mountains into Montana.

Sunset in Idaho

Sunset in Idaho

A rather poor quality picture as we entered into Montana, with the low light and high speed of the car – but Jackie was simply so excited to be back in Montana again, he needed a picture!

 Montana in the last light

Montana in the last light

We drove until it was fully dark, found dinner at a random diner along the way and made camp at a pull-off on the highway. The plan was to get a few hours of shuteye and start as early as we could so as to make the most of the daylight. As everyone knows, I am not a morning person. But strangely enough, I sometimes can get moving before 7am when on road trips (still not a guarantee though). The car being packed meant shuffling around some stuff just to squeeze myself into the back seat; Jackie took the front passenger seat which reclines fairly well. Both girls had to vie for space and one ended up sleeping perched above dashboard level on a crate of books. Jackie ignored my ‘you’ll be cold’ warnings and forewent the sleeping bag. He was cold, and barely slept…

River and I were horribly cramped, but warm. Other than my left leg going numb from sciatic pain after driving in a car all day and my back doing its own form of bone jarring pain (remember, I’ve major back & hips problems), I slept well. 

Snow Capped Mountains that are the iconic sight of Montana made waking up – stiff from sleeping in the Black Dragon (Subaru), without any coffee – worth the early hour. Jackie was a tad grumpy to start from the uncomfortable seat and cold, but cheered up when food and coffee was on the horizon.

Montana Morning

Montana Morning

We had breakfast somewhere in Montana at a quaint town with a tasty and cheap diner. Jackie was ready to stay. My encouraging descriptions of what Yellowstone would be like helped move him along.

Layered Hills

Layered Hills

The sun was bright and quickly warming the day. Jackie perked up after enough coffee to kill a horse (or at least a dog). The low haze from the dew/frost cleared and every song and quote of ‘God’s Country’ came to mind.

Montana - God's Country

Montana – God’s Country

Old barbed wire, cattle gates and never-ending pastures.

The Range

The Range

Lowland scrub brush, I believe Sage is in there too, dotting the hills.

Lowland Brush

Lowland Brush

The layered land and brilliantly blue sky was perfection as only nature can do.

Layers of Perfection

Layers of Perfection

By this point we were off the main highway and on a much smaller, no-quick-stop type road. Below are snow drift fences for winter winds.

Getting further off the beaten path

Getting further off the beaten path

The girls had settled into comfortable contentment of the drive. Rosie in particular was in her own idea of Heaven with her favorite bed at window level and direct sunlight.

Rosie Lounging in the Sun

Rosie lounging in the Sun

We stopped off an unmarked road to get some fresh air (of course potty break for the dogs) and snap some pictures. The Sun was almost blinding, the air still had a hint of the morning chill.

Unmarked Road
Unmarked Road

Jackie looking particularly bright with his pink shirt ♡

Jackie in Montana

Jackie in Montana

One of my favorite pictures of my handsome brother!

Jackie looking epic

Jackie looking epic

Jackie took a great photo of me with the new Tough Camera, if he can use it like this, its a good camera!

Joannie in MT

Joannie in MT

Staring off into the mountains, with no power lines, roads or fences marring the view. You could believe it was hundreds of years ago – no people, just the land as it used to be…

The Lost Country

The Lost Country

Approaching a lake, I noticed some level of scarring on the mountainside, I pointed it out to Jackie and we contemplated what may have caused it; landslide? Avalanche? Erosion from logging? Blasting for rock? Maybe even an Earthquake?!

We pulled off to investigate (and dog potty break). There were a few signs describing what had happened here. Earthquake it was indeed!

Earthquake Lake

Quake Lake

We walked around, noticing how far out the trees went into the lake and how recent everything felt from this Earthquake. I began to think that maybe even the Lake itself was made in the Earthquake. One of the info signs had the answers – the lake was where a valley used to be, an 80-million ton landslide caused a dam on the Madison River. The Earthquake happen in 1959 in the summer camping season, killing 28 people and causing exorbitant amounts of damage to surrounding areas. At 7.3 (USGS) it is the largest quake to hit Montana in recorded history.

Tree Root Skeleton

Tree Root Skeleton

The water was a clear green, trees practically growing out of the water on some banks.

Earthquake Lake

Earthquake Lake’s Sparkling Waters

While it was born out of destruction, the lake today is beautiful; but I think, also a stark reminder of how quickly things can change and how quick death can come.

Beauty out of Destruction

Beauty out of Destruction

Everywhere the eye could see was picturesque.  We continued on through the valleys towards Yellowstone’s West entrance. The plan was to be at the Grand Tetons, south of Yellowstone Park where my amazing friend Kathy had gotten us a cabin for 2 nights! After the Tetons, we would drive back up to Yellowstone and continue the loop. That way we would cover as many sights as possible.

More of Montana

More of Montana

I was napping as Jackie neared Yellowstone, the girls sleeping, Jackie’s music playing in the background – everything was quiet and peaceful. When suddenly, I hear”oh OH SHIT!” and the Black Dragon jerks to the left than to the right, tires squeal, dogs go flying, stuff in the back comes forward. I jump up with the faint thought of ‘if this hadn’t been a low center of gravity car – we’d be rolled!’. Yelling “WTF JACKIE!!!!” Fully expecting that we had just dodged a runway Semi Truck or a herd of Elk had dashed across the road, barely hitting our bumper or at the very least, a wolf. I turned to my insane-driving brother as he slammed the brakes to demand what the hell was happening. He whipped the car around and swerved back the way we had came. Folks, he sighted a Buffalo.. And no, it didn’t even cross the damn road. Thankfully no one was around to witness that, ah… episode.

'The Buffalo"

‘The Buffalo”

The Buffalo did have a little cute calf with her. Even so, I was a second away from a heart attack and trying not to yell. The girls were growling (clearly something was out there) and Jackie was scrambling for the camera like a mad man. I calmly said “there will be more Buffalo…”. But we went bouncing along (not on) the road  and after the Buffalo. I managed a few shots to appease my possessed brother and took over driving so he could ‘look’ for the animals… I seriously thought we were about to die for a second.

Entering Yellowstone

Entering Yellowstone

After a quick stop for more batteries, some water and coffee in the little town before the park, we entered Yellowstone! I thought Jackie was excited to see Montana, Yellowstone was a whole new creature. Practically on the edge of his seat, snapping pictures with the Tough Camera as his smartphone was acting up, and exclaiming in barely contained glee at the sights.

Flat Mountain

Flat Mountain

Not too far into the park proper, in the near distance we saw:

Buffalo

Buffalo

Yep. You guessed it. More Buffalo. The exact same thing (only a lot more of them) that I had almost died for about 20 miles back… The cars lined the road. The Buffalo were about 1/2 a mile out across the river. Jackie was so hyped I couldn’t really say no to walking over to the river’s edge. ‘Course we had to take the Dachshunds since they were barking at all the people and weird cows around them.

Jackie & Rosie Shooting Buffalo

Jackie & Rosie Shooting Buffalo

Rosie being patient as Jackie shoots.

Sleeping by the River

Sleeping by the River

With the river in-between to give us a safety net, we cruised up and down the banks to get the best shots.

Mom & Calf

Mom & Calf

Early June meant quite a few young calves out with the herd.

Geese Family

Geese Family

Along with Geese and other critters. Rosie was quite interested in the goslings…

By the River

By the River

The calves frolicked about, the young bulls butting and chasing one another.

Cooling off

Cooling off

A few stepped into the river, eyed our little dogs. One even rolled in the mud. The Buffalo clearly owned the place. We were the guests.

The Sun was hot, even for June. The girls were happy to splash in the river. After taking numerous pictures, we got back on the road. Only a few miles into the drive, and oh look – more buffalo!

More Buffalo

More Buffalo

And even more Buffalo towards the Hot Springs in the distance.

Buffalo & Hot Springs

Buffalo & Hot Springs

Up ahead. What’s this? Even MORE Buffalo. On the ROAD. The only sort of traffic I’ve ever experienced in Wyoming has been animals…

Yellowstone Traffica Jam

Yellowstone Traffic Jam

It was at this point, being so close we could practically touch them, that Jackie finally understood what I meant by ‘there will be more Buffalo’.

Closeup

Closeup

The little calves were particularly cute.

Little Guy

Little Guy

We drove the Fire Hole Canyon road as we made our way to the Hot Springs in the southern part of the park.

Fire Hole Canyon

Fire Hole Canyon

Next up is the various Hot Springs on the way to the South entrance – to see the Grand Tetons.

This post got long quick with the pictures, so the Hot Springs will be in the next installment. We took hundreds of pictures during just this one day, the photos posted I feel reflect what we saw and liked best.

A lifetime’s worth of memories in only a few days thus far- back on the road we go. Hopefully stay on the road this time (Jackie).

~ J

Horses & Journey

Some of you may be familiar with my relationship to horses, but others hardly at all since I do not talk about them or write on here of them all that much. Leaving the horses was one of the harder things I’ve done in my life. To me, they are not pets or animals, they are not something to ‘have fun’ with, they aren’t pasture ornaments or a status symbol. The words ‘friends’, ‘family’ and ‘mentors’ could be loosely used to describe how I feel about them.

All my life I struggled with fitting in, feeling isolated from people (not because there was no one there, but because I couldn’t be myself with most people) and feeling alone. Particularly as a child and teen, the only friends who I could be myself with were my horses. I would take whatever book I was reading on a nice day and sit upon the round bales (large rolled bales of hay that usually stand about 4 feet tall and wide enough to lounge on) in the middle of the pasture, where I would of course be surrounded by the horses eating their hay for large periods of time. If I was upset, I would go and tell my horses. If I needed to get away, I would just sit on my mare Domino in the pasture. If I just wanted to run away altogether, I would take her off the farm for a run – just the two of us. Sometimes we would be gone half the day.

I never felt alone, I never felt isolated or misunderstood when I was with one of my horses. Many of you will probably scoff at this next statement, but the horses talk back to people who know how to listen.

It wasn’t until my teen years that I realized it wasn’t just me who the horses helped on such a deep level. As some of you may be aware, they use horses in therapy for Autistic children/adults, trauma survivors, and so much more. Corporations will send employees to a seminar on leadership where all they do is work with horses. So when I say that my horses are some of my best friends and mentors, I am not talking as a little girl who only has eyes for her pets; I am talking about the few beings on the planet who have always been able to anchor me to this world, regardless of the amount of shit it throws at me.

Obviously I am a fan of all animals and horses, but not all horses are able to or will interact with humans on this level. My horses ended up with me for a variety of reasons, and were very cut out to work with people in these ways. So when I had to sell/give away many of them, it was a horrific process of deciding who would stay with me, and who would go on to their next home. None of them wanted to leave. Some of them were in very poor shape, and none were getting any attention and only the most minimum care (this was in the first year after Mom was killed). Yet not one wanted to leave the farm, the family or me. All of my horses handled very well, so when I say that they refused to get into trailers of their new owners, you should understand this was them knowing and understanding what was about to happen.

The horses I did decided to do my damnedest to keep were: Domino, my grey Arab/mix mare who I had the longest; Journey, my black grade Quarter Horse who I had only bought the year before, but with whom I knew we were to do great things; and Mikka, my Mother’s Lipizzaner filly. I had one other young mare out on long term lease, Juniper.  To the rest, I said goodbye. There are no words for what it was like then, and now over 3 years later I can still barely talk about it. If you are curious, I wrote just once about it a while ago. https://lifeofjourney.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/the-horses/

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Myself with Journey (left, black) & Domino on the Solstice, 2010.

Juniper ended up coming back to me over a year ago, when the lady who took her on an extended lease — as part of the deal where she got my stud colt Cohete, who is worth thousands of dollars — went back on our agreement. Maybe I’ll explain another time, but since I have neither money nor resources, I cannot get him back – just another scar that doesn’t fade.  So these four mares: Domino, Journey, Mikka and Juniper, are the ones I am trying to find a place for, where we can all live and do our work with other people who would like to learn the skills of the Horse. This Summer is when I will put the plan into action (hopefully).

While I was at the farm in March (2013), I was able to spend a little time with the girls as well as ride. I kept getting the message from them and particularly Journey that while they were content to wait for me, the girls were very excited to begin the next part of our lives together.

 

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Journey, early on when she first arrived to the farm. Here she is in her full winter coat.

 

Now the reason for all of this background and explanation is two-fold: one, to update everyone on how serious I am about the horses you’ve barely heard anything about, and two; to give you understanding of why I now feel the way I do upon learning that my black mare Journey died a few days ago. My family doesn’t know why, their only guesses were lightning from all the storms that they had, or that she was a victim of livestock shootings in the area. Both are just senseless.

Journey was around 10 years old (peak age for horses) and healthy. She was in good condition when I saw her in March, and very much full of life. I had even started telling a few close friends that she would be the one they would work with when they came to learn once we were settled.

 

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Journey after a hard days work.

 

I have a lot of thoughts rattling in my head, most of which are angry and bitter at the moment – so I won’t share them.  I may or may not write more about Journey on the blog. She was very special to me and to my mare Domino. Journey and Domino were inseparable, and always loved to work together. I had visions of them growing old and cranky like two peas in a pod, dying within days apart so that they could always run together.

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Domino & Journey (right), playing around while warming up.

~ J

2000 and freaking 13!

As usual… Time has just flown by. It’s 2013 for the love of Gandalf! Bad pun I know but I recently saw the Hobbit 🙂 Was pretty good by the way but I didn’t find the 3D that enjoyable – still worth seeing on the big screen. The Holiday’s tend to suck any extra creativity and energy I have going. Holiday’s used to be stressful in a good way, but the last few years have been more like a marathon to keep from not being consumed by sad memories. This year I found myself broke (as usual) and dire need of trying something different for the ‘Holiday Season’. I was invited to New Mexico December 26th and Reuben agreed that an adventure sounded like a great way to spend the Holidays. December was busy and by January 7th River and I were on a plane to Anchorage Alaska to do some House Sitting work.  So here I am.. months of not keeping consistent with my writing yet again!

There is a lot of big changes coming for 2013. Or at least for me and those in my life. Maybe the rest of the world thinks they can stand still… But not me.  The last few months have found me deciding where the heck I’m going to go from here. I currently live in Seattle with Reuben and the two Dachshunds. What work I do I travel for and usually have long stretches between jobs, so I am always living like a broke college student without the classes to make people feel like they aren’t totally wasting their time. Because of said jobs that I only do here and there, I do get to travel and see places and do things that many other people don’t. I of course get this rather frowney look from most of my family and some friends due to my won-ton lifestyle. Reuben also has a hard time with it since he is more traditional in the sense of income, future jobs, living space and so on. I haven’t particularly felt like sharing my thoughts as of late because of the ‘concern’ people have for me and the inability to understand that I just don’t want to live my life like that (that being what most people consider successful in a linear fashion).  I don’t move through life linearly. I usually have at least a few things going at once. And I like the flexibility of just picking up and traveling to New Mexico for Christmas two weeks before Christmas.

The last 6 months or so I’ve been working out some rather large decisions for my future. Some of you may know that I was offered the chance to start my own dog training business in Anchorage Alaska. I put proposals together and a business plan. All I needed to do was commit. I also at the same time was working through some possible offers of land to live on, keep my horses and pursue a business with horses. Both angles are just over the top opportunities and something that I am good at, enjoy doing and could stand to be doing for quite a while. Decisions decisions… Love Alaska, love dogs, enjoy working with them. Horses can’t be in Alaska (I won’t put my horses through it at least). So dogs mean no horses. Horses, I’ll have move – probably East where I’d rather not live, its going to be hard, really hard at first and the lifestyle may not be a fit for Reuben. But I know, that the time is now to be making a move. Can’t ‘wait and see’ any longer. For months I was all over the map, working through both possibilities. I only recently decided that the horses was where I needed to put my energy towards. Many details need to be worked out and finalized but the decision part is done.

Reuben and I are trying to figure out what that means for us and I have a feeling that it will take time. The Dachshunds are blissfully happy and Rosie is glowing with health. I’m due to get back from Alaska around January 28 -29th. In March I head to New Jersey for a Tracker class. So things are moving fast.

I hope to continue updating the last 6 months in the next few days!

~Joannie

All My Dogs ~ Dog filled days of training with Joannie

For quite a while now I’ve been gearing up to write this post about Dog Training and some of my best pooches (and acquiring permission from their owners). It’s a little overdue, but here we go!

Most of you probably know that upon moving to Anchorage in 2010, I signed on with PetSmart to put my teaching and animal skills to use as their Dog Trainer. I was sent off to ‘training’ so I would know the PetSmart style and theory, was assessed to be able to teach and handle puppies to adult dogs for basic training and behaviors, then a few weeks later I was starting my own classes. I’ve heard a lot of differing ideas about the education the company uses for its trainers… It’s a great place to take your new puppy or adult dog to bond and learn basic training skills given that the trainer is good. But in my own opinion, if you think that as a potential dog Trainer you will learn how to train dogs and how to teach people to train their dogs…  Just from the Petsmart education training, you’re not going to be happy, nor will your dogs or your clients for that matter. You cannot learn in less than two weeks what you need to know about dogs and teaching people of all kinds. Their program is geared towards individuals who already have dog behavior knowledge and want to further their skills.
Luckily for the company,  this wasn’t a problem for me and once I found my feet I was on fire. My time with the company was great learning experience and I really enjoyed most of it and working alongside with many of my co-workers. Sadly the other girl in my intro class didn’t fare very well with her own store and moved on to a non-dog related field. Trainers in the corporate world is like teachers in a public Highschool, you can have some truly amazing ones hidden in among the decent ones and often obscured by the awful few. I observed that keeping a good trainer in a corporate pet business is not easy, for multiple reasons; mostly the policy dance that you have to do with your managers, higher-ups and even other employees. Like any company there is a rule and a policy for everything, but as the Trainer you’re not selling dog food – you’re selling yourself in your ability to train. Your ‘merchandise’ is not squeak toys and grooming services, it’s the dogs themselves. And putting a policy on a dog doesn’t work out as smoothly as a lot of people seem to expect. Every dog is different, every owner is different, heck every single class I taught was different. Maintaining a base curriculum was easy, but actually teaching the owners how to deal with their dogs and ensure the dogs were ‘getting it’ was a whole different story.
In my experience with teaching people how to train their horses, the horse was always the easier part of the pair; it was finding the perfect way to get the owner where they wanted to be and, more importantly, where their horse needed them to be that was the real challenge. Dog training certainly follows a similar approach but perhaps with even more emphasis on the human side of the training.
In horses, we have a saying that goes: “Give me your horse for two weeks and he’ll be trained, but the owner who hasn’t changed themselves will undo everything in just two days and they’re back at square one.”
I found out that where dogs are concerned, I could have the dog for one week, and an owner who didn’t change along with his dog could have the dog back to where she was within about a minute. I wish I was exaggerating.

Below: Filson the lovable Chocolate Lab on the day of his Puppy Graduation.

I put my focus into what would stick with the dog no matter where the owner was, and how to get the owner on board. The ideal Petsmart dog is a puppy/adult dog who just needs the basic – Sit. Down. Stay commands; Puppy behaviors, basic socialization, structure and how to type stuff. Not dogs that are in need of rehabilitation or behavior modification. I felt that I could work with the rehabilitation and behavioral modification cases and had many dogs and took many a client who needed a little ‘more’. I didn’t please everyone (if I had, I’d have known I was doing it wrong) but I have a rather long list of very happy dogs, and whom I can only hope are equally happy owners. I retain many fond memories (few photos too) of lovely puppies who ‘graduated’ and turned into wonderful companions for their humans, like Filson (above photo) – who has the silliest grin with the most striking eyes all at the same time! Along with a few ‘rescues’ who were not sent back to the pound or given away because I was able to help them. While puppies are fun and cute, saving the live of older, abused or ‘special’ cases rank among my highlight moments.

I taught 8- and 6-week group classes for dogs and puppies of all ages, breeds, sizes, sexes and levels of training. I also did private sessions with the owner(s) of the dog, as well as one-on-one sessions with just the dog and myself.

Below: Two wonderful Standard Poodle brothers – Zeus & Odin

Below: Oscar Myer & River

They made quite a pair! Always on the same bed or mat, Oscar had to see River do the commands I introduced to him before he would even attempt them! Oscar’s owners often referred to me as his “other Mom,” and River didn’t seem to mind sharing.

I worked with quite a few Dachshunds (mainly due to River showing off) and on most Wednesdays you could find 3 or 4 running around. Oscar (Pictured above) was a long time one-on-one session that I worked with. His owners said that he could only do training every week if River was with him too. Dachshunds tend to love other Dachshunds and they had a blast together. Oscar, who barely sat on command when he first came in, learned all the basics and then some. Other classes thought River and Oscar were both MY dogs and didn’t see much difference in their level of training, which always caused Oscar to puff out his chest in pride!

Below: Pete the smooth-haired Border Collie ~ My pride and joy!

I met Pete when he was barely 4 months old. He was boarding while his owners were traveling, and I was asked to work with him during his stay. He was super smart and a quick learner. He had a major tendency to jump up and pull on the leash along with other basic puppy behaviors. After his week was up, he went home and the next day I got a phone call from his owners. Fearing the worst, I met with his ‘dad,’ Mr. H (we called the owners ‘pet parents’). I was already preparing the “it was only a week” speech, as I’d had to recite it with a few more extreme owners in the past who wanted a robot and not a dog. Before I could even begin, Mr. H walked up and shook my hand saying how impressed he was with Pete and me. Slightly taken aback I thanked him, fawned over Pete and we immediately came up with the next plan of training, since Pete is a high energy dog who needed a job.

Below: Pete & fellow Border Collie friend – Denali

Over the next year and a half I worked with Pete and sometimes his dad. Pete advanced to becoming the star of the training classes and I began to use him with other dogs for social and training exercises. Pete complemented River, who also worked with other training dogs, as he is larger and more energetic. Rather than playing in camp with the other dogs, Pete grew to be more and more in favor of being out working or waiting around for me to be done with paperwork. He held himself to the same level as River who got a free pass to just about anywhere in the store, and often ‘hung out’ in the training room on her bed instead of in camp.
Once 2 o’clock rolled around Pete would start looking for me, and no longer wanted to play with his Conch or Frisbee.

Below: The four hellions… Kathy & Dave G. Dogs, 3 Beagles and a Beagle/Shepherd mix – all rescues.

Okay, only one was actually a hellion but still… ever heard more than two Beagles baying at a time, indoors? …You’re now deaf.
Each dog had their own unique set of issues, and the youngest being 6 years old meant that their habits were well ingrained. The old guy out of the bunch was about 12ish years during our training, I believe — but progress was still made!

Below: Beagle girl Blondie

Doesn’t she look cute? Just so hug-able, sweet and cuddly.. I think not! Okay, she is now… but that is beside the point!

I’m convinced that all Beagles come with over-sized puppy eyes, floppy ears, and those adorable faces for one reason only — to keep their poor unsuspecting owners from murdering them. Whomever gets a Beagle thinking he is going to be Shiloh (book turned movie) all over again, and be a great pet for their city life… needs to visit a few Beagle rescues to get a true feel for what they are getting into. A house dog who is content to hang around and ‘behave’ most Beagles are certainly NOT, nor are they usually family or first dog material. In fact, if you have kids, get a Lab! Seems like most people are under the impression that Beagles are pets or at worst, a hunting dog – just like a Lab, right?
But no, Labs are BIRD dogs. They don’t actually hunt (at least not on purpose), they retrieve – i.e follow our commands.
Labs enjoy taking orders from people. Beagles are flush hunting dogs, i.e. Rabbit dogs — they chase, we follow. End of story. No commands included.

Thankfully, Kathy and Dave are well aware of the Rabbit sniffing Beagle’s true nature and took poor Blondie in from a family who thought Beagles were indeed good pets for kids and simply couldn’t care for her. Having had Beagles all her life, the motley four were Kathy’s second set of rescues. I know she is either crazy or a super big-hearted human being.
Fast forward to around March – April of last year (2011), with Kathy standing in the dog collar isle trying to figure out all the different gadgets and if any would actually help the Beagle dogsled team with her who liked trying to drag her around. I wandered up while putting items back on the shelves to ask if she needed any assistance. I got a brush off of ‘No I’m good, thanks’ with an undertone of “Get the H*** away from me!” — sadly common these days from people used to companies not quite getting what good customer service is and making their employees shove store policies down the poor customer’s throats.
Used to such reactions, I meandered off but stayed within sight in case she should change her mind. A few moments later, Kathy noticed (her words as she told me the story months later) that my shirt is a different color blue than the other employees and that mine also has ‘Dog Trainer’ across the back. Deciding that I didn’t seem overly pushy or suave sales like, she chanced a question about collars and I helped the best I could, explaining what the different gadgets are good for. I tried to keep things short and not ramble so it didn’t feel like I was just trying to sell her something she didn’t want. She hesitantly asked about the training that I did and I gave her the brief overview and explain some of my background with teaching, plus where she could find more info if she didn’t want to talk to anyone since she had that ‘I’m not a fan of box stores’ vibe. She said she had all she needed for now, so I gave my name should she have more questions and forgot about her within a day or two of work figuring I’d never see her again.

Below: Beagle boy #1 and Beagle boy #2 = R.b + Boogey.

So you can imagine my surprise when a month after meeting in the collar isle, out of the blue I have the two females of the Beagle crew along with Kathy and Dave in a fairly full Wednesday evening class. I later found out that Kathy got a ‘feeling’ about me that day in the collar isle which never quite went away so she decided to give me a shot. According to her ~ best thing she could have done!

Over the next year, Blondie (Beagle girl) became a regular in my personal sessions along with Pete, Oscar and quite a few others. I eventually worked with all four of Kathy and Dave’s dogs in group classes, one-on-ones, and personal training with just me and the dogs.

Below, Pete, Blondie and River on the ‘Jungle Gym’ holding a wait command.

Kathy’s dream goal was to be able to walk all four dogs together on leash without issues, i.e lounging, barking, tangling each other up and such. She didn’t think it was really possible, but mentioned it as her ‘Holy Grail.’ I just smiled and said that actually, four dogs on a leash would be easy; it was all the ‘other’ stuff that might be hard. Of course she thought I was joking.

See, Kathy wasn’t new to training classes, different types of training or anything that goes with it. Like many other people, she thought (particularly with rescue dogs) you could make major headway, but always have a few things you just couldn’t change. After all, these weren’t puppies or simple re-homed dogs. Every single Beagle (and Beagle mix ~ Miss Cassidy) were rescues.
Neglected, often abused and abandoned dogs are very different to retrain, more often than not. Treats won’t cut it, nor will simple praise and punishment. Kathy hung in with me and was able to stomach hard-to-hear truths about dealing with animals — that the kinds of things you might learn from your elders, and which everyone tends to agree is the right way, is actually not actually going to work at all — and we ultimately prevailed. Kathy likes to blame me for her success but I think most of the credit should be hers and Dave’s.

Below: Dave with his pack of four calm Beagles in wait by the small live critters (a Beagle owner’s nightmare).

You could usually hear whenever Blondie was in range — she howled and bayed and quickly would get the other dogs  into a pack frenzy of scents and sights. A simple sit was next to impossible unless one wanted a wrestling match with a snarling, blood-curdling little fiend. To say most people would rather just drag Blondie away from the excitement instead of trying to calm her down and reason with her was an understatement.
Cassidy was EXTREMELY shy in public, R.b usually refrained from moving his cute paws at all, and Boogey tended to follow Blondie’s lead with the barking. Each dog had a closet full of behaviors from their past that reared its many heads at less than ideal moments.

To say I’m proud of my adopted pack is falling quite short. I’m also impressed with how much Kathy and Dave grew with their dogs (its really not easy to change a couple of decades of training). On the last official day of their training, both Dave and Kathy calmly walked their 4 dogs, all at the same time, all around the store. No choke chains, no prong collars, no yanking leashes or dragging dogs. Simple calm, collected, controlled and relaxed dogs (and owners!).

Below: Cassidy playing with River

Cassidy bloomed into a young, confident girl who could boldly strut around without hiding from children, even allowing them to pet her. Overall, she is relaxed and visibly happy with a Shepherd’s grin on her muzzle if she thinks you’re not staring.

Camping trips, vet visits and home life are a completely different animal these days, according to Kathy. Dog fights and bullying are gone and peace can be found even with 3 1/2 Beagles (I can attest to this fact as I house sit the hellions occasionally). The pack loves River, and hate to see us leave them when the Parents are back.

Below: A Beagle Graduation! All our hard work comes together ~ the dogs just wanted their snack and a nap.

As often as I could, I worked with my training dogs together to help further their social skills, focus, and ability to differentiate their command from the other dog’s commands; to encourage friendly competition, a natural “pack” feel, self-control during excitement, stress and food; and to just provide overall fun for the dogs (and me!).

Below: “Wait on your bed” 4 Beagles – Blondie, R.b, Boogey and Cassidy, River and Pete.

Below: Another on your bed, with Pete, River and Denali. 

Denali is a ‘rough’ coat Border Collie and a bit more dainty then Pete. Otherwise, both are fine purebred Borders. And yes, Pete’s ear is always like that – it’s part of his charm!

Below: During camp (where dogs just play in large rooms with a caretaker) I went in to help a young Heeler mix calm down so she wouldn’t have to have a time out.

I was often called to help the Hotel with a dog or two. One of the main reasons people sought me out for training was to get their dog relaxed or social enough to be around other dogs while remaining calm. As you can see in this picture, even during playtime my ‘regulars’ tended to gather around me and just be with me. Pete often requested that he be glued to my hip and aid me with whatever I had going on that day.

Below: Pete and I taking a lunch break back in the hotel.

As you can see from his serene face, Pete was exactly where he wanted to be. Next to his ‘dad,’ I was Pete’s preferred person.

Quite a few pet owners and employees would asked me if Pete was looking for someone to bond with since he was so attached to me. The staff had a running joke for the last oh, eight months I worked there that Pete was in love with me, was my boyfriend and all sorts of other silliness. But to address any concerns; Pete’s Dad is his human, and they have an amazing relationship.
Due to his owner/Dad’s work, Pete needed a job; all Border Collies MUST have a purpose outside of the usual companion/pack relationship they have with their person. Sometimes it is not possible for the owner to ensure that extra purpose bit themselves, and another can take that role without hurting their bond. So I became Pete’s purpose, and job. Think like a mentor in a karate film. Needless to say I love him like my own, and if Pete didn’t already have a great family, I’d have begged and pleaded to take him with me.

Below: River ‘working’. My training cart moved with me from playroom to playroom and all the dogs knew that they couldn’t rob it without permission. River rode around on it like a boss!

Like River, Pete took his role in the training of people and other dogs seriously and viewed it very much as his job alongside me. My associates came to expect that whenever I was making calls, doing paper work or some other mindless task I would have a dog or three nearby, either simply waiting for me (Pete or River) or practicing their control and focus on stay. It may look like all ‘treats and toys’ in the pictures, but I asked a lot out of my two best dogs and keeping a command for over an hour with temptations around and my own focus on other things was a regular occurrence.

My last day with my dogs was quite heartbreaking as I said goodbye to people and dogs (the dogs were the hardest ~ sorry fellow humans). The worst part was that the dogs knew something was up, but I couldn’t explain to them that I was moving, and that to them I would just suddenly disappear. Most of the dogs were quieter or more shy than usual; Pete in particular was suddenly not bouncing around with his favorite stuffed dragon, but just leaning next to me while I worked the week leading up to my last day.

Pete & Joannie

I was told that for weeks after, dogs who were used to seeing me all the time moped around… and Pete was looking for me through doors and windows for months 😦 Quickest way to make me tear up for sure.

The Beagle pack also went through the River & Joannie withdrawal, and interestingly enough Blondie was the one who searched my room and claimed River’s bed. Luckily I get to visit and see my extended four-legged family very soon! I very much doubt that my dog days are over, and am in fact looking to expand my client list in the areas I visit often and live. But mostly I just want to see happy, healthy dogs with owners who enjoy their companionship. Both in Anchorage and Seattle!

~ J

To list all the dogs and put up all the great photos along with their stories and how far they have come would be a whole book. I have not purposely left anyone out, and all the dogs are dear to my heart. Many thanks to the owners of my furry friends who gave me permission to photograph and write about their dogs. All photos are property of Joannie Miller & the Owners. This is by no means a review of Petsmart Inc. and only reflects my personal experience. The Trainers within the company are like any other public teaching institute and include some truly gifted individuals.