Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chester's Tales - new location

New Chester's Tales have been posted, but although the existing files will remain here, all those files and any new content will be on my own web page. That way I have one location for all my writing ... book updates as well as a dedicated page for Chester's blog.

please visit us at:

The web page will continue to be improved with more photos and stories. Also that's where I will write about the progress on the book, links to other authors and/or news about other rescue dogs.

thanks for your continued support

Monday, February 11, 2013

Today's latest

And the adventures continue. Again this morning Chester decided to join me upstairs. At first he grabbed a toy and returned to the basement. Then he brought another favorite upstairs and "walked" onto my bed. He's been there over an hour while I finished reading a book. I couldn't resist getting camera in hand again to document his latest improvement.

Chester speaks

For over four months Chester hasn't said much. He doesn't bark, has only growled a few times (in what he thought was protection of me). His only sounds in life are snoring when he first falls asleep, scared sounds when he's having a nightmare ... and the squeaky whistle sound he makes when he is distressed.

During the past week he speaks loud and clear. Chester is finally beginning to express his own wants and desires. Previously his only "opinions" were ones when we made him do something he didn't want to do ... like exiting the car after a ride, moving from a hidden or safe location, or going out in the back yard to potty. Lately he has followed us upstairs a few times. It was entirely his idea to leave his normal daytime hideout. One time he climbed the stairway behind Glenn and simply appeared in my office where I was reading. He followed me wherever I went that afternoon and joined me on my upstairs bed for a nap. A day or so later, he came back upstairs with me after dinner and headed straight to the entry hall. He walked around for awhile, taking turns looking out the sidelight windows on either side of the front door. Chester made it clear that he wanted to go somewhere, anywhere. It was pitch dark outside so I decided we'd run a quick errand to the pharmacy in town where I needed to pick up a prescription anyway. He stood patiently, as always, while I fastened his halter and leash and he walked straight to the car.

All of this sounds very mundane and if you didn't know Chester, you might think it was a waste of good energy writing about a dog who enjoys a nap on a people bed or one who likes to go for a ride. Yes, Chester enjoys those things, but hasn't always. Even when he has in the past, it wasn't his idea. When we first adopted him it was a physical struggle to get him to move from under a table. Then it became easier to get him to walk with me in the house while leashed. He has never expressed an interest in telling us what "he" wants ... until now.

Chester is learning to speak, and better yet, he's learning that it's okay to do so. I look forward to seeing what else he has to say in the months and years to come.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Chester changes

A few days ago Chester added a new dimension to his favorite creature comforts. His chosen daytime haunt isn't Casey's old dog bed beside Glenn's bed. It's not even the blanket and yesterday's dirty clothes that Glenn drops by the other side of the bed. Those were all well and good for a week or so. Now he's taken over the bed itself. Not Casey's, but Glenn's. He takes short naps there, all stretched out like he hasn't a care in the world (he hasn't, but never acted that way before).  He sits up and checks to see what I'm doing here in the next room (there's an open doorway between us so he can monitor my actions). His vantage point is better from the height of the bed as opposed to floor space on either side.

Chester has finally learned to enjoy cuddling. Previously he not only wouldn't look at you but he resisted petting or close contact of any kind. Not long after he began looking "at" people, he also started to rise to meet your hand when you pet his head. Now he loves it when you wrap your body close to him. Yesterday when I sat on the bed to cuddle him, he savored it for awhile, then raised his head and craned his neck suddenly to see over my prone body. Apparently I was in the way of a television commercial he liked. Go figure!!

Being with Chester on a daily basis makes it difficult to pick up on the tiny improvements in his life. Yesterday while I was brushing him, I was surprised at how much hair is on his body. When he came to us his hair coat was minimal, brittle, dry and thin. What little hair he had was over a bony frame with pale skin showing through. Now he not only has more flesh on his bones, but he's growing lots of shiny, healthy hair. He even has a bit of the soft down undercoat hair that Goldens are supposed to have. Like any of the water dogs, they have an undercoat of hair that insulates and protects their skin from wet and cold even when they wade in ponds during winter weather. They were bred to retrieve waterfowl after all.

Other recent changes include his approaches to us (all the way from basement bedroom, through a doorway and into the family room) when we offer him certain treats. Previously even when Chester made attempts to approach, he rarely crossed a threshold. He would stand and walk to the doorway, look around to see if danger was around the corner. Then likely he'd retreat to his original position on a bed or under a table. Now it only takes one mention of "chicken", "duck", "biscuit" or "bone" to get his attention. He knows what each treat means and is anxious to get any one of them. When we first got him, food was important and to be protected but treats weren't necessarily enough to cause him to approach. He'd accept them if we brought the snack to his secluded location. Also, I've mentioned in previous episodes that he will approach when he sees his halter. He sits or stands, waiting patiently for it and the leash to be locked into place. A ride in the car or a walk in the neighborhood is special and worth standing still for the necessary halter and leash.

The sight of car keys will also cause Chester to approach and wait for his halter and leash. That's a fairly consistent behavior with most dogs. Chester has now upped the game. He approaches for the halter and leash when I put certain shoes on or when I dress with nice jeans, shirt and a jacket. He knows that I spend my days in casual clothes and sock-footed. When Mom puts on shoes and wears a jacket, it's time to go ... someplace ... any place ... I don't care ... we're going. Yay!! The exciting part for me will be when he not only wants to go, but when he's okay getting back out of the car ... or when he's okay actually seeing other people or dogs. To date he loves to ride and enjoys our walks, but he is still frightened when we venture out of his usual walking route or when we expect him to exit the vehicle. Danger is everywhere, just ask a rescue dog.

The only sound Chester ever makes is a quiet squeaky whistle/whine. That's the only way I can describe it. It's such a soft noise that Glenn didn't even hear it at first even when I brought it to his attention. In the beginning Chester only made the noise while he walked towards me, if I'd been away from him for awhile (like to welcome me back). I never left his side for more than an hour or so at a time, like to go upstairs to prepare a meal. That behavior only lasted several weeks but Chester still makes the same sound when in distress. If he's had an accident he alerts us as soon as we enter the room (the times we've failed to get him outside soon enough after eating). Sometimes I hear him whistle when he and I first go outside in the morning while I'm waiting for him to potty after breakfast. Like I said, I'm certain the noise is a distress call of sorts, but it's very quiet and only used to express his concern.

Although Chester is very definitely my dog and companion, he has begun to trust Glenn more lately. He does spend much of his day on Glenn's bed and occasionally hangs out there in the evening with Glenn and Casey. It's funny to see all three of them sitting or lying around on the bed, watching TV westerns.

This morning we had a rare treat, but I hope it becomes habit. Glenn came upstairs with Casey, like every morning ... headed to the garage for their morning of woodworking. Chester has the option any morning to return upstairs but he prefers his own space in the basement. Today Chester joined them and walked upstairs with them. Glenn and Casey headed to the garage. Chester came to my office. He followed me to the kitchen and he "walked" onto the sofa in that room. Next he went to my bedroom where I thought he might grab another stuffed animal toy. No interest in that. For about 20 minutes, he simply followed me around, on his own, wherever I was (that's a real first). He once spent time with me like that but only when I brought him room to room with his leash, with few exceptions. This morning he eventually walked down the stairwell and waited at the door for me to let him back to his basement hangout. But it was Chester's idea this morning to be upstairs with me and that's impressive and touching. Note: Chester "walks" onto furniture. Casey jumps onto sofas, her chair downstairs, the beds. Chester "walks" onto furniture, even our tall beds. He is so lanky and long-bodied and his legs are so long, he simply and gracefully places a front foot up, then steps up with a back leg and so on until he's where he wants to be. I love just watching him move, it's effortless and fluid.

We can't say that every day is something new with Chester ... but when he takes a step in the direction of becoming a happy, well-adjusted dog, it's certainly something to write about.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I'm a devious inside dog

Any animal lover, and anyone who has a pet, can testify to the humor in it all. I started to say "pet owner" but that's comical in itself because we never "own" them, or shouldn't if we're caring for them properly. They're members of our family and should bring tears of laughter to our eyes just as any crazy aunt or silly brother would.

Casey has been a source of laughs from day one. Puppies, after all, can usually cause even the most serious of people to crack a smile. Casey also has a personality that's befitting of the classic Golden Retriever. She is friendly to a fault where her only issue with obedience training is her lack of concentration when people are present who want to pet her. There is an unwritten phrase in Casey's life that says "my purpose in life is to love people and other animals and they are supposed to love me as well". Casey rarely goes anywhere or does anything without benefit of wiggle hips and wagging tail. Happy go-lucky is her motto, especially when she's glued to her "Daddy" Glenn. She knows he is "her" person. When we decided to get another Golden, it was my hope that the new dog would someday have that kind of bond with me.

Four months ago, enter Chester. A nondescript dog without a personality. Skinny with hair coat so thin you could see through to the flesh. Loose skin everywhere. The extra skin around his mouth looked odd and it produced an unusual smacking sound when he moved his jaw. No smiles. Not even a tail wag ... ever. He didn't even glance "at" anyone until Thanksgiving week (2 months into our adoption of him), just this blank, lost stare. We weren't even sure there was anyone inside this shell of a dog ... not sure he would ever appear. But we had to try.

Chester spent his days under tables or in hidden corners and when he walked his tail was always placed tightly between his legs. There's nothing funny about a domesticated animal who isn't really living. Chester was alive, breathing - we fed him, took him outside to potty, we petted him numerous times a day - but he wasn't living in the true sense of the word. Casey tried daily to get his attention. Not only was he not interested, he didn't even try to play. If the seven years per dog year is even close, imagine a 35-year-old who has never had any enjoyment in life and you can picture Chester's dilemma. Tail wagging was months away and to this day is surprising to see. I'm not sure he even realizes that he's doing it when it does happen ... it's rare and fleeting. Chester doesn't seem comfortable wagging his tail. It appears as a response he's not in control of and doesn't quite understand ... awkward.

Over time we've seen progress with Chester's attitude. Thankfully he is one of the most gentle souls I've ever known. I doubt there's an angry or aggressive bone in his body ... given his background, that's a miracle. Each time he makes a change to the next step of improvement, it is obvious. I feel certain that he contemplates a situation for a long time before acting on it. Then one day, the new behavior becomes fixed into his schedule as if it was always there.

Okay, Chester believes he's strictly an "inside" dog, or should be. He spent his previous life as a puppy mill breeder, living in a small chicken coop with 17 other dogs. I don't blame Chester for not wanting to brave the elements. But, he's taken this to new levels. Originally his potty time routine involved me leashing him (numerous times a day) and physically dragging him to the stairs and out to the back yard. I stayed with him for fear he'd find a way out of the fenced yard. If he had escaped at that time, we'd probably never see him again. The next level of improvement meant I could leash Chester, take him to the slider door, unleash him and gently push him outside. This meant I had to shut the door quickly as Chester would spin and try to come back in, regardless of the condition of his bladder. A month or so passed and I could simply hold his collar and walk with him to the back door, open it and say "go potty" and he'd go outside. That scenario holds true today. It's what happens after he's outdoors that cracks me up.

If I stand at the slider door and watch Chester, he will stand there and watch me ... for a l-o-n-g time. He's very patient and extremely good at the waiting game. Stubborn dog!!  He really has no intention of going out into the cold wet grass to do anything, let alone to pee. He doesn't particularly care to venture away from the porch light at night. There might be something scary out there and it wouldn't be a good idea to stray too far from the warm bed, regular meals and snacks at this house. Originally Chester wasn't interested in personal hygiene, never so much as licked himself. He now believes he should be well groomed at all times and can't stand to have dirty feet. So, if he was to venture into the yard and (heaven forbid) got muddy, it would involve prompt cleaning ... a lot of work for a guy who'd simply rather stay inside to begin with. It's rather ironic for a macho breeder dog to act so feminine, but that's actually the best way to describe his new personality ... prissy.

So, we play this game ... I hold Chester's collar and walk with him to the slider door ... I go just far enough away where he can't see me, but where I can watch his clever tricks. Once outside he goes to the closest edge of the patio (about 3 feet from the door). He sits and pees and promptly returns, waiting to be let back inside. Sometimes most of the pee actually goes on the patio although he's sitting in the grass. If he thinks I'm not paying attention he simply walks to that general area, circles to the edge of the patio and returns ... smiling as if to say "okay, I did it, now let me in". If I leave him there a minute or two longer, he may finally relent and go back and actually pee. When the weather is nasty, raining or windy, he will actually pee "on" the flagstone patio right by the door, under cover of the patio roof so he doesn't get wet feet. Or his latest trick even in dry weather ... in an effort to return quickly ... he heads to the lawn area, stands and pees, then walks back towards the door, peeing as he goes, sometimes leaving a trail all the way back to the door. I guess in Chester's mind, there's no point staying outside if you don't have to. He spent most of his life outside ... paid his dues ... now it's time to be an indoor dog.

The only way Chester actually goes farther into the yard to pee is if I'm outside with him. Even then he tries to fake me out that he went when he actually just sat for a few seconds. He then circles back to wait at the door. Comical Chester, really, but I've caught on to your system. Our morning routine has become a different kind of game. After breakfast I walk outside with him, grab the shovel to clean up yesterday's piles. He only goes in one area of the yard to do his business.  Casey prefers the other. So while I head over to take care of hers, Chester walks to the lawn on the other side of the patio, then quickly heads back to the patio door. I walk to "his" side of the lawn and around the corner, up the hill and wait. Within a minute or two, he'll walk part way up the hill, do his thing and return to the door. Chester is never outside in the back yard with me for more than a few minutes. Potty time, after all, should be quick or even nonexistent if you can fool your Mom into thinking you went.

Why our dogs aren't so particular on walks is just one of those things. I truly believe they enjoy watching us pick up the piles from the sidewalk or other places when we're away from home. Chester looks at Casey and they each smile ... got 'em again didn't we?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Observant much?

Photo taken in October while on a walk with Casey (left) and Chester

Being observant is something dogs do, probably most of the time without us noticing. We all have busy lives and go about our business. They watch our actions, our body language. They pay attention to our tone of voice and our words. That is, however, the way they learn our expectations. Gaining their attention is paramount to successful training.

The first few months after we adopted Chester, I wasn't sure what he watched or if any of it was registering. His blank stare indicated that he wasn't always present, or in the present. Casey tried, unsuccessfully, several times a day to get his attention. Chester's eyes held dark secrets of neglect and abuse and his night time screams and panic attacks were testament to that.

Then one day his eyes lit up when he looked at me - his world, and ours, changed. He seemed to notice everything. He began actually playing with his stuffed animals (I still refer to them as his dolls because of the way he pampers them). During that same time Chester began watching Casey more closely when she interacted with us, particularly during our evening rough-house sessions. Now he doesn't appear frightened by our tug-of-war or chase games. In fact his eyes light up and he comes close to joining in the fun. Watching him, you can see it in his eyes and body language - he wants so badly to participate but just isn't there quite yet.

Since Chester recently chose to inhabit the basement bedroom as "his" space, we have adjusted our lifestyle to blend with his. Over time I'm sure Chester will make another adjustment, so the temporary use of the basement family room instead of my upstairs office is a small sacrifice. Not only does Chester evidently prefer the space itself in Glenn's bedroom, apparently he likes the television in that room. He's close to the food and snack source (a small room just off the family room). Although he dislikes having to go outside for potty breaks, his chosen hangout is also very close to the slider door to the back yard. I'm sure he thinks that if he must go outdoors in this wet and cold weather, at least he'll be quickly back to his warm bed, his stuffed animal friends and the TV.

We're all creatures of habit, but perhaps I need to change my routine a bit. Since I've settled  into retirement, my wardrobe has become too predictable or Chester has now become too observant. In the morning after I have a few cups of coffee, I change from pajamas into comfy clothes. Usually that's a pair of pull-on, string-tie pants I can wear on the treadmill or for a long walk with the dogs. That's accompanied by a baggy t-shirt and my favorite jogging shoes. After my shower or bath the fashion statement of the day is a clean pair of baggy pants or yoga capris and a t-shirt.

Athletic socks are the footwear around the house. I rarely put shoes on unless there's a need, like going outdoors when it's wet. Making a quick walk to the car for something or to take the garbage out on dry pavement doesn't necessitate shoes in my world. (I can still hear my parents "Kathy, put your shoes on.") When I do wear shoes now they each have a purpose: loafers to take Chester outside to potty or to walk down the street to the mailbox, or those short trips outside on wet pavement - soft black tie shoes when leaving the house to shop or for other errands - jogging shoes for the obvious.

The same holds true with my choice of shirts and jackets. We keep our home at a comfortable temperature so I rarely wear more than short-sleeved t-shirts indoors. This time of year when I leave the house on errands I prefer a nicely fitting shirt and a parka that's warm and waterproof. When I'm only leaving for a few minutes, like to take Chester out back to potty, I wear a lighter weight hoodie. Pants are basic in my wardrobe as well. Baggy, comfortable ones around the house or to exercise or walk dogs. Nice jeans whenever I leave the house for trips longer than a walk to the mailbox.

Not only are my fashion choices predictable, but Chester's reactions have been as well. When he sees, or hears the car keys, he approaches me. He loves to ride, anywhere and any time. Also, when Chester sees me with his halter and/or leash, his body language shows excitement and he smiles and approaches, ready to go. Those two instances have been the only ones causing Chester to approach, other than the words biscuit, bone or chicken, which he knows to be treats.

Yesterday afternoon I was chilled when I got to the basement, so I went back upstairs and returned wearing my lightweight hoodie. When I approached to pet Chester, he ran away, over the top of the bed to the other side and back. I hadn't made a noise or movement that would have startled him. I didn't say anything to him at all so it wasn't anything in my voice that disturbed Chester. Then it dawned on me ... I was wearing the jacket that means "we're going outside in the rain and cold, it's time for you to go potty." We had just been out back for that and he was having no part of going out again when he didn't have to "go".

Chester's observation skills failed him. Had he noticed I was still sock-footed, he might have just been puzzled and not panicked. Maybe tomorrow I'll wear the hoodie when I bring the leash and halter downstairs. We can't have our already fearful dog afraid of hoodies too.