Handling the Grief

dog bedMany of us have been there…handling the grief when you lose your canine companion.  I recently had the misfortunate of losing my two oldest dogs within three weeks of each other, and boy, handling the grief and trying to process it has been a challenge.  On the one hand, I was blessed to have been surrounded by dog owners and dog lovers who have been through it and could lend an empathetic ear.  On the other hand, I have been surrounded by dog owners and their wonderful dogs in my job who continue to remind me of the amazing human/dog bond that I have lost, not once, but twice over the last month.  It is a challenge.

In the cards, texts and loving emails I have received from caring colleagues, family and friends have I read some of the sweetest and most inspirational poems and sentiments of what it is to have lost a pet.  One post I read recently summed it up best for me, I have lost “a reservoir of selfless love” that filled me up for years.  You see, I think at the core, many of us animal lovers and owners are care takers.  We derive fulfillment from giving care and love to our pets.  They are absolutely an extension of our human families and the loss we feel when they are gone is profound.  They sleep with us, eat with us, walk with us, and as my husband very astutely pointed out, they mark milestones in our lives.  With the passing of my two oldest dogs went the memories of our life in NYC together, a chapter of life that had ended years ago for me after moving to Georgia, but they were definitely a lasting piece of that time in my life.  There is a certain finality of those days that their passing has brought to me.

One of the hardest things I had to do yesterday was finally wash the dog bed.  My sweet 17 year old Minnie girl had claimed a bed I bought for one of the other dogs as her own this past year.  I had decided after she died that I would just not wash the bed, however my remaining 12 year old Shih Tzu Connor decided the last week or two that rubbing dirt all over it would be a good idea.  He never went near that bed until about ten days after Minnie left us.  I believe he is handling the grief too.  We may never be able to scientifically prove that one way or another in my lifetime, however behavioral changes speak volumes.

Minnie’s bed, pictured above, now sits empty and sometimes when I look at it I still expect her to be laying there in it.  A bittersweet reminder to me that 17 years just does not even seem long enough, even though I know I was more blessed than many to have had her in my life that long.  I know that she and Cosette, her buddy of 15 years are now up in Heaven probably greeting every person they come across.  That is what these two NYC raised girls did on the street on their walks….they never met a stranger and they never stopped pouring out the love.  My heart aches but my thankfulness of having them in my life for more than a decade is great.  I give myself the gift of tears and time everyday.  I am handling the grief.  Cathy

Learning Dog Lessons from Horses

I just returned home from a six day working vacation at a dude ranch outside Tucson, Arizona.  I use the term “working vacation” because though it’s a time to get away from my everyday life and enjoy the scenery of a beautiful region of the country, it is also a working and learning experience for me.

At the dude ranch we take western riding lessons and each time I take a lesson to learn more about how to ride better, I end up learning valuable lessons about myself.  I remember first what it is like to be a student, and that is humbling!  It is hard to be a student.  It takes a lot of patience and openness.  It is not fun trying to do what the instructor says and not having the horse respond like you want him/her to.  It gets frustrating when other people are watching you and you cannot get your horse to trot!  You want to quit because it is exhausting and in the moment quitting is frankly the easier option.  There were several times in a couple of the lessons I had where I ended up with the “difficult” horse and I wanted to cry halfway through the lesson because I was so frustrated.  I had to muster up the strength to push through it.  At the end of the lesson I felt fulfilled to have achieved progress and not given up.

Another reminder that was driven home on this particular trip with the horses was intention.  There were two “difficult” horses that I rode on my vacation in lessons where the moment I got up into the saddle my confidence dropped.  It did not take a rocket scientist to tell that the horse was not in “work mode” from the moment I sat in the saddle!  Everything in the horse’s body language said that he wanted to go stand in the shade and I anticipated I was going to have to work harder because they were going to be challenging.  It was a self -fulfilling prophecy.   In my spirit I had already resigned myself to the fact I would not be able to elicit the behavior I needed to get out of them and therefore my asking of the behavior lacked energy and intention.  The horses knew it and in their minds said “well, why should I bother complying since the lady in the saddle really does not mean it or believe I’m capable of doing it?”  This resulted in further frustration on my part because the more I asked with a lack luster attitude, the more the horse would ignore me.  Thankfully I had an encouraging instructor who pointed out my intention and energy and follow through needed to be stepped up a notch and she told me to get some passion behind those kissy noises I was making to the horse!  I sure did laugh at myself the next time around the arena when I was whopping and hollering the whole way around but I did have that horse galloping at that point!  The difference was amazing and all because I put some intention behind what I was asking of the animal and believed we could do it together.

I am reminded through this experience that my dog students often feel the same way.  It is so hard to be a student, and even worse sometimes to feel as if you have the most difficult dog at the end of your leash.  There are times in a class or even at home working with your dog where you get so frustrated that you want to cry or even quit.  And there are also times when we ask things of our dogs with such a lack of intention or belief in the dog that I think they must think we are silly.  We are very fortunate that in most cases our dogs are the ones with the patience and an openness to learn regardless of how we behave.  Just like my experience with the horses, there is a lot to be learned from our dogs if we take the time to watch, observe and listen.  And remember….your instructor at Canine Country Academy knows what its like to be a student too!

Seasons of Change

Well, a lot has happened since our last blog post in February.  I find myself processing the events of the last month at the Gwinnett Animal Shelter on a daily basis since Lt. Respess was reassigned and new management has taken over the shelter.

The volunteers and I have gone through a gamut of emotions including anger, frustration and hopelessness.  What I have recently come to grips with is the fact that none of these emotions has anything to do with the last eight months of positively training dogs and helping them to become more adoptable, which is what the C.L.A.S.S. program at the shelter did.  So it is time to let go of those emotions, hang on to the joy we felt at seeing a dog like Marty stop stress barking and learn great social skills, or Porthos learn his tricks and how to relate better to humans even at an older age, or even Wiggles who Gwinnett Animal Hospital and Julie Rask were able to help to get him adopted despite his health issues.  These were just a few examples of the over 70 dogs we were able to help train and give a little more time to so they could get a second chance in life.  This is something that can never be taken away from the volunteers and as a wise colleague of mine pointed out “the ripple effect will be felt long after.”

So we have come to an end of our program and perhaps at some point when the dust settles and the new management is able to get into a steady flow another training program might be implemented to benefit the quality of life the shelter dogs have while they are there and to give them real life skills they will need in their new homes.  In the meantime, we will continue the K9 Nose Work® training we have started at the Jail Dog program and continue to work with other rescue dogs that cross our paths from other local rescue groups.  I am blessed to be in the company of wonderful volunteers like the ones we had at Gwinnett Shelter who still desire to help dogs and enrich their quality of life!

Adoption Updates

Marty, Honey, and Frances have recently found their forever homes!!  We are so happy for these great C.L.A.S.S. dogs!

We are so thrilled that Marty found a great home with the Jenkins family!!

Honey left the shelter for her new home on Saturday!

Frances followed right behind Honey and was sleeping in a her own comfy bed with her new family on Sunday night!

Meet Marty!

Please take a moment to meet one of our exceptional C.L.A.S.S. dogs, Marty.  Marty is eagerly awaiting adoption at the Gwinnett Animal Shelter.

Marty is a very bright Lab/Shepherd mix that the shelter believes is about two years old and weights around forty-five pounds.  He has learned basic commands such sit, down, look, stay, wait for the food bowl, wait to go outside, loose leash walking, shake, touch and spin.  We think he will soon be ready to test for his B.A. level in C.L.A.S.S. (Canine Life and Social Skills).  Marty has impressed all his handlers with his focus and work ethic.  He is also the star of the shelter’s Nose Work class, which meets once a week.  Nose Work is a sport where dogs use their nose to locate a target scent or odor (for Marty it is chicken).  The shelter’s Nose Work program gives dogs enrichment and the opportunity to build confidence and problem solve.  Marty has a great personality and deserves a loving home with an owner that would enjoy keeping his brain stimulated with fun activities.

Check out Marty’s loose leash walking skills and amazing Nose Work progress in the two videos below!

Newest Students

Meet the three great dogs that have recently started the C.L.A.S.S. program.  Frances, Spice, and Honey are currently available for adoption at Gwinnett Animal Shelter.  We will keep you updated on their progress!



Frances is a beautiful chocolate Pit with a cream-colored brindle. The shelter thinks she is about four years old. She is every bit as sweet as she is pretty. So far, Frances has learned to sit, down, touch, wait for the food bowl, and is working on loose leash walking. She takes her treats so gently and is such a quick learner.




Spice is a Retriever mix that the shelter thinks is about a year old.  She is a very outgoing girl with lots of energy.  She is brilliant at sit, down, look, and waiting for the food bowl. Spice is also a participant in our weekly Nose Work class and is quite the searcher.  Wouldn’t you like to add a little spice to your life?







Honey is a sweet Shepherd mix that has just started the C.L.A.S.S. program.  She has quickly learned to sit and is working on other behaviors.  Honey is also a new student in the shelter’s Nose Work program, which gives dogs the opportunity to build confidence and problem solve.  Come meet Honey today!

Recent Adoptions

We wanted to update you on some recent adoptions from the C.L.A.S.S. program.  Gracie, the beautiful and sweet Pit was adopted into a loving home with another dog.   Bubba, the American Bulldog mix was just adopted over the weekend and we are so happy he will now get the consistent love and attention he so desperately craves.  Little Roscoe was selected to be part of Operation Second Chance, a new program that allows inmates to train dogs and find them permanent homes at the Gwinnett County Jail.

Click here for more information about Operation Second Chance.



Current C.L.A.S.S. students

We would like to take a moment and showcase our C.L.A.S.S. dogs that are currently waiting for their forever homes.  If you are interested in meeting any of these wonderful dogs, please visit the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.


Roscoe is a very intelligent and sweet male Terrier mix that the shelter believes is about 5 years old.  He started C.L.A.S.S. training with volunteer Melissa on Nov. 10th.  So far, Roscoe has learned to sit, down, touch, and wait for his food bowl.  He is very friendly, engaged, and food motivated.  There is a whole lot of personality packed into this little pup!



Bubba is an incredibly sweet young American Bulldog mix with beautiful ticking marks and a cropped tail.  The shelter thinks he is about 2 years old.   He LOVES to be pet and cuddle up with anyone that will let him.  Pam, his volunteer,  has this to say about his progress: “Bubba has learned to sit, sit nicely when approached (puppy cha-cha),  is working on loose-leash walking, patiently waiting while his harness is put on, check-ins and making eye contact, recalls with treats being tossed out for him, targeting (“touch”), twist and turn (spinning in either direction – even without a lure, he is really good at it!).  He can down very nicely.  He is calm going in and out of his kennel and sits politely to have his leash put on.  He also excels at snuggling and taking treats gently!”



Mardi is a Lab/Shepherd mix that loves to work and is a very quick learner.  The shelter thinks he is about 2 years old.  So far, he can sit, down, touch, look, and wait for the food bowl.  Mardi is also participating in the shelter’s Nose Work class, which he truly enjoys and excels in.   Mardi is neutered and ready to go to a loving home.








Allie is a gorgeous Retriever/Shepherd mix that the shelter believes is about a year old.  She has stolen the heart of her volunteer Pam, who loves her sweet and outgoing personality.  Allie has a very impressive sit and down and has also learned touch, look, and spin.  Allie is looking for a forever home or rescue group.  She would do best as an only pet.  Allie also loves to use her nose, she makes it very difficult to stump her in nose work class!!



Gracie is one of the sweetest dogs you will ever meet!  She is a beautiful brindled Pit that is about 2 years old and weighs about 45 pounds.  So far, Gracie has learned to sit, down, look, touch, spin, and wait for the food bowl.  This is a dog that loves EVERYONE she meets, including children.  She is a serious snuggler and will love to keep laps warm this winter.  If you are looking for faithful companion that will supply endless affection, Gracie is the girl for you!






Porthos is affectionately named after one of the three musketeers by his volunteer trainer Jorie.  Porthos is a Lab mix that the shelter believes is around 7 years old.  This sweet and easy going guy has learned to sit, down, wait, watch, and touch.

Update on Wiggles

Thank you to Julie Rask for letting us know the rest of the Wiggles story which has a VERY happy ending!

Check it out here: Wiggles Happy Ending

New C.L.A.S.S. dogs


This lovely Pit was started out this week in C.L.A.S.S. with our volunteer Kim.  She’s such a sweet dog and is a fast learner!!  We will keep you posted on her progress and her adoption status.  Right now she’s available and in class on Monday learned Sit, Down, Touch (hand target), Loose Leash walking and Spin!


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