Monday, April 26, 2010

No News is Good News?

Pocahontas left on Friday with the new name of Molly. As usual I was sad saying good-bye and even choked up because her new name is the same as my deceased mother’s. My older daughter had to tell me to get a grip. Luckily, she came home from school so I wouldn’t be alone like I was when Nauset left.

Saying good-bye IS hard, but seeing the excitement and joy in the new owners’ eyes is reassuring, and watching the dogs’ tails wag when their owners hold them as they process out to the car is comforting. One new family even took a family picture on our porch before they left.

This is, afterall, why we did this in the first place - not to keep ten dogs, but to share Spray's disposition with others.

I have also been gifted with reports and pictures of the dogs after they have reached their new homes and settled in. Nauset wrote his own letter detailing how he peed on some Italian shoes and likes to eat mulch. He also said his new owner was sleeping next to him as he got used to his new crate.

Recently I received photos of Charlie, one of the first to leave, standing in his position as co-pilot in his new owner’s car as they were getting ready for a business visit. He looked proud and happy.

My husband and I have also friended almost anyone we can find on Facebook who has one of our puppies. We’ve seen Henry in the water and Zazu’s first bath, thanks to Facebook.

I’ve already heard from Molly’s new family that she is doing great, she slept through the night, and they love her tons.

Not one dog looks unhappy in any picture and we haven’t received any panicked emails, even though we know, from the chewed shoes and coffee table in our house, that the pups are teething like crazy.

Sometimes, I have to wait a while between updates, but this is when I remind myself that no news is good news.

When my daughters are away at camp or on a trip, I don’t miss them or worry about them, much. If I don’t hear from them, I know they’re safe, well cared for and are having fun, and I can continue with my own life – whether I’m teaching or playing tennis.

But when a phone call or letter comes that says one of them is hurt or homesick, I miss them terribly. I want to run to them, take care of them, and fix whatever’s wrong. When they are on the opposite side of the country or across the Atlantic, I can’t do that and it kills me. I have to wait out my fear and my loneliness until I hear that the sunburn is better, the allergic reaction has dissipated, and the homesickness has abated.

I know my puppies are doing well and that they have made a lot of families immensely happy, that the new families, regardless of size, are complete with their puppies. My world has also grown because of where the puppies have gone and because of the care we got from our own breeders as they coached us through this adventure.

And so, I will remind myself next year after my daughter moves out that no news is good news and that her new friends and new life will inevitably reach me and enlarge my world as well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Placing Pups

We have only two more puppies to place. Last night Pocahontas found a home with a nice family in Worcester. This Friday, Scar, aka Nauset, leaves for his new home in CT, and Pokey will follow a week after that. Two boys are left.

Placing our pups has turned out to be harder and more labor intensive than we anticipated. Perhaps we were na├»ve about this part of the job, although our breeders had warned us about some of their interactions with the human species. I hadn’t planned on getting so attached to the puppies and caring as much as I do about their future homes. Playing with the puppies, watching them grow and develop their personalities has been more than fun. We’ve learned a lot – about animals and how they behave with each other, humans and how much joy puppies bring them.

But, we’ve also learned how tricky it is placing a puppy with the right family. We’ve learned a lot about human nature and how humans treat humans.

A PWD isn’t an easy dog to own and most people who call or visit know this. They’ve done their research, have a good case to plead, pick the pups up, get down on their hands and knees to play with them and encourage their kids to do so as well.

But not every match is perfect, even if the prospective buyers think it is, just like high school seniors who are convinced they know which colleges should take them, even if the colleges don’t always agree.

Prospective buyers call who tell me they’re interested in the breed because the dogs are cute. Once I ask what they know about the breed and fill in the blanks for them, I often don’t hear from them again. They must realize the dog is more dog than they want. Sometimes a high school senior will realize upon visiting a school or hearing more about the place, that no matter how great the school’s reputation, the fit just isn’t right.

We’ve had a couple of families and individuals visit multiple times to prove they can handle this dog, that they’re ready and committed to the breed, that they understand the puppyhood lasts for three years, that the dogs are mouthy and highly energetic, that they need to work and be exercised multiple times a day. If not, they’ll tear your house apart. If we see the family’s commitment, we are more apt to think about placing a puppy with them.

PWDs cannot be left alone in a crate or in the house for extended time. They need to be with an owner, a dog walker, in doggie daycare, or with another dog to keep them company.

I learned this the hard way – with our first dog who needed more than I could give him. I had a 4-year-old at the time who needed my attention and the dog turned out to be more tightly wound than anticipated. I try to tell people this. Some listen; some don’t.

For those who don’t, we have to do the hardest thing possible and ask them to reconsider the breed. It’s not that we don’t like the families or think they don’t mean well, it’s just the kids are too young or the families haven’t interacted with the puppies or look afraid or don’t really understand what they’re walking into.

No one is happy when they hear this news.

We try to let them down gently – we know we’re disappointing them, just like the high school seniors who got denials from colleges in the last two weeks. It’s not fair. Sometimes there doesn’t appear to be a justified reason and the denial is a burn. Decisions are made on a first impression basis. But when admission committee members sit down to discuss candidates, they, for reasons only they understand, decide some students will be a better fit at their college than others.

So too with our puppies – we, as a family, discuss and agree, that some potential buyers aren’t ready for the breed and others should be encouraged to take a specific dog we think will fit their lifestyle.

Of course, we’re not always right and neither are the colleges, but given the small amount of information we, or the colleges have, we all make the best decision possible.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Every semester, I get two new classes, two new groups of students. I usually switch up what and how I’m teaching to give the classes a fresh twist. Sometimes my changes work well and sometimes they fall flat. The new text I used last semester was a bust, but getting my students to keep blogs this semester has been a huge hit.

During the semester, the classes gel in some way. Each has it’s own dynamic. I get classes where the students talk and talk and talk and I rarely say a word, and I get classes where I coax the students to talk more with leading questions. I get classes where the students bond and feel like they’re part of a club or family and I get classes where, for whatever reason, the students get on with their work but don’t form close relationships.

In all these classes, however, I am at the center of them. I develop relationships with each of my students, even the ones who don’t like me or what I teach, and with the group as a whole. I get to know these young adults well – especially because I teach Creative Nonfiction. I know what makes them laugh, what pushes their buttons, what their strengths and challenges are.

My joy comes when I see students’ work improve, when they stop using the word “that” so much, leave the passive voice for the active, or figure out the reason they’ve written about a particular subject. I’m proud of my work when I see how happy they are with their work.

For a brief semester, I am their leader, the one they go to for guidance and support.

When the end of the semester comes, I’m usually exhausted, sad and relieved. I’ve worked hard to get my students to write better, to delve deeper and I’ve read and corrected too many papers to count. I’m glad the hard work is over for a short breather but am sad to say good-bye to each group of students I’ve had.

The students go off, form bonds with new teachers and classmates and I am, maybe not forgotten, but not as important anymore. If I’m lucky, I hear from them later – when they’re in other classes or after they’ve graduated. I’m proud of their accomplishments and look forward to more reports.

So it is with my puppies. For nine weeks, my daughters, husband and I have been the central figures in their lives. We fed them, cleaned them and cuddled with them. We created tight bonds with each of them. We were greeted by wagging tails and watched with pride as they learned to poop outside. We know their habits and their personalities. Rafiki is independent and often sleeps by himself. Pocahontas likes to be the center of the party. Zazu is big, handsome and mellow. Map is the son I never had – funny with a ton of energy.

As hard as it is to say good-bye, I know we’ve done a good job with the pups when they sit relaxed in their new owners’ arms as they leave the house to start forming new bonds with their new families. Soon someone else will be the center figure to their lives – feeding, cleaning and cuddling with them.

So far, I’ve been lucky and have received reports on how well the pups are doing – that they’re sleeping through the night, pooping outside and bonding with the families – I’m proud of them. I did something right. They’ve moved on – puppies and students. My job is to get them there.