Category Archives: Pets of the Past

Adding to Your Family Dynamic

As an adoption counselor and a dog trainer I sometimes see the opposite ends of the family choosing a new companion animal for their family.  Back in the olden days (when I had to walk five miles in a snow storm, up hill to get to school) pets were sold exclusively at pet stores or Woolworth’s (small pets) or just found them wandering around with no collar.  There were some rescues out there but a lot of euthanasia of strays and unwanted puppies and kittens. If there was an animal shelter, it was often just a euphemism for being put to sleep.

Or you went to a breeder to get a specific dog.  It didn’t matter if that was the breed best suited to your family and your lifestyle – you paid your money and got your dog.  If you liked the look, bought into the Lassie phenomenon that dogs behaved because they wanted to please their people or because Biffy down the street had a poodle, you got a dog.  If they chewed on your furniture, didn’t automagically become house broken or just didn’t match your lifestyle in the first place, dogs (and cats) were disposable and no one would blink an eye if you took them to the animal control.

Growing up, I had a plethora of dogs – some acquired from breeders and some rescued.  My first memory is of our Collie, Blaze.  He was my protector, nanny and nap bed.  We also had a sheepdog named Penny whom we acquired for free from a breeder because she was diabetic and they couldn’t sell her. Our black Belgium Groenendaal named Rico Petrocelli came to our home via an aunt who impulse-purchased him from the window at the pet store. And then there was Princess, a schnauzer who just appeared one day. Some of them stayed their entire lives with us and some were disappeared into the night to live

pickright pet

NOTE: this works for other species!

a fabulous life on the farm because it wasn’t really fair to them to have to take a walk on a leash (and I’m pretty sure that farm wasn’t on this dimensional plain!).


In today’s world, that way of thinking should become a relic of the past.  Before you get that Australian Sheepdog, figure out first, is that the right dog for your family. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is your REAL activity level…not the one you aspire to but in reality, what activities would you be able to incorporate your dog into that you are already doing every day.  Do you run, hike or even stroll the neighborhood?
  2. Do you need a dog to assist you? Does your dog have a job – does he need to heard sheep or wake up a hearing impaired child?
  3. What size do you want the dog to be?  Should it fit through a cat door or take up a king sized bed?
  4. What type of coat should the dog have?  Are you a clean freak that wears a lot of black?  I don’t recommend a Great Pyrenees for you!
  5. What kind of personality are you looking for?  If a trip to the dog park on a daily basis is on your agenda then you want to find a dog that is confident and social with another dogs and enjoys that kind of interaction.

    Pick right pet

    What? You’re leaving me again?

  6. What is your lifestyle?  Is everyone out of the house for 8-10 hours a day and then scheduled with something every hour until it is time to go to bed?  Maybe fish would be a good alternative for you!  My gentle and loving Phoebe came from a situation where a family wanted a new puppy, decided on a lab and because of how busy this family was, she was chained in the yard all day and then crated all night long with little interaction with the owners.  She was about nine-months old when she came to live at the LPPL and is one of the best dogs I’ve had.  But I knew what I was getting into with the breed, her needs both physical and mental.

Notice, not one of the questions above had anything to do with the cuteness factor.  Dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, all give us the same chemical reaction as a baby does.  It’s incredibly hard to not go with the cuteness factor but at the end of the day, if you do this exercise before getting a new companion animal, your chances of successful guardianship increases dramatically!

So what if you are less worried about the breed and really want to focus on rescues?  Good news on that front! Paws Like Me is the for companion animals!  Once you fill out the profile, Paws Like Me then applies a pet matching logarithm based on the following personality quadrants:


Energy measures physical as well as mental energy. A dog with high energy tends to be very motivated and active. A dog with low energy prefers the lazy life and won’t go out of his way to keep himself entertained.


Confidence measures the dog’s level of security. A dog with high confidence will confront new situations and people with no hesitation. A dog with low confidence will need more guidance and reassurance in their daily life.


Focus measures a dog’s ability to concentrate on a given task. A high focus dog is not easily distracted and is well suited for advanced training. A low focus dog is spontaneous in play and easily distracted.


Independence measures a dog’s level of affection. A very independent dog is happy with minimal physical contact; a glance or kind word makes him happy. A dog with low independence thrives on petting, giving kisses, and being in contact with someone as frequently as possible.

Paws Like Us then pulls results from local rescue and online resources and matches you with a potential companion.

A few weeks ago, we had a great couple come to us ready to adopt their first dog together. You could tell they were going to be great doggy parents!  One half of the couple gravitates toward one of our gentle giants, Ranger, while the other half fell in love with a mini, Lenny.  This was a huge decision for them and you could see the gravity of them wanting to make the right choice.

I sent them home with no one and asked them to fill out the Paws Like Me application.  As much as we loved them and wanted them to adopt from Mostly Mutts, perhaps there was another companion out there better suited for them.  Yesterday, they came back and adopted Lenny.  He was their #1 match!  I can’t wait to see the updates.


Dogs of the Past – Riley

Riley sitting in a chair

Riley sitting in a chair

Before we moved to Atlanta in 1996, Andy and I had adopted a lovely chocolate lab while I volunteered at Bergen Animal shelter.  Because I was the “boss” at my job in New Jersey, she came to work with me every day.  But when we moved to Atlanta and I got a job with IBM, all of a sudden she was home alone…and she did not like it!  So we decided she needed a companion and we needed another dog!

Anyone who has been at an animal shelter knows it isn’t really a pleasant experience.  The noise level almost bursts your ear drums, and no matter how clean you keep it, there is an offensive smell that hangs in the air.  We were going through the labyrinth of cages looking for another lab of similar age to Murphy.  Murphy had the easy job – she got loving from the AC staff in the front office while we looked for her brother or sister.

Riley was in a corner cage in a dark portion of the shelter.  I walked by him and didn’t even notice him.  I had seen a nice young black lab that I thought would be good for Murphy.  Andy called me back to his cage and said, “What about him?  He seems pretty low-key.”

I looked in the cage and saw a giant lab with one of the biggest jar heads, ever!  His face looked so sad and his tail hung down between his back legs.  Andy said according to his paperwork, today is his last chance to find a home because he’s on the euthanasia list for tonight. I didn’t really think he was interested in us.  He showed no excitement.  We motioned for the attendant to take him out of the run and we went into the visitor dog room.  It was there that we noticed his tail hung like that because it was broken at the base.  The attendant took him off the leash and he ran over to where Andy and I were sitting and laid his giant head on my lap and looked up at me as if he was asking me if I was taking him home.  I was immediately smitten but he had to pass the Murphy Test.

We had the OK from the Animal Control staff to try the two dogs together in one of the exercise yards.  We took this giant chocolate dog to meet the miniature choco dog and it was like they were in a love story commercial.  They ran across the yard to each other and immediately began to play.  We knew we had a winning combination.  We named him Riley on the spot.  For some reason we had taken two cars to the pound so Murphy went home with Andy and I took Riley off to the vet to be checked out.  We stopped at McDonalds and I gave him a hamburger.  To this day, Andy is bitter because he believes that hamburger is what forged the stronger bond between Riley and I.

At the vet, she confirmed his tail had been broken but it felt healed and should not give him any issues other than not being able to wag it.  He was emaciated slightly so we would have to help him gain some weight but even at this weight he was 87 lbs.  She estimated he was about 9 months old based on his teeth and that he was probably a pure bred Labrador.  We also discovered that he already knew a variety of obedience commands like sit, down, and stay.

The night we adopted him, we had a Halloween party in our apartment.  Riley lay in the middle of the festivities like a throw rug.  He was so laid back to the party and the strangers coming in and out that people were asking if he was sick!  Nope he wasn’t sick – this is what a well-behaved dog acts like!  Of course, I couldn’t take any credit for it.

To accommodate for his broken tail, Riley would swing his hips more to cause a wagging motion of the tail.  We used to joke and ask him if he’s like some fries with that shake.  Every time I think he would open his mouth and respond to me in English.  His eyes told me he understood what I said and I truly believed he understood human language unlike any other dog I have ever had.

One night we had a dinner party.  We’ve always had boundaries for the dogs when it came to human food and eating and they were not allowed in the dining room during meals.  We have a glass top table and there is nothing worse than having a good meal to look down and see a face looking up at you through the glass so we exiled them.  After the meal was eaten and the table was cleared, some people went into the living room to continue conversations but some people stayed in the dining room including me.  Little by little, Riley inched his way into the room.  There was an empty chair at the table and I saw Riley move closer to it.  Then I saw one paw on it and then he was sitting in the chair.  He made no attempt to nibble at crumbs leftover from whomever was sitting there.  He just followed the conversation.  The man on the end would say something, Riley would look at him while he was speaking.  The woman to my right would reply and Riley would turn his full attention onto her.  As the conversation jumped around the table, Riley acted like he was following it and looked at everyone who spoke when they spoke.

tail always hanging!

Tail always hanging!

Riley was our gentle giant.  We lost him to complications from a disorder he had called Mega-esophagus causing him to have chronic pneumonia.