MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life

MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Adventures in the Life of A Therapy Dog

During my years with Maggie, I didn't know about therapy dogs and all the places they could visit to make a difference in people's lives. Service dogs, yes, but not therapy dogs. I wish I had, because in retrospect, Maggie would have been an amazing therapy dog. She was a natural with the people she met, and brightened their days, but had I known, I'd have her visiting people as Chloe (our 11 year old Golden retriever we adopted a year after Maggie passed) did at Sunrise Assisted Living, and the way Maddie is now doing at the Juvenile Center.

On my visit this past Wednesday at the Juvenile Center with Maddie, I talked about canine intelligence. "How many words can dogs understand?" I asked the kids.

"200 words," offered one boy.

"Pretty good! Plus or minus," I said. "Some dogs can understand 250 words, and some people think perhaps even more."

Yet when I asked, "How many of you think dogs are intelligent?" this same boy shook his head.

"Why not?" I inquired.

"They're just animals," he said.

Just animals. Wow. So we talked about different kinds of intelligence; the left brain intelligence humans typically live in compared with the more instinctual intelligence of animals that many humans have lost touch with.

"I hope by the time we finish today you might change your mind about dog intelligence and capabilities." I informed them about seizure and diabetic alert dogs, and how some dogs have alerted mothers to an infant that stopped breathing, saving the baby's life.

"I didn't know dogs did that," the boy said with a bit of wonder and a smile. Watching his openness to the new information he was hearing warmed me.

Then I mentioned how humans respond according to what's expected of them, children and adults alike. If people are seen through a filter of not being very smart, that's often how they respond. Yet if teachers and parents look at a child through eyes that say "you are are smart--that's often the performance they get from the child.

"Perhaps dogs respond similarly to what we expect of them," I suggested. I know that's how it was with Maggie. I spoke to her as though she'd understand what I wanted, and most often she did. Through her I learned to see dogs as capable of so much more than I'd been taught, because like this boy I,too, was raised to believe that "they're just animals." Thankfully, my 2 dogs since Maggie have benefited from what she taught me.

I taught them about positive reinforcement dog training, and how dogs learned so well when it was fun and they were rewarded for what they did right rather than only receiving corrections to what they did wrong. I asked how they felt if they only heard about the things they did "wrong" vs. praise for what they did well. I think they got it.

Maddie took turns retrieving her toy with each most of the teens there -- one boy didn't wish to participate, appearing to be lost in his internal world. Difficult, no doubt. The holidays approaching and here he was ... I taught the kids some of the commands Maddie knew so they could use them with her while playing: (come -- drop -- give it -- wait -- watch me -- and OK). I had her shake with them.

Our time was up quickly. Today was a court day for them. I wished them all luck.

"I learned something today," said the boy who previously thought dogs to be unintelligent.

Nothing could have made my day more at that point. Maddie and I left, feeling we made a difference in at least one high risk teen's life today, and hopefully for the dogs and animals that cross his path in the future. We walked out through the secured doors, hoping for a brighter future for all of them.

Top Photo: Maggie (age 3 1/2 years) & me
Lower Photo: Maddie on a hike with Tom and me

Posted By:

Dawn Kairns
Author of
MAGGIE the dog who changed my life A Story of Love

Website: Blog: Dawn Kairns and Maggie the Dog Twitter:

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Send Your Old Sweaters to Help Shelter Dogs Stay Warm

I have fond feelings for Hattiesburg, Mississippi since my husband and I traveled there to help the displaced dogs following Hurricane Katrina. Here are a couple of compassionate folks living in Hattiesburg, Mississippi who are reaching out to collect sweaters for outdoor shelter dogs to protect them from the cold. They began by purchasing 12 hand-me-down sweaters from Good Will and with a little sewing creativity began making the doggy sweaters for their local shelter. They have now expanded their mission beyond their small town and are reaching out to you and me to help.

How you can help:

Send your old sweaters to the following address and these folks will recycle them and distribute them to animal shelters all over the United States. They say the smaller the better:

PO Box 19071
Hattiesburg Ms

You can follow their updates and find instructions at their blog here:

They also ask that you pass their blog along to others to spread the word:


Posted By:

Dawn Kairns
Author of
MAGGIE the dog who changed my life A Story of Love

2009 Indie Book Awards Finalist
DWAA 2008 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award Finalist

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Therapy Dog Sessions Create Immense Opportunity

In my post last week I promised I would share more detail about the time Maddie and I spent with the kids at the juvenile center during Maddie's therapy dog work, and what else I get to do with the kids at the center. Here's what I'm so excited about ...

Not only do we get to visit and interact with the kids therapeutically (of course I'm not sure who gets the most therapeutic benefit -- Maddie, the kids, or me), I get to teach kids about dogs. Both last Wednesday and today my teaching centered on positive reinforcement dog training, and educating them on what puppy mills are. This is a dream opportunity, to be able to incorporate humane education topics along with my therapy dog work with Maddie ... to introduce love, respect, and positive treatment of dogs/animals to a group of high risk teens and hopefully make a difference both for the kids and animals they have contact with in the future. What an honor!

When I defined positive reinforcement training and gave some examples, one of the teens asked, "But how does positive reinforcement/rewarding good behavior work with juveniles -- don't you have to use other ways, too?"

I can see these folks are going to keep me on my toes! "Positive reinforcement doesn't mean there aren't consequences," I explained. I gave an example of a less than charming behavior of Maddie's when we first adopted her, where she grabbed anything that contained a tennis ball, whether it was a human hand or a flinger. One day at the dog park an innocent man was standing and talking to another person. His ball flinger rested on his left arm while he held it with his right hand. Maddie suddenly launched through the air and attached her mouth to the ball end of the flinger. After apologizing profusely to the man, I removed Maddie from the dog park.

"So the consequence was simply that Maddie didn't get to do something she enjoyed doing. There is no actual punishment, or telling her she's a bad dog," I said. The boy nodded and smiled. I sensed he really got it.

I later explained how in puppy mills dogs are stacked in cages, often with chicken wire floors that they never stepped out of. I shared that these dogs often never saw the light of day, were bred repeatedly, usually did not receive needed health care, and were disposed of when no longer needed. With the exception a couple of the teens who had an idea what a puppy mill was, the others were clearly surprised when I described the conditions and how the dogs are treated.

"So when you buy a dog from a pet store, the cute puppy in the window, you're actually supporting puppy mills," I told them.

Some of the kids looked a bit stunned, so I let that register for a moment. Then I made the distinction between puppy mills and responsible, reputable breeders. We talked about dog adoption, and how you can get just about any purebred dog from a breed rescue group.

"But what about the cute puppy in the pet store?" asked one of the boys. "It's not their fault they came from a puppy mill, and they need rescued too."

"That's a good point," I responded. I just want you to know that if you buy that puppy in the window that your money is supporting puppy mills. And often those pups from the mills end up with health problems."

And doesn't he make an excellent point? What is the answer to that one? It isn't the pup's fault, and they do need rescued! I think the answer lies in prevention and getting those pet stores to either close or adopt out rescued dogs instead, so the puppy doesn't end up there in the first place. Then puppy mills will have fewer outlets to sell puppies to.

"Why are puppy mills legal? I mean, how can they be?" asked another of the boys.

How do you explain that one? "Great question," I tell them. "Animal advocates are working to legislate changes, like reducing the number of dogs a facility can have, but the needed changes are slow."

"Why is something like dog fighting illegal but being locked in a cage 24/7 not illegal? They're both hurting the dog," comments another.

"Great point," I tell him. "I wish I could answer that one." I like these kids. So does Maddie. After each one tossed her toy for her, I gave them a verbal post-quiz for what we had covered. Their positive reinforcement for right answers? Jolly Rancher candies. Although I was a bit embarrassed by how many times I reached into Maddie's treat bag to give them a treat rather than the candy bag! Whoops!

I was moved by their attention and interest in our humane education topics. I thought these kids raised some great questions. What do you think? If you have responses to some of their questions I'd love to hear them.

Posted By:

Dawn Kairns
Author of
MAGGIE the dog who changed my life A Story of Love


Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Joy of Dog

I woke up yesterday morning in a funk. I recognized the familiar feeling that I get when I let myself get out of balance. Too much computer time. Okay, sure, it's necessary for an author, I know. But, I am a "hands on" person and need a strong dose of real life interaction each day, with people and animals, to balance my cyber life. I got that dose beautifully yesterday thanks to Maddie, my rescued black lab. Of course given that it was December 9, the day looked nothing this summer mountain photo with Maddie!

You see, it was Maddie's first official day of work as a therapy dog at the juvenile center. She got the nod of approval last week from administration and met briefly with the kids. I'll share more detail in a future blog post about the hour Maddie spent with the kids, and what else I get to do with the kids at the center that I'm excited about. For now, suffice it to say she brought smiles to all eight of them as she engaged and played with each one.

When we finished and walked out into the parking lot, I was almost on a high. What happened to my funk? As Maddie dove headfirst into the snow next to the parking lot, submerged herself, rolled joyfully and kicked her feet out with snow flying in every direction, I laughed out loud. I realized just then that I'd been smiling from the moment I walked into the juvenile center over an hour earlier. Hmmm. So that's where the funk went-- transformed once again by the magic of DOG, this black bundle of joy-- my Maddie. Just as she transformed the kids inside and brought them into the present moment, even if only briefly. Maggie, my black lab soulmate I wrote my book about, was the first dog to teach me this lesson of living in the now...the first dog to bring elation and playfulness to my life each day. How blessed are we to have these angels to remind us, to help us out of our bad moods by reminding us to stay present and find the joy right before our eyes?

Our next stop was the Mt. Sanitas Valley Trail, where Maggie and I took numerous hikes together during her lifetime. Once off leash, Maddie flashed ahead, again buried her entire body in the snow, then tucked her butt in the same way that Maggie used to do her tail-tuck- and-run. Maddie has somehow mastered doing it much more vertically, though, which I find hysterically funny! Yep, still smiling... Her joy has now become mine. Thank you, Baby Soul (one of my pet names for Ms. Maddie).

Then came a young black lab pup walking towards us with her person (7 months I learned seconds later). He spotted Maddie, and dashed towards her. "Hey, you're one of me!" Maddie seemed to agree with Oscar as they chased each other as fast as they could. Still smiling. How is it possible that a down mood can be replaced by an inner glee so quickly, simply by osmosis from Maddie's joy, and the joy of other dogs? Oscar and his guardian moved on.

We walked onward, then turned to come back down the trail. Maddie found a stick and her pride and joy grew-- I could see it in the way her prance shifted. We met up with the next dog/guardian couple. This pup grabbed Maddie's stick and clearly wanted Maddie to chase her. This little brindle eventually took off with Maddie stick as Maddie watched on, and took it in for a moment that her prized possession had been "stolen." No problem. Within seconds Maddie found a 4 1/2 foot dead pine tree limb. Yes, I said 4 1/2 feet! Head and tail raised, she strutted with it down the trail. Right then I realized that no, I hadn't been smiling. I'd been grinning ear to ear pretty much from the time we entered the juvenile center.

Not only did Maddie's joy transform my "funk" into delight, she also reminded me of the law of abundance. Lose your stick? No problem. There's always more where that came from. Can we lose our attachment to the things in our lives that readily and move on to "bigger & better" things as Maddie so easily did?

What has your dog taught you about joy and abundance lately? Or has he/she tried to get your attention, to teach you, to transform you, but you forgot to listen? I'd love to hear your stories ...

Posted By:

Dawn Kairns
Author of
MAGGIE the dog who changed my life A Story of Love


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Honoring Main Line Animal Rescue During Puppy Mill Action Week

In honor of Puppy Mill Action week, I'd like to place Mainline Animal Rescue (MLAR) in Pennsylvania in the spotlight. Both puppy mill awareness/rescue and Mainline Animal Rescue are near and dear to my heart. I donate 10% of my book royalties to MLAR. Why to MLAR? It was MLAR who posted a billboard where Oprah Winfrey and her producers couldn't miss it. It said, "Oprah, please do a show on puppy mills; the dogs need you!" And Oprah did! (Thank you, Oprah!)

There are so many worthwhile and wonderful organizations dedicated to puppy mill awareness, and I want to thank each and every one of you for your incredible labor of love. I am particularly grateful to Mainline Animal Rescue for creatively making sure that what happens to dogs in puppy mills was brought to millions of us in our living rooms on the Oprah show, making more people aware, including myself, of the deplorable conditions and treatment of puppy mill dogs. It was the most watched Oprah show ever!

The following is taken & re-arranged from the Main Line Animal Rescue website

Who is MLAR?

About Us

"We are leading the fight to improve conditions for thousands of dogs in Pennsylvania's Puppy Mills by educating the public to the horrors of our state's puppy factories. Our Anti-Puppy Mill Billboards are now educating drivers along the Pennsylvania Turnpike and we also placed one outside St. Louis in Missouri, a state that harbors more Puppy Mills than any other state in the country. By raising public awareness to the plight of Puppy Mill dogs, we hope to inspire the changes needed to end their suffering.

It is also true that MLAR rescues and places many dogs from some of the worst Puppy Mills in Pennsylvania. We also accept pets from private surrenders and re-home strays. But the majority of our animals come to us from other Rescues or SPCA’s. We take them when other shelters become too overcrowded or if they have a dog or cat that requires special veterinary care and cannot afford their treatment.

... Every year, our organization rescues and finds homes for hundreds of unwanted companion animals. All of our dogs and cats are spayed or neutered prior to placement and receive any and all necessary medical care. MLAR is also proud to be able to help so many animals with special needs. And once an animal passes through our adoption programs, we are responsible for them for life. In fact, we insist that if for any reason the adoptive family cannot keep their pet, he or she must be returned to us for re-homing."

As Main Line Animal Rescue approaches its twelve year anniversary, we look back with warm remembrances of the thousands of animals we have been able to help, both in our shelters and ones whose lives we have touched through advocacy. And we look ahead with excitement to the many opportunities offered to our volunteers. The work is difficult but MLAR can't help but renew it's commitment to our four-legged (and some three-legged) friends every time we look into their eyes."

Links on MLAR site to learn more about puppy mills:

Puppy Mills:

Have You Met Your Puppies Parents?

How To Spot a Puppy Mill ... Buyer Beware:

Anti-Puppy Mill Billboards:

Please take a moment to visit the Main Line Animal Rescue site to discover more about who they are, what they do, and see how you might become involved during Puppy Mill Action Week.

Posted By:

Dawn Kairns
Author of MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life A Story of Love