Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Never Say Never

I saw a meme on a social media site the other day that made me think.  It said something along the lines of never abandon a dog, no matter what happens.  In literal terms, I agree completely and would never abandon my dogs in the sense of leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets or in the country.   I’ve heard many people say, however, that they would live on the street rather than give up their animals, and I have to wonder if that is truly what is best for both the person and their pets.

After nearly twenty years of Rottweiler rescue work, I’ve repeatedly seen people give their dogs up to both shelters and rescues.  Sometimes this is done out of convenience or for other selfish reasons, including the excuse that the dog is old and they don’t want to care for it any longer.  I’m honest when I say that I have little respect for such people, as they seem to view the living being they are dumping as a disposable item, worth no more than an empty soda can. Others I’ve seen have surrendered their dog when all other options have been exhausted or when they realize that doing so is actually best for the dog.  These are the people I respect. 

Several instances come to mind in regard to people who, putting their own desires aside, looked at what was best for the dog and made a heart-wrenching decision to part with their animals.  I mentioned one such instance in my blog titled Guardians, where I convinced a woman who had a DUI conviction and was going to spend a year in jail to surrender her dog.  Through the thick glass of the visiting center at the jail, I remember asking her to honestly tell me how well cared for would the dogs be while she was gone.  Her uncertainty led me to make her a promise, which I kept -- that if the dogs were surrendered, I would personally ensure that they went to a good home.  They did.  The woman could have insisted that the dogs be fostered so she could take them back when her sentence was complete but she didn’t.  I think she realized that she would be in no position financially, nor would she have a home, to properly care for the dogs once she was released.

A similar situation didn’t involve jail but did involve a man who struggled for many years with alcoholism.  The man lived by himself with an amazing young male Rottweiler, named J.W., who was getting into trouble with neighbors and local authorities. I won’t detail the long story of how I came to meet J.W.’s owner, but I can share that circumstances became so bad that I made the decision to try to convince the man to surrender his dog.  The reality was he needed to give up his dog or law enforcement would become involved, limiting J.W.’s options for finding a home. You see, the man was entering a yearlong, court-ordered rehab program and he wouldn’t be able to care for the dog and he didn’t know of anyone who could take J.W. I remember being with the man as he stood outside his truck, sobbing for an hour.  He loved that dog more than life itself.  Finally, in a moment of clarity, the man handed me J.W.’s leash. 
I share these stories for a reason.  Several years after I convinced the woman in the jail to surrender her dogs, I ran into her at the animal shelter where she was volunteering.  I didn’t recognize her but she knew me.  When she reminded me of who she was I was concerned she would be angry about having to surrender her dogs, but it was just the opposite.  She, instead, thanked me for taking her dogs. Knowing they were safe and happy was a comfort to her and she had been clean and sober since that day in the jail’s visitor center.  

The same happened with J.W.’s owner, or more specifically, with his wife.  It was at least three years after the day J.W. was surrendered to Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, and I was at the post office and, as is normal for me, I had my dogs in the car. A lady parked next to my car and smiled at the massive Rottweiler heads looking toward the building, waiting for my return. When she came into the post office she asked if the car was mine and if I was involved with rescue. I said yes and introduced myself.  It was then that she told me she was married to J.W.’s former owner.  Again I was concerned about her reaction, but just as before, there were no hard feelings toward me, only thanks.  The man had sobered up, was now married to her, and had even became an elder at a local church.  He had shared all the details about J.W. and I with her which is why she asked if I did rescue. We chatted for a bit, and before I left I asked that she pass a message on to her husband.  My message was that he had made the right choice.  J.W. had been adopted by the family that had fostered him for BSRR and he shared his home with a cat and another Rottweiler.  As hard as it had been for the man, I wanted him to know that he had made the right decision.

The common theme in both of these stories is that both owners struggled against something they couldn’t control without help and to get that help, they needed to surrender their dogs. The act of surrendering the dogs was so traumatic that I suspect it was a factor, even if only a small one, in their decision to make the changes in their lives so that they would never experience that pain again.  I know for me, I make many sacrifices to ensure my dogs have a good life.  No I don’t buy them bottled water or feed them gourmet food, but I do want to make sure they are loved and cared for.  If I was making choices in my life that risked that care, or worse, resulted in me having to give up my dogs, then I would do everything I could to change myself and my situation to avoid repeating that. I’m thankful that the two people mentioned above, did just that.

These people made the tough call to surrender their animals because it was best for the dog even though it was emotionally painful for them as the owners.  Do the dogs miss their owners after surrendered? Absolutely! However, if there is one thing I’ve learned in rescue, it is that dogs are amazingly resilient animals.  They can transition into new, loving homes much more easily than people realize.  What is even more amazing is that, even in their new homes, they never forget their former owners.  That bond cannot be broken.

So, when people say they would never give up their dog, I believe they should rethink such a statement.  Having had many medical issues in my life, I know that if I learned I was terminally ill with some malady, the first thing on my mind would be to ensure that my dogs would be cared for.  If that meant surrendering them to a good home in advance of my demise, then all the better.  As much as it would hurt me, it would be what is best for my dogs.  You see, I’ve had several dogs that came from such situations and my current boy, Bradum, is one of those dogs.  Bradum’s family was forced to move from Montana to Florida in order to try to find work.  The family knew that it would be hard to find a place to rent in Florida that allowed dogs and it would be nearly impossible to do so with a one hundred twenty pound Rottweiler.  Feeling that Bradum would have a better chance of finding a good home here in the Montana region, they surrendered him to BSRR.  I can’t imagine the pain such an act caused them but I respect their decision. Though I don’t know who they are, I hope they know that they made the right choice.  They never said never to the idea of giving up their pets. 
Handsome Bradum
It often comes down to making those hard choices, the ones we said we could never do. Like facing the tough call to euthanize an old, sick dog or one that is aggressive beyond rehabilitation, or surrendering a dog to a rescue because the situation would actually be worse for the dog if one were to keep it. Sometimes the very thing we swore we would never do is actually the best thing to do if we consider what is best for the dog.

I will always respect the person who makes such a difficult decision as much as I respect the person that will invest everything they can so they can keep their dog.  That is why I, and other members of BSRR, offer free training advice to people in our region and have even provided dog food to people who have fallen on hard times.  If a dog has behavior issues that might result in the dog being surrendered or people simply can’t afford to feed the dog while between jobs, then as a rescue organization, it is our duty to do everything we can to allow them to keep their dog. However, if all else fails, we respect the homes that have exhausted all options and make the call to surrender their pet.  God knows we all may face such a choice though I pray none of us will.  But if we do, think about the dog and do what is best for them.

As a side note, if you ever find yourself at a point where you feel you need to surrender a dog, please, please, please, don’t wait until the last minute to contact a shelter or rescue organization.  The more time you can allow for space to be made or a home found, then the better for all involved.

If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to follow my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  You can also learn more about me at my website  There you can purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Joy of a Ball

If the information provided to Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue is correct, then my boy Bradum is now over ten-years-old.  For a Rottweiler this is very old.  Yet, looking at him, you would hardly know it.  Besides some grey around the muzzle, an arthritic limp when he walks, and a slower pace than he once had, he appears as fit and vibrant as a dog half his age, especially when there is a tug rope or a big rubber ball involved. 

Every day after I get home from work, Bradum and Carly excitedly ask to be let into the backyard and, no, not to relieve themselves. They are hell-bent on one thing and that is a big rubber ball with a rope attached to it.  Carly will grab the ball while Bradum latches onto the rope and the show begins.  Growls and prancing are all part of the spectacle as they show off their skills of tug.  This lasts for ten to fifteen minutes before they either tire or Carly’s stomach reminds her that it is dinner time.  Either way, for those few minutes, Bradum acts nothing like his age should imply. 
The daily ritual of full contact tug with my crew
 The other day was no exception.  Both dogs were engaged in full contact tug when Bradum broke away to run to me for some affection.  This wasn’t because he loves me, well, perhaps a little.  Rather, this is a common trick he uses, as he knows Carly is a very jealous creature.  Sure enough, Carly saw me giving Bradum attention and left the ball to sprint over and push herself between Bradum and me.  This is exactly what Bradum was hoping for.  Like a rocket, he fired off toward the ball as fast as his one hundred and twenty pounds could accelerate.  As he got to the ball he tried to stop and grab it with his mouth, only to go tumbling past it.  I watched in horror as he hit the ground with his side and rolled completely over.  To my relief, Bradum didn’t even miss a beat as he rolled back up to his feet and snatched the ball in joy, triumphantly sprinting past Carly and me.  Carly, accepting the challenge, darted after him to reengage the tug-of-war.  I shook my head in disbelief and knew I would need to give Bradum his anti-inflammatory medicine after he ate -- he would surely feel his tumble later.  Sure enough, when we took our final walk of the evening, my big old dog could barely keep up, his joy at getting the ball having come with a price after all.

In reality, I wonder if Bradum, or any old dog, knows that there will be painful consequences from playing so hard, and if they do, if they even care.  That potential ignorance is something I admire in dogs at times: ignorance of consequences to life’s pleasures, ignorance of the limitations of age, and ignorance of mortality.  As humans we are not so fortunate to be oblivious during our limited time here.  We are all-too-familiar with the harsh reality that death will come to us all.  Oh to be a dog, to just be aware of the moment, the simple pleasures of a meal, the chase of a rabbit, quiet time with someone you love, or an old chewed up rubber ball. This lesson, that we should, at times, be like dogs and just enjoy the simple things in life was first taught to me by a Rottweiler named Chaos, and later on by her owner, Nancy. 

I met my friend Nancy a few years after I started Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue.  Both being Rottweiler owners, we became fast friends, and she soon volunteered at the shelter I worked with, going almost every day for many years, before she moved to Spokane with her husband and Chaos.  Chaos, her Rottweiler, lived up to her name. Full of energy and excitement, she was a real joy to know.  One of her favorite toys was a big red ball.  Ever the puppy, even at eleven-years-old and sore from the final stages of bone cancer, she would still play with her red ball.  If she didn’t have the energy to play, she would just lay in the grass with her ball, happy, content, and seemingly unaware of her fate to come.  Nancy though, was all-too-aware.  She, herself, was suffering from liver cancer.  When Chaos finally passed, Nancy sent me a picture of the dog with her ball to put on the memorial section of BSRR’s website.  With it, she included these words about her faithful companion:

“…She lived for the moment and didn't worry about whether playing was going to cause stiffness and pain later. Her sheer joy at finding that silly red ball was a sight to see. ...She taught me a lot with that red ball.”
Chaos and her red ball
For several years after Chaos’ death, Nancy fought her own cancer.  Each time I saw her, she had a smile even though I knew she was struggling.  Even with the pain and knowledge of what was to come, Nancy tried to focus on the simple pleasures of life.  For her, one of her favorites was volunteering at the local animal shelter. She told me that the animals just seemed to know that she wasn’t well.  The dogs that would normally drag the staff and other volunteers would walk calmly next to her, as though aware of the fact that she didn’t have the strength to hold them back. The times she didn’t have the energy to walk them, she would simply enter their kennels and sit on the floor.  The dogs would come and lay their heads on her lap and let her pet them, giving back the comfort and love that she had given to so many of the animals during her lifetime.  To some, this simple task is meaningless in the big picture of life, but to Nancy it was a true pleasure, and she kept doing it as long as her body allowed.

On March 14, 2013, at fifty-two-years of age, Nancy W. Freeman met the end that we all must face.  I still think of her smile and our political disagreements, but most dear to my heart is my memory of her love of animals, especially a Rottweiler named Chaos who enjoyed the joy of a simple red ball.
My friend Nancy, her dog Copper, and I in 2012
Watching my boy Bradum get older, I know that the time is drawing near when I will have to say goodbye to him like I have with so many other dogs in my life, and many friends.  What I wouldn’t give to be spared of the knowledge and foreboding of things to come. How wonderful it would be to live like a dog, unaware of life’s finite length.  Then again, are they unaware?  Upon the passing of dogs in my home, I’ve seen the remaining dogs act somber and even respectful of the one that has died, grieving as though they knew full-well what had happened.  Perhaps they are not as unaware as they seem.  Perhaps, just perhaps, they know more about dying that we do, and conversely, about living.  The Bible teaches that all creation longs in expectation to be made new by its Creator.  Perhaps that is why dogs do not fret about the end, and they, instead, enjoy the time their Creator has blessed them with, even if that is as simple a thing as playing with a big rubber ball.

Bradum and his ball
Nancy’s dedication and love for animals was part of the inspiration for the character of Abby in my novel, Stranger’s Dance.  To order a copy, click here or go to my website at

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Something happened the other day that not only reminded me of a particularly strong trait in Rottweilers but also made me thankful for that same trait, protectiveness.  When I taught classes on canine behavior and handling, I categorized canine behaviors into three instinctive categories: pack, predatory, and fear.  I counted the innate protective behavior drives under the pack category and labeled them as protection of pack members and of territory.  These behaviors are rooted in the time when a pack of wild dogs or wolves needed both territory and healthy pack members in order to survive.  The need to protect these elements was very real.  Now, through selective breeding, certain instinctive behaviors have been suppressed or enhanced in many breeds.  For Rottweilers, that protective instinct was enhanced given their duties of protecting livestock and, later, as military and law enforcement K-9’s.  What I love about Rottweilers is that, with proper training and socialization, they have a wait and see attitude when it comes to potential threats, but once they perceive someone to be a threat they are all in and will stop at nothing to protect those they love. 
Griz (back) and Belle on guard duty
I’ve had several Rottweilers who exhibited high levels of this behavior, and the most commonly protective were females, interestingly enough.  Belle came to me protection trained, so it really was no surprise that she had this drive within her. Given that all my dogs are rescues, however, I’m rarely privy to their past training or breeding.  Carly is one such example. Having come to me through Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue (BSRR) after being pulled from a high kill shelter in California, Carly arrived with a lot of baggage.  One thing I was sure of, though, was that she had a high protection drive.  This was proved true just the other day at my mom’s house.  On occasion I leave my dogs with my mom when I can’t be home to let them out.  This is great for me as I don’t have to worry about them being cared for while I work or travel.  It also gives me comfort knowing that when people come to their house, there might or might not be two Rottweilers present.  Given that my folks live out of town I like knowing that the dogs are there, but the question of whether they will act protectively or not is always in the back of my mind.  My mom has often wondered the very same.  Well, mom got her answer the other day. 

Now, both Bradum and Carly are very vocal when people come to the house, whether my house or my parents’, and they make sure anyone approaching is aware that there are two large dogs present.  Once the door is opened, both are typically all wiggles at the joyful expectation of a visitor.  Bradum usually runs off to retrieve his rope to play tug, and Carly sniffs the guest before antagonizing Bradum so they can show off for the guest. Not this time.  My stepdad was out in the backyard when the dogs went ballistic at the den window as a large man approached the house.   Mom, always keeping the screen door locked, opened the main door at the sound of the doorbell. The man was over six feet tall, wearing baggy clothes, and had a rag and bottle of window cleaner that he was supposedly trying to sell.  Now, the moment the door was opened, Carly went from the standard warning barks to full on, ‘I’m going to rip you to shreds’ behavior.  Bradum, the gentle soul that he is, stood behind mom, not sure what to do.  Mom tried to get Carly to settle down by giving her the ‘Phooey’ command, which means ‘don’t do that’, but unlike normal situations, Carly ignored my mom and only intensified her behavior. As Carly repeatedly showed the man her teeth with every bark, mom lowered the glass of the screen door a bit and heard the man’s somewhat nervous sales pitch, all accompanied by Carly’s barks and growls.  Mom told the man they weren’t interested, and the man looked relieved at the rejection as he turned to leave. 

When I picked up the dogs later that day, my mom shared about the incident, and I immediately asked if they let the man in. She said they hadn’t because she didn’t feel comfortable given how Carly was acting. I praised both my mom and Carly at that point, confirming to my mom that she should trust the dogs.  If they trigger on someone then there is a reason. I’ve worked hard to socialize Carly, and anyone that knows us understands that even though she came to me with major issues, she has become a very stable, intelligent companion.  With the exception of being hyper-protective of the car, she is typically great when people visit, the worst being a few barks if she doesn’t know the guest.  As a result, I know that if she triggered to that extent then there had to have been a reason.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in working with dogs for all these years is that you trust your dog; they sense things through smell and body language that we can’t detect.  Mom learned that lesson and said she now knows that if there was ever a problem, Carly would protect her.  For me that is a very comforting thought, especially after having shared the story with a friend in law enforcement. He told me that they were having a problem with similar scams where the “salespeople” targeted the elderly and would force their way into the home with the intent of theft of prescription medicines among other items. My friend, also a Rottweiler owner, said that Carly had good instincts. I have to agree.

Carly and Bradum, my current guardians.
This incident reminded me of other examples of Rottweilers playing the role of guardians.  One such occurrence involved me having to convince a woman to surrender her two Rottweilers after she was in jail for multiple DUI convictions. Succeeding in that, I arranged for a foster home in Livingston, Montana to which I could take the two dogs, both of whom were rather aggressive.  When they arrived, it was found that both dogs had logging chains around their necks and once removed, the dogs’ behavior improved markedly. The dogs settled into their temporary home, but after a few weeks there the woman who was fostering them experienced a scary incident.  She woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of screams and growls.  As she turned on the lights, she saw her drunk ex-husband being attacked by the older Rottweiler.  The man, who had a restraining order against him, had broken into her house and was making his way to her bedroom when the older Rottweiler attacked him.  The moment the light came on, both dog and man froze, and the dog looked back at the woman as if she was looking for direction.  The woman, realizing what was going on, cried out, “Well don’t stop, keep biting him!”

The dog, as if trained its entire life for this single purpose, knew exactly what she was supposed to do, and reattached herself to the man’s leg as the woman called the police.  The man tried to flee but was arrested, and the dog was given a lot of praise and treats for preventing what could have been a terrible situation.

Another instance of Rottweiler guardians happened a few years after I started BSRR. Years of owning and working with Rottweilers caused me to develop a knack for spotting a Rottie from a great distance.  I don’t know what it is, but something about a Rottweiler would grab my focus.  This, I learned, was not abnormal for an owner of a Rottweiler, but rather one of the side effects of this wonderful breed.

It was with this talent that I picked up the habit of remembering where I saw every Rottweiler -- what house it was at, or what vehicle it was in.  One place, in particular, happened to be along the interstate west of Bozeman.  Just past the small town of Manhattan, on the south side of I-90, sat a nice two-story house.  The place was well kept, and I assumed one of the occupants was a truck driver as I had seen semi-trucks parked there on occasion.  Yet, it was not the trucks that drew my attention each time I drove by.  Often there were two Rottweilers patrolling the property.  There was no fence around the house, and the frontage road was rarely traveled, as it dead-ends at a farm field only a few miles past the house.  I never saw the dogs outside of their property, and both looked to be in good condition and well cared for.  Though I have never met these dogs and certainly didn’t know their names, they taught me much about the breed during my brief observations as I drove by at seventy-five miles per hour. 

Oftentimes, the two Rotties would be laying on the east side of the house.  Their large black bodies sprawled out in the sun, caring nothing about the cars passing by.  One time I drove by and could see a lady standing in the doorway talking to another woman or girl (I couldn’t tell the age) who was sitting on the front lawn.  It all looked straightforward enough until I realized that the lady sitting down was reclined against a Rottweiler that was sound asleep behind her.  The scene was a snapshot of one of the gentler and less publicized aspects of this versatile breed. 

On another occasion I was blessed with a similar snapshot into these two dogs’ lives. It was a nice summer day, and I was heading east on the interstate after visiting a friend in a town about ten miles west of there.  A little less than a half mile from the house, in the back yard, I noticed a small child flying up into the air and then back down. Similarly, another small child would fly up into the air and fall down again.  I wondered what the heck was going on.  As I got closer I saw that two young kids were jumping up and down on a trampoline, having fun as kids should.  I looked for the dogs, as my truck was almost at the house, but I couldn’t see them.  I strained to find the dogs, all the while keeping my truck on the road.  Driving past the house, I looked to the back side and finally spotted them.   On a small grass covered mound, just to the side of the trampoline, were the black and tan canines.  Both were lying down in the pose of the Sphinx: bodies straight and alert but heads high and focused.  Their gazes were fixated on the children.  At that moment I realized those two kids were likely the safest children in the county --their guardians were there.  Who would dare approach the children and try to inflict harm? 

I drove on, glancing in my rearview mirror until I could see them no longer.  It was that image, the fleeting glimpse of those kids and their protectors, that defined what Rottweilers are, at least to me anyway.  They are our friends and companions, clowns and entertainers, confidants and helpers.  But above all else, they are our guardians.  The guardians of not only our family and homes, but also of our hearts. 
My girl, Mickey, was always on duty as a guardian

The guardian instincts of dogs were a key part of the character, Stranger, in my novel, Stranger’s Dance. To order a copy, click here or go to my website at

For information about Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, go to