It was September of 2005, one year after we had brought Angus home. It had been a challenging year: Angus was not the easiest puppy, but as his first birthday rolled around we were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Angus was separated from his litter far too soon. We think he was about four weeks old when we brought him home. If you consider the fact that dogs are not put on the adoption floor immediately, he might have been as young as three weeks when he arrived at the shelter.

Because of this, Angus missed a very important socialization window when he should have been learning from his mother and littermates. After a year of living with him it was becoming clear that, as many tricks and commands as we were able to teach him, there were some things we would never be able to teach simply because Kevin and I are not fellow members of his species. We began to wonder if Angus might benefit from having a mentor.

I began frequenting the shelter once again, trying hard to take my time and make just the right choice. I was looking for a sweet temperament and lots of patience, and for my own benefit, a dog who wouldn’t mind lots of cuddling. Angus was not particularly affectionate at this time in his life (although ironically, he has now become the more cuddly of the two).

After a few drop-in visits, I decided to devote an entire Saturday to the search for our new companion. There were many dogs in the shelter that day from which to choose, and I intended to take a few minutes to personally meet and interact with each one. I went from kennel to kennel, visiting with each one. It took hours. I was hot, thirsty, and tired, but I was determined that they should all get a fair shake.

The shelter environment becomes very chaotic when someone new comes in and starts visiting the dogs and taking some out for walks – they all compete to be the object of your attention. Most would bark or jump on the bars of the cages as I walked by. At some point, I became aware there was one dog who was not like the others. He was lying on the floor of his kennel and watching me very intently.

He was black, a plain-looking dog who looked just like the other dozen or so black dogs in the shelter that day. Coincidentally, I had just become aware of something called “Black Dog Syndrome,” a well-known phenomenon in the rescue community. Black dogs are often the last to get adopted, if they are adopted at all.

I went to the kennel across from him. When I left that kennel, I looked up and saw him still lying there, not moving about or barking – just watching. Through several more visits with other dogs, whenever I looked up, there he was, looking right into my eyes. He seemed to be patiently awaiting his turn, as though he knew it would come. Or was he sizing me up? Whatever the reason, his silence and stillness was magnetic. I found myself watching him back, checking out of the corner of my eye to see if he was still watching. He always was.

He was the very last dog I visited that day. I don’t know why I waited to meet him last, because by this time I had become quite intrigued.

When I entered his kennel he stood for the first time. His tail flagged softly as he looked up, still meeting my eyes. As I kneeled down to greet him on his level, he lowered his head and pushed it softly into my stomach, flagging his tail and melting into my arms.

My search was over at that moment. I came back on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and so on, all week – but this time it was only to visit with him.

I started taking him for walks, and he was so easygoing. He did have one odd but very endearing little habit: As soon as he was out the door, he would jump straight into the air like a jack-in-the-box. He did it every time: One leap of pure joy each time we left the building. Only one time, very high – so high that we were eye-to-eye. It really startled me the first time, and it seemed so out of character for this otherwise very laid-back dog. But once that was out of his system, he was happy to finish the walk very calmly.

The next Saturday rolled around, and I was happy to have a lot of time to spend with “Curly,” as the shelter had named him. There was an unusual amount of activity that day, with more volunteers than usual, and everyone seemed very busy. As I was leaving, I inquired about all the bustle.

I was told that the volunteers were getting some of the dogs ready to participate in a fundraiser and adoption event to be held that evening. The chosen dogs would be doing “doggie speed-dating,” in which potential adopters would rotate and spend a few minutes with each dog.

Now I knew why Curly had just had a bath.

I went to my car and put the key in the ignition. Then I sat there, staring at the dashboard, processing this new information. If I left, there was no guarantee that Curly would be there the next day when I returned. However, I couldn’t just take Curly home right now either: I hadn’t been discussing my visits with Kevin. He knew I’d been spending a lot of time at the shelter, but I hadn’t yet shared the depth of my attachment to this dog.

I sat there for several minutes like that, trying to decide what my next move should be. I didn’t want to leave and risk that someone else might adopt “my” dog. Without adopting him right then, the only way to be sure he would still be there tomorrow was to put a “hold” on him. But Kevin hadn’t met him, or even heard about him. What if he said no? I would have ruined Curly’s chance of getting some great exposure and the potential for finding a home.

I took the key out of the ignition, went back inside and asked them to hold Curly until tomorrow.

I drove home, mentally composing my “pitch” to Kevin. I didn’t anticipate this was going to be an easy sell: “Oh, by the way, I met a dog this week I really liked but haven’t told you about, and I just put a hold on him and, because they are having an adoption event tonight, I really feel we have an obligation to adopt him tomorrow. Surprise!”

It took some major spin, followed by throwing myself on the mercy of the court, but Kevin actually took it much better than expected and agreed to meet Curly the next day.

We returned when they opened on Sunday afternoon and there was Curly, softly wagging his tail at us from a kennel with a big piece of paper on the outside that said “HOLD for Connie McGhee.” I was so relieved to see him.

I began selling him to Kevin as hard as I could, ticking off his many virtues, pointing out how much he looked like Angus, and wouldn’t they be a handsome pair walking down the street together? I was very worried Kevin may not agree to a dog who looked, well, rather average. I held my breath until Kevin agreed that yes, he was a “good looking dog.” And oh, Kevin, you should walk him because he’s like walking air on a leash! Here, you can take him for a walk. Now watch how he bounces up, one time, when you take him out the door. Isn’t that adorable?

That was almost six years ago. “Curly” became Simon. He still nuzzles his head into my stomach, softly wagging his tail. He will now jump straight into the air on command, or whenever he is having an especially good time – which I’m pleased to say is often.

Simon, mere moments after arriving home. He was too shy to look at the camera.

It was September of 2004. A few weeks earlier we had lost our dog, Crash. Crash was with us for ten and a half wonderful years. He was our first anniversary gift to each other, and without a doubt the greatest gift I’ve ever received. His passing left an enormous void in our hearts and home. At first I swore I’d never have another, as there could never be another I loved so much.

Weeks went by, and the silence in our home became almost deafening. If you’ve lost a dog who was very dear to you, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the silence that gets you. I began spending a lot of time at the shelter on weekends. At first it was just a desperate attempt to escape the terrible sadness of being at home without Crash, but I soon realized that it wasn’t going to get any better by just visiting with the dogs at the shelter. At some point, I still had to come home to a house without a dog.

Kevin and I began talking about adopting, and a difference of opinions emerged. Kevin had his heart set on a Lab. A yellow one. He’d always wanted a yellow one. He felt that we should find a breeder and reserve a puppy. On the other hand, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t think that rescuing a dog was the only thing to do. Even as a child I would plead with my parents to take me to the shelter so I could visit the dogs. I always had the feeling that they so desperately needed a friend.

We talked and talked, debating the merits and pitfalls of both options, and it was beginning to seem that we were at an impasse. Then one day I asked Kevin to stop by the shelter to look at a dog I’d seen who reminded me a little of Crash (which was all I really wanted – to have Crash back). He did, but disappointingly, he was less than impressed with my choice. But while he was there, he saw something he did like: A litter of Lab puppies. It seemed we may have found a way to compromise.

At Kevin’s request I went to the shelter the next morning to see this glorious litter of Lab puppies he had been carrying on about. There were five of them, and they did indeed look like purebred Lab pups. There were two yellow ones: One male and one female.

I had to admit they were cute, as all puppies are, but they were so tiny. Probably half the size Crash had been when we’d brought him home. All I could think was that they seemed so fragile, and that they didn’t look a thing like Crash. Still, I resolved to try to keep an open mind.

We went back for a third time, together, the next morning when the shelter opened. During my visit the day before I had decided that if I had to choose one of them, the female was my favorite. We went to the puppy room and removed her from her kennel so we could take her into the visitation room and get to know her better.

We had been there for about half an hour when it came to our attention that this was not the female. Oops. As I reached to pick up the male to return him to his kennel, Kevin stopped me and suggested that we not put him back right away. He thought we should see how the two puppies interacted together. OK, sounds reasonable: He can stay.

I brought in the female puppy and placed her on the floor with the male. Almost immediately she began pursuing him into corners and under chairs, relentlessly biting his ears and face, which resulted in pitiful squeals from the male. After a few minutes of this we began to feel that she was not being very kind and our allegiance shifted to the poor, persecuted male puppy. Then, almost as if to seal the deal, the male puppy crawled into Kevin’s lap and fell sound asleep.

I will never forget Kevin’s face as I stood there looking down at him, sitting cross-legged on the floor with a tiny sleeping puppy cradled on his lap. He looked up and said softly – so as not to disturb the pup – and with great conviction: “Connie, I love him.” I smiled, defeated, and thought to myself, “Well, I’ve had my dog. Maybe it’s time to let Kevin have his dog.”

A few minutes later we were on our way home with our tiny new friend, Angus.

Angus' first day at home

If I could talk to the animals, just imagine it:
Chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee!
Imagine talking to a tiger; chatting to a cheetah;
What a neat achievement that would be!
– Doctor Dolittle, 1967

I can remember singing this song as a child and thinking it was the most exciting proposition I’d ever heard. Even if you aren’t of the era to remember this charming film (the original), starring Rex Harrison as an eccentric doctor who dreamed of learning to communicate in “alligator, guinea pig and flea,” if you are a dog owner you have no doubt thought to yourself at least once, “If only my dog could talk.”

While I realize I will never be able to ask Simon about what his life was like in the seven months before he came to us or have a meaningful discussion with Angus about why he prefers women to men, I have never stopped believing that the good doctor might be onto something.

It is astounding, really, how well two such diverse species as humans and dogs are able to communicate. Think of how many words your dog understands. Considering that dogs do not communicate with each other using words, it is no small feat that the average dog has the vocabulary that they do. It is plain to see that they are well aware what the words “cookie” and “walk” predict. To understand this, they had to first make the connection that the sounds humans make have meaning. Secondly, they learned to make distinctions between sounds to be able make assumptions about something that will happen after a particular set of sounds.

What most people don’t realize is, the area of communication where dogs really shine – their native language, the system they use to communicate with each other – is through body language.

Years ago I was at a yard sale and the children of the family were deaf. They had a German Shepherd, and when they saw I was interested in meeting him they brought him outside. Realizing that they had a receptive audience, the children proceeded to take him through a little demo for me. Using only hand signals, they showed me their dog’s repetoire: Sit, stay, down, and several other commands. I was extremely impressed and thought that must be the smartest dog in the world, to be able to perform all those tricks without them having to utter a single word.

What I did not realize at the time was that the children were actually using a system of communication that was much more familiar to the dog than spoken language.

Dogs are absolute masters at interpreting body language. They notice the tiniest changes in posture, hand position, even where your eyes are looking. I once read about a dog trained to perform for audiences who were amazed that the dog seemed to be able to read the mind of his handler. The trainer gave no verbal cues and appeared to give no physical cues either, but the dog had learned to respond to where the handler was looking. The handler was moving only his eyeballs, basically, and the dog moved according to where the handler’s gaze was fixed.

I have seen evidence of the finely-tuned ability to read my movements in both my dogs, but Angus in particular. At one point I was convinced that Angus had telepathic abilities because he could successfully predict, with uncanny 100% accuracy, every time I was going to ask him to “roll over.” This command is always preceded by “down,” to get him in an appropriate position from which to start. However, he was more often asked to “down” without next being asked to “roll over,” in which case he would perform the down and leave it at that. And yet, it seemed that all I had to do was think about asking him to roll over and he was already doing it. I tried it over and over in various combinations: A down without a roll over, then with a roll over, randomly mixing it up trying to fool him. I never could. He always knew when a roll over was coming and spared me the trouble of asking.

I finally made the connection that, even though I thought I was asking for the same “down” in the same way and using same tone of voice, there must be some miniscule difference in my body position when I was thinking of adding “roll over” to the sequence. I’ve never been able to figure out what that difference is. It could be something as subtle as my shoulders tipping slightly in the direction of the roll, or that I cock my head five degrees to the right before I say “roll over.”

Whether you have noticed it yet or not, your dog does this too. Observing you on a daily basis, he has learned what specific movements predict that you are leaving the house. He can probably quite easily make the distinction between you leaving for work or just going out to get the mail. You probably make a the same gestures every time you are thinking about feeding him, retiring for the evening, or taking him for a walk. He knows the meaning of almost every move you make. This attention to the subtleties of our movements, the way they carefully study us to understand us, is one of the things that makes dogs so endearing.

So then, doesn’t this loyal effort deserve reciprocation? Shouldn’t we attempt to learn at least a few “words” in their native language?

You may remember my visit to the shelter a few months ago. During my visit I had the opportunity to interact with several of the dogs who were waiting for adoption. One dog in particular stands out in my mind.

He was a 10-month-old Doberman mix. He was on the small side, probably only weighing around 35 pounds, but the bark coming from this dog belonged with a dog three times his size, and I discovered when I took him for a walk that he had the physical strength to match. He persistently hurled his body against the kennel, barking desperately, whenever I was in sight.

Clearly he was very stressed in the shelter environment, and I silently wished there was some way I could explain to him that this behavior wasn’t doing him any favors. I wish I could have said,
“Butch – may I call you Butch? Listen, I know you’re upset about being here, but I think you should know that the people who come through this door, as I just did, are your only ticket out. If you could just please try to remain calm when that happens there will be a better chance that one of them will take a liking to you and take you home with them, and then you’ll never have to come back to this place again.”

But Butch knew only that he didn’t want to be there, and he was simply trying to communicate his frustration to me the only way he could. It occurred to me that this might be a perfect opportunity to try a few calming signals and see what happened.

“Calming Signals” is a phrase coined by Turid Rugaas, Norweigan dog trainer and author of the book,
“Calming Signals: On Talking Terms With Dogs.” Rugaas’ book is widely-acclaimed by behaviorists and trainers as the definitive resource for learning how to understand, and even communicate with, your dog through the study of their body language. It is a short, uncomplicated book that can be read on your lunch hour, but one you will want to refer back to many times. I think everyone who lives with a dog should read it.

The book describes (with illustrations) the system of nonverbal communication used by dogs to relate to other dogs, and to humans, information about how they are feeling at a given moment. You only have to live with a dog to realize that they have evolved a very complex system of communicating through posturing, ear position, tail position and so on.

Rugaas estimates that there are approximately 30 calming signals that dogs use to communicate with each other. Some of those signals are easily modeled by humans, and it’s a very handy thing indeed to know a few of them. They can be used to soothe a dog who is frightened, or convince a potentially dangerous dog that you mean him no harm.

Some of the easiest signals for humans to mimic include licking one’s lips, yawning and turning your body sideways. I decided to try all of these with the Doberman mix. I became very still, slowly turned sideways, let out a big yawn and licked/smacked my lips a few times. Not only did my target, the Doberman mix, stop barking – every dog in the row who witnessed my little display stopped barking as well.

I would love to be able to say that they all then fell happily asleep and dreamed pleasant doggie dreams all afternoon. But sadly I am not Doctor Dolittle, and the stress barking was back on as soon as I moved away. However, even if only for a few moments, I felt I had been able to reach them by “speaking” a few “words” in a language that they understood.

Imagine how dogs must feel when, day in and day out, they are surrounded by creatures who insist on communicating using meaningless sounds. It must feel quite like an alien abduction, with the captors repeating “Boop Beep Dee” at an increasing level of volume and with decreasing levels of patience when not understood by their captives.

Then imagine that one day the aliens learned to say, “Don’t be afraid. We love you.”

What would you do if your company gave you $250 and four hours in which to spend it in any way you wanted? I was granted that very interesting and exciting opportunity this week, along with the other employees at my PR firm, as part of a team-building activity at our midyear company retreat.

The instructions were simple and intriguingly open-ended: “You are each about to receive an envelope. Inside the envelope is $250. You have four hours in which to spend it. Go, spend it, and be back here at 4:30 to report on what you did.”

It took less than 60 seconds for me to decide what I wanted to do.

My parents have often related the memory that when I was a little girl and was given the choice of doing anything I wanted, the answer was always immediate and the same: I wanted to go visit the dogs at the shelter. It came as no surprise to them that I took my $250 to the shelter to support the cause that remains dearest to my heart.

The shelter was also the first thought for my friend Megan, who wanted to do something on behalf of the cats. Together we were able to donate $500 worth of supplies to help homeless pets. Nothing could have thrilled us more. My visit with the many wonderful dogs at the shelter inspired me to write this week’s blog post on their behalf.

Our shelter has come a very long way since the days I visited as a little girl. Back then it was housed in a small concrete building with crates stacked atop one another, no natural light and and an overall feeling of dismal hopelessness. Several years ago our shelter was rebuilt in a new location, and it has received national recognition for its design and protocols. I am so happy and so proud that we have come so far.

But as beautiful as it is, whenever I visit I still can’t help but feel sad that shelters are a necessary component of our society. My biggest dream is that one day, hopefully in my lifetime, there will no longer be this need.

Both of The Boys were adopted from our shelter. I am extremely proud of this. I could have purchased any dog from virtually any source, but I have always felt that if you have a home to give, you should give it to the dog who needs a home the most.

I think the two most common reasons that people don’t adopt from shelters are: 1) the misconception that there is something “wrong” with the dogs, and 2) they are afraid they are going to feel sad at the shelter.

To the first point: I can assure you that shelter dogs are turned over for a wide variety of reasons, and most of those have more to do with people making uninformed choices rather than something that can be considered the fault of the dog. Dogs are, unfortunately, often regarded as somewhat of a fashion accessory, chosen based on outward appearance or current breed popularity rather than educated decisions about what that breed is really like. Twenty-five percent of shelter dogs are purebred.

The other seventy-five percent are every bit as capable of stealing your heart and providing you with years of loyalty and companionship. They all have this in common: They desperately need the right person to come along and give them a second chance. The fact that they weren’t ideal for someone else doesn’t mean they won’t be for you. I have two wonderful dogs sleeping at my feet right now who serve as proof of that point.

Secondly: Yes, it is sad that there are unwanted animals. Yes, most of the animals at any given shelter will never find a home. But the solution to this problem is not to ignore it. If you and I decide that it is too sad to go into the shelter and adopt them, what hope do they have?

Whenever I visit the shelter, I wish I could save them all. I can’t. But I can (and did) save two. If everyone who wanted a new pet adopted from a shelter, we may find that we no longer need shelters except for the original purpose for which they were established: Temporary housing and medical care for lost or sick animals.

There is one other very important key to eliminating the problem of overcrowded shelters: Spaying and neutering our pets. This could be a blog post all its own. Suffice to say that it is my opinion that unless you plan to show your purebred dog in conformation to be judged by impartial experts who deem your dog capable of bringing improvements to the breed, there is no reason to keep your dog intact. All mixed breeds should be spayed or neutered – period. Because:

Four million perfectly adoptable pets are euthanized in the United States each year. At our local animal control facility, the number hovers around 11,000. I once did the math on this, assuming that the facility was operating on a 40-hour week, 52 weeks per year. Using those figures, it worked out to one dog or cat euthanized every eleven minutes. It’s not the fault of the dogs and cats, and it’s not the fault of those who are employed by these overburdened facilities. There are simply more animals than there are people who want to adopt them.

A few years ago there was a local puppy mill bust, and the dogs were confiscated and taken to our shelter. The story received a great deal of publicity after the raid and leading up to the day when the dogs were put up for adoption. I decided to drive over that day to make a donation.

As I entered the lobby I was stunned by what I saw: The crowd was so thick you could barely move. It took me almost half an hour to squeeze through and reach the counter to make my donation. Hundreds of people had been standing in line for hours for a chance to adopt one of the puppy mill dogs.

The emotional impact of witnessing this was overwhelming. My first thought was that I was elated to see so many people come forward to open their hearts and their homes to help these unfortunate dogs. My second thought was, “Why can’t it be like this every day?”

Maybe someday. I continue to hope.

SPAY. NEUTER. ADOPT.

One of the reasons I chose the name “happytail” for my blog (besides the fact that the first 20 names I submitted were already taken) is that it clearly states one of my training goals. The standard I have set for myself is, “If my dog’s tail isn’t wagging, I’m doing it wrong.” I try to keep this mental picture in mind each time we train – their tails are the benchmark of my success.

I believe it’s true that once you teach a dog to learn, you can teach them anything. When they understand that they will always be successful during their training sessions (and part of your job, as handler, is to manipulate the situation so that success is ensured), you will have a very eager pupil on your hands. It sets the tone for a lifelong positive association with learning.

However, it is much more common to see people saying “No! No! No!” to their dogs. It seems that for most of us, the “No” part comes very naturally. But it’s critical to remember that “Yes!” is every bit as important – even more so.

I will confess, I’m guilty of it too. An instructor once pointed it out to me in this way: “Don’t tell the dog what you don’t want them to do – tell them what you do want.” It’s not fair to the dog to say only, “No.” This doesn’t really give them a lot of information, and they may also be uncertain about which part of what they just did warranted a negative reaction from you.

Kevin fondly remembers that one of his grandfather’s favorite expressions was, “Never present a problem without also presenting a solution.” Wise man, Kevin’s grandfather. The same principle applies to dog training.

I have assisted a lot of beginner classes at our club, and one of the things I have seen very often is handlers who are not communicating to their dogs when they have performed correctly. For example, they might be having a difficult time getting their dog to sit. The handler becomes increasingly frustrated with each unsuccessful attempt. Finally, by some miracle – or maybe even by accident – the dog does sit. Often by this time the handler has become so exasperated with all this training nonsense that what they do next is … nothing. Relieved that the dog has finally “listened,” they exhale, straighten and stand erect, and don’t say another word.

If you were training another human this might be a feasible approach. A human might be able to deduce that the fact you had stopped harassing them meant that they had gotten it right.

When training a dog, however, you must know that they are unable to grasp this kind of subtlety. Omission of feedback is not a viable training tool for a dog. Whenever I see this happen I am crushed for the dog, and I also feel disappointed that the handler has missed a golden opportunity to make a point.

So when your dog does get it right, however long it has taken them to do so (in fact, particularly if it has taken a long time), it is your job to make it crystal clear to them that this – this wonderful, glorious thing that they just did – is the very thing you’ve been longing, hoping and waiting for.

Never let an opportunity to praise and reward pass you by, and make sure there is absolutely no mistaking that you are thrilled beyond belief. Whether you are training a dog for obedience or just trying to shape your dog into a pleasant housemate, the word “Yes!” should be a well-used part of your vocabulary. The more positive feedback you give, the more responsive your dog will be. The more responsive your dog is, the more you will be able to teach them.

If their tail is wagging, you’re doing it right.

Thank you for visiting happytail, my new blog devoted to the training, care, and misadventures of my two dogs, Angus and Simon.

Angus and Simon were adopted from the Nashville Humane Association in 2004 (Angus) and 2005 (Simon). Through this blog I would like to share their stories, as well as some of the things I’ve learned from living with and training them over the past five years – hopefully in a way that you will find entertaining as well as informative.

A little background: I began training my yellow Lab, Angus, when he was a few months old. Though I had long dreamed of training a dog to the level of competition obedience, it was not this dream that led me to enroll in training classes initially. Rather, it was out of necessity: Angus was what I now realize is a pretty typical Labrador Retriever puppy, but at the time his boundless, unchanneled energy garnered him the nickname “Angus Fangus.” I lost several dozen pints of blood in those first few months with him.

Sometime during this period, I discovered that there was one magic bullet that could stop the madness for a few moments and allow us to spend time together without  bloodshed: Angus loved to learn.

I began teaching him everything I could think of, and the rate at which he grasped each new command was truly dizzying. He seemed to me almost like a savant of sorts: He had been separated from his litter too early in life and, deprived of the guidance he would have received from his mother and littermates, his social skills suffered. He had no idea how to properly interact with humans or other dogs, and yet he could go for an hour during a training session and never lose focus … and, more importantly, I never lost a finger. Needless to say, we spent most of our “together time” training that first year.

Simon joined our family when Angus was a year old. Collectively, they have come to be known (and will hereafter be referred to) as “The Boys.”

The Boys have been taking classes for five years now, and competing in Rally and Obedience for three years. It seems to be common public perception that once you have taken a dog to one or two training classes, you’re done. Not so if you are competing in obedience. Classes are a lifelong commitment for those who are involved in the sport.

Through our dog training club, www.nashvilledog.org,  and several other local training venues I’ve had the good fortune to receive instruction from Nashville’s finest dog trainers. I’ve also read many outstanding books on the subjects of dog behavior and training.

Before I go any further, I want to stress that I do not consider myself to be a dog training expert. Dog training and behavior is so very complex – I think one could spend decades studying and practicing, and still not know everything there is to know.

However, I do think that over the past five years I have picked up a lot of valuable information from various sources – tips and tricks that the average dog owner may not be aware of. That is what I hope I can share with you in a way that is fun, educational and responsible. No doubt there will also be many pointless ramblings extolling the virtues of my dogs (or alternatively, cursing the day I met them, depending on how things are going). At any rate, I thank you for reading and hope you will check back for updates!