Doggie Rehab — Part 3 — Adoption Day

When I got home from the shelter, I immediately called my friend Alicia. Alicia knows dogs. Alicia also knows bully breeds, having owned an American Staffordshire Terrier named Joxer, and now two Staffordshire Bull Terriers (affectionately called The Adorabulls). I wanted her take on Cricket, and I knew she’d give me her honest opinion.

On of my big reasons for wanting to avoid Pit Bulls was wanting to avoid terriers in general. They aren’t the easiest dogs to train or live with. Intense and high energy, they can be quite willful, as well as easily bored. Alicia talked about watching a training class once where the terrier in the class would beautifully perform a command twice in a row, then totally blow off its handler on the third repetition. It had already shown it could do what it was asked the first two times–it didn’t feel obligated to endlessly repeat.

That’s a terrier. You’ve got to keep these dogs engaged, and you also have to be a solid leader, or they’ll walk all over you. (More on leadership in future posts.) They also need a lot of exercise, and here I am with health problems. Well-managed health problems these days, but still…I’m not out jogging. At the same time, I really admire the terrier group their drive.

(As I type this, I sigh. After I got home tonight, I played with Cricket in the back yard to get some of the yayas out. When she was more interested in eating mulch than in running after toys, we came in for dinner. After dinner, we took a nice half hour walk. Then we did some training in the house. So I’ve spent most of the evening with the dog, and what is the dog doing now? Coming up to pester me, then running off to play with her toys when I don’t respond, interspersed with occasional bursts of whining as she considers lying down. We could have taken an hour walk and it would still be like this. You can bet a good lab mix would be snoozing by now!)

Anyway, Alicia didn’t have any reservations about my ability to train a terrier. What she brought up mainly was that, compared to my last dog Ray, any dog was going to seem easy. And that was all the reassurance I needed. Alicia is an experienced dog handler, and I knew she’d tell me if she had any hesitation about my abilities, even though I’m not nearly as experienced as she is.

As far as the high energy goes…well, only I can decide what I’m willing to live with. I’d been thinking it would be fun to try agility, anyway, and there can be some really fun aspects to owning a high drive dog, as long as you’re willing to make the lifestyle adjustments so their needs are met. I kept my fingers crossed that Cricket would, at the very least, be interested in fetch so I’d have some means to exercise her, even if I wasn’t running with her.

In spite of some nerves, I felt overwhelming excitement about Cricket, and that was key to my decision to adopt her. I did worry a bit that my excitement might cloud my assessment of her the next day, though, so Alicia agreed to meet me at the shelter. Other than the brief interaction with Cricket, I really hadn’t gotten to know her at all, and I wanted to see her in an adoption room before committing.

By the time I reached the shelter, Alicia had already been waiting for a while. Had she seen Cricket? Yes, she had. “Oh, I see what’s going on here,” she said with a knowing grin. If there’s one thing Cricket excels at, it’s being adorable and wrapping people around her little paw. She might have been a bit over a year old, but she still acted like a puppy, and I have a feeling people will still be seeing Cricket as a puppy when she’s ten. Her ears prick up, her tail wags, and her whole body smiles like she’s a lab puppy. In fact, two people with black labs have assumed just that and began telling me all about when their dogs were puppies, and wanted to bubble all over mine and reminisce. Cricket is perpetually cute.

We found a shelter employee, and I asked to see Cricket in an adoption room. During our time with her there, Alicia noted that she seemed physically hard (i.e. she played rough) but emotionally soft. She was a little scared and hesitant when she first arrived in the room–not of us, but her surroundings. However, when she was scared, she sought us out. Good sign that she seeks out people when she’s unsure, was Alicia’s pronouncement. Once she warmed up, though, she was happy to play, and incredibly adorable:

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Incidentally, one of the things I understood in hindsight with Ray is that I actually saw his separation anxiety and other problems when I visited with him in the shelter. I simply didn’t understand what I was looking at. The shelter staff tell you it’s impossible to say what a dog will be like until they’re settled into a new home. Being in the shelter stresses them out and alters their behavior. I’ve come to disagree with that somewhat. No, you will not see the fullness of that dog in the few minutes you spend with them in the shelter. But with both dogs I’ve adopted, I’ve seen traces of their problems–as well as the good things about them–represented pretty well in what I’ve noted during my visit with them. The trick is recognizing what it means.

Remember this picture. It’s important:

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As I drove away with Cricket, I felt a bit sad. I was positive I’d just adopted an awesome dog, and one I was very fortunate to have found. But she wasn’t going to live forever. I vowed to remember that, and to enjoy our time together to the fullest.

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Doggie Rehab –Part 2 — How Cricket Found Me

The Lewisburg Animal Shelter only has so much space. They used to euthanize most dogs, but now with the help of the volunteers and a rescue group called Animal Rescue Assistance Team Tennessee (ARATT), that’s all changed. Now dogs that aren’t adopted directly are connected to various rescue groups.

So when Cricket wasn’t adopted quickly enough, ARATT got her out of there. From Tennessee, she made her way to a shelter in Indiana. That shelter didn’t have room, so they sent her along to the Animal Humane Society (AHS) in St. Paul, MN. But first, they vaccinated her for rabies, so I know about them, because of Cricket’s rabies certificate.

I had been considering a dog for years before I got Cricket. Ray, my Standard Poodle, had died in 2007 at the age of thirteen. I wanted another dog right away, but was overwhelmed with health problems and simply couldn’t care for another dog at the time.

Seven years went by before my life was stable enough to consider a dog. I’d come close a time or two, but shied away. But last summer, I had my driveway replaced and new fencing put in…just in case I wanted a dog. Still, I dithered about.

Finally, I decided that if I got a dog, her name would be Cricket. Until I found Cricket, I wasn’t getting a dog. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say I thought I’d found Cricket a couple of times that summer, but those dogs didn’t turn out to be her. Mostly because dogs here are in such high demand that if they’re young, they go fast…well before I even got a chance to see them.

Fall came, and no Cricket. The last thing I wanted was to adopt a dog heading into Minesota winter. Housebreaking in the cold and snow? Ick. And what about training? You can only do so much in the house. I already knew I wanted to put a lot of training into whatever dog I got, and maybe even train her for agility. Much better to wait for spring.

Exept there was a cute Boxer mix on the AHS website. It was over in St. Paul, but if I worked early hours, I could beat rush hour and go see it. The neighbors have a Boxer I adore, so I just had to see this one. I figured it wouldn’t work out anyway, as I’d already looked at lots of dogs that I didn’t get excited about. I’d even put a dog on 24 hour hold once, and called to take her off of hold by the time I returned home.

Why? Well, after Ray and his problems, I had some serous cold feet and a good idea that I was getting into something that might not be easy. So I was waiting for the dog I loved so much that I couldn’t live without her. The one I’d feel excited about. I was looking for Cricket, and nothing less would do.

The shelter in St. Paul has two dog rooms. The first one I went into didn’t have the Boxer mix, but I decided to look around anyway. At one end was a barking, three legged dog that I’d seen on their Facebook page, so I started with him. Next to him was a little black dog lying on the floor of her run. A sign said she was recovering from a spay, so not to walk her.

She looked utterly miserable lying there, so I passed her by. She would have none of that, however. As I walked past, she dragged herself to the door of her run and stuck a paw under. Feeling guilty for having disturbed her, I couldn’t let the gesture go unrewarded, so I returned to her run and stuck my hand under. She immediately snuggled her muzzle up against my fingers and sighed as if she’d been waiting for me all day, and now she could finally relax.

I fell in love. Hard.

I quickly made the rounds of the rest of the dogs, including the Boxer mix. None of them affected me the way the little black dog had. Indeed, no dog I had seen over the prior two years had affected me that way. I became scared someone else would adopt her before I ever read her paperwork, so I scurried back.

Her name was Vela, and she was estimated at a year old. A little older than my ideal, but still young enough, if everything else looked good. At thirty pounds, she was just the size I wanted. Great. But she was a Pit Bull mix.

What? She didn’t look like a Pit Bull. I already knew I wouldn’t consider those. I’ll write another post to explain why, but suffice it to say I never would have looked at her had I known. But now that I knew, I could sort of see it. But not really. And now that I was in love with her, I didn’t want to see it.

So I went out to the front desk. What could they tell me about Vela? And could they be wrong about her..she didn’t look like a Pit Bull mix to me. I didn’t want a Pit Bull. But she’d reached out her little paw to me, and…

…and I couldn’t get through the story of how Cricket had chosen me, because I started bawling. Not a few tears, but big, choking sobs I couldn’t stop.

The woman pulled up her record, but all it said was she was transferred from another shelter due to lack of space. And while she wasn’t going to let me think Cricket wasn’t a Pit Bull, she started diplomatically calling her a terrier mix once it was clear I wanted this dog, even if I hadn’t planned to get a Pit Bull.

I knew for certain, though, that Pit Bull or not, Cricket had found me. I could no more leave without her than I could leave my own child behind. It was like we already knew each other, and had been searching our whole lives to end up together. I was bawling, because I was so upset that she was in a shelter, and it was so wrong for her to be there. She had to be in my home where she’d be safe for the rest of her life. She simply couldn’t stay there. I had to adopt her.

Well, ok. She did have to stay there one more night, having just had surgery. I paid for the 24 hour hold and snapped this picture of her. She started to get up when I appeared, but I told her no…just rest and wait, and I’ll be back for you tomorrow. I promise. She listened, and settled back onto her cot. She understood too that we belonged together, and that, having chosen me, I was now hers.


Yeah, right. She’s a dog. So she had no clue why I stuck that sign on her door saying she was going home. But I knew. And she did listen when I told her to stay where she was. Our rapport had begun.

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Doggie Rehab — Part 1 — Where Cricket Started Out

I’ve decided to do a series of posts on Cricket, and how I struggled at first to help her adjust to her new life. My goal is to help other people who’ve adopted a dog and suddenly find themselves in over their heads with problems they didn’t expect. I’m not a dog trainer, so I’m not aiming to help everyone with every problem, and I can’t give specific advice. I can only report what has worked with the two dogs I’ve adopted, and to give you a sense of how I figured out how to work with them. Every dog is different, and having only two shelter dogs under my belt, I’ve got limited experience…and only with my dogs’ problems.

What I can do, however, is let people know that when you take in a dog with a past, it’s different than getting a puppy from a reputable breeder. But if you hang in there and work with the dog, you really can end up with a wonderful pet. It’s a sometimes frustrating and perplexing process that leads to enormous rewards if you take the time to develop a relationship with your dog and teach her what she needs to know. And you *are* willing to put in that time, right? Because if you aren’t, don’t get a dog. Not even one from a good breeder. Those take a lot of time too, if you want to prevent the sorts of problems that lead to dogs getting dumped at the shelter in the first place.

When I adopted my first dog, Ray, fifteen years ago, I had no concept of what I was getting into. Ray was a Standard Poodle, and I had one of those as a child. We’d bought her from a wonderful breeder, and life with her was easy. So I saw Ray and thought, “Hey, a Standard Poodle! I love those…I’ll take him!” Well, he turned out to have severe separation anxiety and would smash planters and rip cords out of walls if I even stepped outside to take out the trash. I managed to rehab him to where his anxiety was manageable, and I’m thinking of doing a separate series of posts on him, once I’ve talked about Cricket. But her problems are different, so for now, I’ll focus on her.

Anyway, just this week, I found the Facebook page of the Lewisburg Animal Shelter Volunteers. Long story, but a month after I got Cricket, I managed to trace her journey to me back to them. She’d been picked up as a stray at the end of August, 2014, and taken to the Lewisburg Animal Shelter. With their kind permission to use pictures from their site, this is what she looked like back then:


Oh, little Cricket-dog. This picture of you just breaks my heart. I want to go back in time, find you as a puppy, and spare you this trauma. But I can’t…we only get to live forward. So I promise to be patient with you, even as I help you learn that there are expectations and boundaries for good doggie behavior. And my love and affection for you are so much more, knowing that you endured this and still adore human beings. My job as your owner is to show you that your faith and trust are not misplaced, and that whoever did this to you was wrong, and that this isn’t what people should do to dogs. I absolutely will never allow this to happen to you again.

What did happen to Cricket? Nobody knows. Odds are, though, that someone owned her, decided they didn’t want her, and dumped her on a rural road to fend for herself. Well, I’d like to dump them in the middle of nowhere, alone and without food. What was so hard about taking her to the shelter, at least, if they couldn’t find a good home for her? Me, I’d never dump a dog at a shelter, except under the most extreme circumstances, if all else failed. But if you really can’t cope with owning a dog for whatever reason, at least take that much responsibility so they don’t suffer. Even if that shelter euthanizes many or most animals, it’s better than a slow, tortured death all alone.

So yeah. When I adopted Cricket, she was about a year old (estimated at 10-12 months in August.) She’d regained 10 lbs (she was only 20 in this picture and 34 is a good weight for her). And she’d regrown the missing spots of hair–not seen in this picture, but I’ll show them in another post. But souls take longer to heal, and that’s the journey she and I began together on October 17th.

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The Challenges of Cricket Photography

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, there are some challenges in learning to photograph Cricket well.

The first is that she doesn’t like the camera pointing at her. This is generally true of animals I photograph in the wild. I think they perceive the lens as a big eye, fixated on them like a predator. Since Cricket was stray a good portion of her first year in life, she has a wariness about her. We’ve largely overcome this wariness in most situations, but it still expresses itself at times, and most likely always will.

So she’s a bit suspicious right now of this whole photography thing. I keep sessions short, and we start out each session with some barking, howling, and a need to nose and lick the equipment to ensure it is safe for dogs:
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The other challenge is that I’m not used to photographing animals that come running up to me. Even though the camera scares her a bit, she wants to be near me, since I’m her anchor when she’s nervous about something. And even once she’s ok with the equipment, she just plain old wants to be near me.

So when she’s close, I’m going to have to think about aperture more than I usually do, or I won’t end up with the depth of focus I’m after. Then again, sometimes it’s nice to have a narrow band of focus for artistic effect. Sure, I’ve got another shot like this where her entire face is focused, but I rather like that I just got her nose and the toy in this one, as she’s rather obsessed with this toy at the moment. Her focus is my focus in this shot:

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Contrast is the other challenge. You only get one exposure length per shot, and that exposure length might not be the ideal for all areas of the resulting picture. You can really see this in my last post, if you pay attention to whether Cricket’s fur is really black, and the snow is really white. All but the last shot is dicey in this regard, and I’d have had the same problem if she were a white dog in a dimly lit environment.

So with this particular shot, I was having a hard time finding the right adjustments to the image. The toy is very bright, and the camera had metered off of it. That meant a short exposure time, and a shot where I don’t have much detail in Cricket’s face. So the toy takes over the shot, and I could only do so much to highlight Cricket, who is my actual subject:

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There are ways to deal with this kind of challenge, but I’m not very adept at them yet. And by the time you’ve taken the shot, it’s too late to change the camera settings…and you’ve resigned yourself to a lot of tinkering I don’t want to do in Photoshop. So I’m going to have to play with this more.

On the other hand, it occurred to me that high contrast is an advantage for black and white photography. I’ve never been very good at black and white, since I’ve always shot color. Well, now that I have a black dog, I think I’ll have a lot of fun exploring that more:

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I think Cricket looks darn good in black and white:

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Introducing Cricket

I haven’t done much nature photography this year. First came a massive landscaping project, involving a new driveway, fencing, and gardens. Then…came a dog. The dog I was going to wait until spring to get. Except the fence was up. And she was adorable in the shelter, dragging herself to the door of her run to reach a paw out to me, in spite of having been spayed that day.

If there is one thing Cricket is good at, it’s being adorable and wrapping people around her little paw. Often to her advantage. So in addition to loving this dog to bits, we’re doing a lot of training. Hence the lack of photography.

Of course, I now need to make a concerted effort to figure out how to photograph black animals. So here is my first attempt at Cricket with the DSLR.

Cricket needs a lot of exercise. This frequently involves pouncing on something:

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Her paws are very flexible. It’s almost like being grabbed by a tiny hand:

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She’s a ferocious beast:

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She’s quite a handful. A year old, and nobody ever trained her, save for the housebreaking. So I’ve got my work cut out for me, and there are times I wonder what I got myself into. Everything I do outside of my day job seems to be dog-related these days.

But then she looks at me, and all I feel is love for this little peanut I share my home with:

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Raptor Release

I love going to the bird releases for the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center for many reasons. First, it’s such a joyous occasion, seeing magnificent birds released into the wild again after overcoming injury. Second, it’s a wonderful way to spend a day with friends (hi Joleen!). And third, you simply can’t find a better opportunity to take raptor portraits. Not to mention other pictures from the area, as these are always held somewhere beautiful…in this case, the Carpenter Nature Center near Hastings, MN.

Arriving a bit early, I had time to explore the area. It was a beautiful fall day:

Carpenter Nature Center

The pollinators were out in force:


I am after the ever-elusive bumblebee wingshot:


But here’s what I really came to photograph:


Although it does make me a bit sad, thinking of these birds who were injured (sometimes intentionally harmed by people), who will never fly free again. Brought before crowds of people with cameras to be ambassadors for their species. So seeing the picture below when I was processing my photos tugged at me. She (I think it’s a she) is a Redtailed Hawk. And while she looks sad, they said she is a very old bird. So I think it’s age I’ve captured here–or as a friend said (hi Cris!)–wisdom.

But maybe this picture is a good reminder to be good stewards of this beautiful planet we inhabit:

Redtail Hawk

Ah, the Great Horned Owl. The picture I am most pleased with…and one of the best I’ve ever taken:

Great Horned Owl

Kestrels are one of the most beautiful of birds:

Who are you looking at?

Peregrines are my favorite:

Peregrine Falcon

They aren’t colorful like Kestrels, or majestic like Owls, but their prowess as fliers appeals:

Peregrine, II

In the end, this is what we all came for, and this is why the Raptor Center exists. Please, do consider a donation to make these moments possible:


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A Couple of Pictures

Gardening and home improvement season is upon us. This always conflicts with what I consider to be prime photography season. I like getting out there during migration, before the trees leaf out, and before the birds establish territories and nests. You get better shots that way, as the birds are more vocal and visible.

Alas, transforming a landscape takes a lot of time and energy, so I’ve only been out to shoot a couple of times this spring. I haven’t even finished processing all the images! But here are a couple from my most recent shoot. A shame to have them sit, unviewed on my hard drive.

I hung out for a while on the water’s edge, watching the waterfowl. I hoped to see White Pelicans here, as they’d been at this location a couple of years before, but no luck:

Spring migration

A Blue Heron flying over:

Blue Heron

I wasn’t getting particularly good shots, so after hanging out for a while, I decided to head home. On the way, a Chickadee started posing for the camera, coming quite close. Once I get those images processed, I’ll do a whole post on this little guy. Much better shots than this one in that shoot!


Just after I wrapped up with the Chickadee, I walked into a clearing, and saw the object of my quest. The White Pelicans were circling high in the distance. They’d been hanging out on a lake south of where I’d been sitting all morning. Dang! Ok, so I was hungry and tired…but decided to walk to that lake to see if I could get any good shots.

No opportunities for anything truly good, but here are a couple of what I did get:

White Pelicans

White Pelicans II

White Pelicans III

Since I’d hoofed it that far, I took advantage of other opportunities, such as this Flicker. This is a male–you can tell by his black moustache, which the female lacks:


The Chickadee must have talked to this Yellow Rumped Warbler, because it also posed for me:

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Then I sat for a while, watching Ospreys and nibbling on nuts to quiet my hunger before the long walk back to the car. All in all, a very nice, peaceful morning to be outside. And I didn’t have to dig, or pound, or clip anything!


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My New Digs

If you arrived here via, welcome to my new digs! I got tired of paying for web hosting, so I’ve resurrected an old WordPress blog called Ambivalent Muse. I still own the domain name, so you are welcome to keep using it–it will redirect to here. Or you can link directly to the actual site, which is

If you’d like to be notified of new posts here (since they can often be sporadic), check out the options on the right. You can follow my Facebook Page, follow me via WordPress, or subscribe to RSS.

A note to existing RSS subscribers–you will need to subscribe to this site now, as I will no longer be updating the old one.

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Finding Spring

It’s been a long, hard winter here in Minnesota. I long to move freely without slogging through snow. We’re almost there, and I needed to get out and away from the city today, so I went to a park to do some photography. I’m incredibly rusty. I hardly shot last year. So from a technical perspective, I’m not especially pleased with these shots.

But from an “Oh my gosh, spring is REALLY coming!” perspective, they are worth sharing. If only to give some hope that the birds are returning, and along with them, some warmth.

Pussywillows. Lots of cattails in a picture below. And some soft winds. But I didn’t see any roses. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, Google Gorden Lightfoot and Pussywillows!


Trumpeter Swans flew over just as I arrived. That meant it was a good day, no matter what else I saw!
Trumpeter Swans

The Red-Winged Blackbirds were starting to set up territories:
Red Winged Blackbird

Sometimes it’s hard to get excited about shooting Robins. They’re so common it hardly feels like an accomplishment. But I do love the little birds, and this one was posing nicely:
Robin I

Another pose:
Robin II

Score! There was a Bluebird out there!
Bluebird I

I wish I had been using a slower shutter speed. These are the best Bluebird pix I’ve ever gotten, but the image quality is sadly lacking:
Bluebird II

The Bluebird looked happy, but these Blue Herons looked utterly miserable. With no open water, I wonder how they’re getting any food. I hope things thaw quickly over the next couple of days:
Blue Herons

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Follow Me on Facebook

In conjunction with my Snowy Owl pictures, two people have now asked if they can find me on Facebook. Well, the answer to that, as of five minutes ago, is “Yes, you can!” So if you’d like to be alerted to new posts going up on this website (and maybe even the occasional picture that I want to share quickly, without doing the work of writing up a post), feel free to follow me at

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As always, thanks for your interest in my work!

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