Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holidazed and Confused

I have never heard so many “no” and “leave it” commands! I mean, really, is it my fault that there is all this new stuff in the house? It’s even outside the house and at the places where I meet other dogs!  There is a tree in the downstairs room, and it has lots of shiny balls that hang on it. What would any dog do?  Pee on that tree – or try to – and get my mouth around those shiny balls. Oops! I found out they just look like balls, but they can break and cut me.
There are also candles that smell good and make me want to taste them.  But now Angie has moved them to a high place so I don’t get burned. I didn’t tell her that if I really wanted to, I could jump up there, but I’m a good dog so I won’t. It is best to keep that kind of thing away from dogs, and also the real human food, especially chocolate. I know a dog that ate a whole bag of chocolate chips, and he got so sick he could not eat anything for a few days. I also know a dog who stole a pie off of the kitchen counter, and she ate the whole thing. 

Another thing that has showed up is little strings of lights that are bright and shiny at night. They plug into the wall, and I know better than to touch the plug because I got yelled at “NO” when I tried it. Same with the lights outside, just leave those alone!
I also see boxes under that green tree, some big and some small. I would love to fetch a couple, shake them in my mouth, maybe rip off the paper into little pieces and make a mess. There are a couple that smell like dog treats, and none that smell like cat treats. (Did they forget about Oscar?  Will I have to share?) It would be better if those boxes just stayed someplace else so I would not be tempted to open them. Anyway, I am learning holiday rules, and that even though some things look like they would be fun toys for me, I have to do what Angie says. As long as she doesn’t put that reindeer hat on me again, I will be happy!   

NOTE: To learn more about how to keep your home safe for pets like me, watch this great video from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fun at Fire Fest

Last weekend was something at the fire station where lots of people came to watch Sasha, Sprinkles and me. There was a lot of other stuff going on: a helicopter landed, there were trucks and live fire and music and machines, but of course the best part was what we did. Let me tell you, we practiced all week, just about every day and night, so that we were able to be the best dogs and the best part of Fire Fest.

Sasha and Sprinkles

Here is what we did. All three of us did lots of things together. First, we lined up and one by one, we climbed a ladder, walked across a high plank, went down a ramp, and then we went across wooden bridges until we were told to stop. So each dog had to pay attention (you know how hard that is for me), and listen and wait.

Everybody was watching us, and they clapped and smiled. I just kept watching Angie. I was the last dog to climb the ladder, and the first dog to come off the bridge. After we came off, we went through a tunnel, across another bridge, and then on to a hup table. More clapping, and talking about how great we were.
Then I got to show how to search. There was somebody hidden under all of these wooden pallets. Angie told me to “go find” and I raced out to find the person, and bark, bark, bark. Guess what I got as a tug toy? A stuffed bear, with a scarf on its neck. I just shook that thing back and forth and tugged so hard I could feel it coming apart. I LOVE that feeling in my mouth! And at the very end, we all sat on our hup tables, and the people could come pet us, and get one of our cards with our pictures. Chris and Kip were there of course, and I could tell they were proud of me.

After we were finished at the Fire Fest, Angie and I drove to Disaster City for training.  So it was a fun day.  At Disaster City, somebody was hiding high up and I was almost walking on my back feet to get to him.  I couldn’t reach him, so after I barked enough, he threw a toy down to me.  I slept in a hotel that night, and so did another dog with pointed ears, who kept licking my face.  She was nice, and I hope to see her again soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Left Behind

I know what it means when Angie gets out the box that she takes to the airport, the one with all of her clothes, and my food and toys.  It means that we are taking a trip.  And you know that I really like trips a lot!  Especially since that grumpy old cat Oscar never gets to go.  But this time something was different.  The stuff that she was packing had a different smell than what she usually packs, and it looked different.  There was a long- sleeve kind of clothes that had a zipper down the back, some things that looked like duck feet, only much bigger, a kind of jacket without sleeves, and a thing that had thin tubes coming out of it, oh, and a kind of mask that you could see through. 

She did not pack any boots or blue pants with all of the pockets, and there was nothing that belonged to me.  I sat there watching her, and wondered what was going on.  It turns out that she is going to use all of this stuff when she goes scuba diving, which is something that happens under the ocean, and does not involve dogs, just people. This is the first time Angie has left without me. 

I’m not sure how long she was gone, but I really missed her.  Kip and Chris spent a lot of time with me.  Chris even had some friends over that I like.  Still, I didn’t get to go to training the whole time she was away.  Whenever I could, I went to the closet where she keeps her real clothes, the ones she wears for training.  I lay down and smelled her scent.  Then, one day she came home.  I was so happy to see her, I put my paws on her, spun around in a circle, barked, and didn’t want to do anything but be around her.  I sure hope this does not happen again, because I really don’t like being left behind.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sprinkles Goes to New York City

This was a trip I did not go on, but my friend Sprinkles told me about it.

This is Sprinkles story.

Bretagne at World Trade Center, 2001
I took a trip last month with my mom and my dad.  At first I was very excited and happy, because they were both dressed in the blue pants with pockets and the boots that mean I am going to work or to training.  Either one is fine with me since I get to run and search and play with a toy.  We loaded up in the car, but instead of going to the fire station or Disaster City, we went to the place where the airplanes are, and we got on one.  So now I’m thinking training trip, new rubble pile, get to see some dog friends, and this will be fun, but that is not at all what the trip was about.

Courtesy of FEMA/Andrea Booher
It turns out that this trip was about something bad that happened 10 years ago, in a city that has lots of tall buildings, cars, people, and noises.  I noticed that the people talked different than they do at home. Most of the time, we were with firefighters. Some of them I know from back home, but there were a lot of them that I did not know.  Still, they were rubbing my fur, and some hugged me.  And they said something about how I reminded them of my sister, Bretagne, who they met 10 years ago.  She was my mom’s search dog before me.

So there was no training for me, and there was not fun and laughing and playing.  People were sad, and their voices were low and sometimes they were crying.  My mom had tears, and she was not the only person. I can tell you that some of the firefighters who hugged me had wet eyes and rubbed them on my fur.  I didn’t mind. This bad thing that happened was called “9-11” or “World Trade Center,” and even though I was not there, I should never forget that there were brave people and dogs who died helping others, and that I may have that same job one day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Snake bit!

One time I was running in some high grass, and I saw a long, dark, flat thing move very fast at my face. Ouch! And then I forgot about it because there was so much else to do at training. But Angie heard me make that sound, and she looked at the side of my face. She thought I ran into something sharp. Later on, I started to feel kind of sick, and it was hard to breathe. Angie noticed that and I heard her say something about “snake bite.” She took me right away to a dog doctor (a vet) because by then my face was getting bigger and bigger. The vet cut some of my fur away, and there were 2 tiny holes where the snake put his teeth in me. I got some medicine. Don’t worry, I am fine - I just don’t want that to happen again. If I see that snake thing again I am going to stay far away.

So this might be one of the reasons I have to listen to Angie, and not always run and act like I can do this all by myself. She calls it “paying attention.” I have trouble with that because I just like to go for what I want. Dang, I can’t always have it my way. I would always rather search than pay attention, because usually when I pay attention, it means I have to be still…and no barking. But I have learned that all of the dogs must be able to stay still without moving, even if there are many dogs in a row, and even if Angie goes away for a little while. And I know that when she yells “Down!” while I am running, I better stop right away, because there might be something that would hurt me that I cannot see. I also know how to follow her directions to run to one side or another, or even to go backwards. She shows me with hand signals and tells me with words, “Over, back, hup!”
Sometimes at training, I have to sit and watch other dogs work, and that is so tough. I get so excited about all of this, and it is hard to keep quiet and wait my turn. Especially when we go to Disaster City, I know what is about to happen, and that it will be the best fun, and it is never the same. I love that part, that there is always something a little bit different. People might be hiding in a rubble pile, or a building, or get this, in a TRAIN!  I can tell when we are going to Disaster City, and as soon as we get close, I start spinning around and around in circles in my crate, and making a squealing noise. I mean, I just love this place, and let me tell you why….  

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Fires in Bastrop

Here is the bad news…I did not get to go on this deployment, and neither did Sprinkles; it was not our turn. But our friend Sasha did get to go, and she had a lot to tell us about her adventures. So she is going to tell you all about it, loud and proud. And she’s rubbing my nose in it that she got to go and I didn’t. Whatever.

This is Sasha's story.

We went to a place where there was lots of smoke and fire smells, more than I have ever smelled in all of my life. I searched every day for six days, and let me tell you that it was hard work. Sometimes I got so tired that all I wanted to do was take a nap, but I knew that my job was to search…barns, houses, even cars…not to sleep. But at night, I had worked so hard that I didn’t care that I had to take a bath so that all of the fire smell was all gone. I stayed in a room with five other dogs and many humans. Each dog slept in a crate, and the humans made more noise snoring than we did.

Brick with his boots.
Each day we started off getting our feet wrapped up, especially our paws, so that when we stepped on ground that was still hot from all of the fires we would not get hurt. It felt strange, but I think that it helped me keep working. The vets were very nice, except I still hate it when they take my temperature because that thing they use is not comfortable. Still, I know they were making sure that I did not get sick. They checked on me all the time, and even gave me treats. I know I was the best dog there, because they kept telling me, “Sasha, you are such a good dog.” And whenever they checked on me, Sammie’s mom, Angie, was right there to help. I know her smell and it made me feel like everything would be fine. 

And of course, my dad was always with me, petting my fur, holding my leg so the vet could bandage my paws, and giving me treats and my favorite blue ball on a rope when I finished searching. I would do anything for him, and whenever he said to me, “One more, Sasha” or “Just a few more, baby girl,” I knew that I would keep working, even though I was getting sore and tired.

I got to ride in a van and sometimes in something called a mule, which is like a small car with no sides. (My friend Brick gets to ride with his mom Christy in the video.) It was fun to ride up bumpy roads, jump off, and after I worked, get back on and go to the next location. There was always plenty of water and treats and toys to keep me going. I bet that I helped search more than 50 places where there was nothing left except bricks, glass, wood and stuff that was on the ground. Not like a rubble pile, but still, sometimes I would walk along a narrow ledge like a circus dog.

Next time I hope that Sammie and Sprinkles can come with me. Most of the dogs there had ears just like mine, that point to the sky. There were two dogs who looked more like Sammie, and their names were Joker and Scotch. The other dogs like me were Brick, Jetta and Sarge. I am very glad to be home. The road trip to Bastrop was exciting, and I have never, ever searched so much for so long. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Big Test

Today was a lot of fun because I got to play on lots of new rubble. Angie let me search one pile all by myself…well at least until I barked a bunch of times and then she came up to give me a toy to tug. Then she stayed right there and sent me to search more. And when I smelled somebody else she came right to me, and more tug. She put some pink string where I was barking. After the second time, I knew just where I needed to go, all the way to the back of the rubble. She gave me a hand sign, and I followed her directions…but I would have gone all the way back there on my own. And I smelled somebody else and barked right there. These people did a good job of hiding; I could not see any of them, just knew with my nose they were under there. I checked the rest of the pile, and came back to Angie, looked at her and barked. That’s how I tell her there is nobody else to find.

Then we both went to another pile that had wood, rubble, a car and a soft chair. Are you kidding me? A car on a rubble pile? I could not believe my eyes, but yes, there it was. We searched together; Angie was mostly watching me because she knows I don’t like her being right on top of me while I work. I smelled somebody under the car and I was ready to crawl under it because it was just so cool, but barking not crawling is what gets the tug toy – so barking is what I did. We also checked out the edges of the pile, near the ground. I’m thinking to myself, no way, but then there is a breeze, and I get a nose full of scent. And I am off to locate that, bark and get my toy.

When we are all done, Angie puts me in a crate. I didn’t even get to play that long, but she said we were all done. I heard other dogs barking on the piles, which makes me want to get up there again. So here is the weirdest part of the day. I am standing in my crate, hoping to get out and play on that last pile one more time, maybe check out the car more carefully, when Angie opens my crate and lets me out. She’s hugging my neck and giving me treats that smell like cinnamon, and other people are all around us rubbing my fur, and I hear words that are new to me. “Congratulations, Sammie, you passed your test!” What the heck? Then we go sit on the pile, and somebody takes our picture. I probably looked goofy because I didn’t want to sit still, I wanted to go back to where the car in the rubble was. Angie cannot stop talking to me, telling me what a good FEMA dog I am – she even kissed my head! What is the big deal? It was just another day of doing what I like best, searching, finding scent, and playing tug. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Most fun ever

This was the beginning of the most fun ever, for a lot of reasons. I travelled to many places, met other dogs who would be my friends, and played with toys all the time. Whenever Angie wore those clothes--the dark pants with all the pockets and the big shoes, that meant we were off together to “training.” My favorite place for training was Disaster City, and we also went to a place where there were big red trucks, the smell of smoke in a tall building, and at times the trucks made loud noises and their lights were bright. I went there more than I went to Disaster City, and my best friends were there, too.  We all worked together to learn how to find people; bark very loud and long; climb ladders and run through tunnels; follow directions; and also to take turns. I still don’t like that part, because I do not like to wait. I always want it to be my turn. It should always be time for me to do something.

So let me tell you about my dog friends. My best friend is a German Shepherd who has giant ears that stick up on her head. Her name is Sasha and she always bosses me around. I just let her, because she also lets me share her crate if I am cold, and because I like her.  My other friend is a Golden Retriever named Sprinkles who gets excited just like me. Sprinkles runs very fast, even faster than me. Sasha is more serious.  Sprinkles and I are wild and crazy dogs, and Sasha is not that way. We get to be together a lot. Sometimes we share toys, treats, and when it is hot, we get to splash around in a little pool that is filled with cool water.

It’s hard to remember everything that I learned, but I’ll tell you about some of it. My favorite part from the beginning was what is called “searching.” Angie would say, “Go find!” and that meant that somebody might be hiding with my toy. There might be more than one person…so there could be more toys. And that meant more playing the tug game with me. I learned to bark, not just normal barking but only barking when I found the person who was hiding from me. Here is how it sounds, “Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark…” and loud, not soft.  Because this is the way I tell Angie that I did my job--I know the person is right here. No matter how tough it is, like there might be wood or concrete in the way--lots of it--I can smell and I don’t even need to use my eyes. Really, I like to be left alone to use my nose to check everything out, but sometimes that can be a bad idea…

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Having fun at Disaster City

Disaster City® was about to become my favorite place, a place I wanted to go all the time.  I didn’t know it then, but this first visit was kind of a test to see if I would be able to go back there to have fun.  Get this!! We walked right up to one of those giant piles, and remember that big yellow toy that Kip had when we were at the shelter, and we played together?  This lady, also dressed like Angie, took it and threw it way up on the pile.

Angie was holding on to me and wouldn’t let me go.  Are you kidding me?  I haven’t seen that toy in like forever, and I couldn’t wait to go get it.  Let me go!  I know I was acting weird, because my teeth were chattering and my body was shaking.  I think I barked.  When Angie released me, I ran to get the toy.

Whoa, this was not like running on grass.  Stuff moved around, the hard concrete was hot, and I couldn’t see where the toy was.  Where is it? I want it! It was in a hole between 2 big rocks and I had to lay on my belly to reach it.  The second it was in my mouth, I squeezed it and it made that sound…awesome!  Then we did it again, only the next time, after the lady threw the toy, Angie hid my eyes and waited even longer to release me. 

Now I know what that toy smells like, and I am going to find it even quicker.  All I want is that toy, no matter how hard it is to get it.  Bring it on, throw it again, the Samster will find it.  Other people came to watch me.

There was some other stuff, like showing me a room that looked like it was night time and there were some loud noises and I walked on some stuff that felt strange to my paws.  So that was no big deal.  And there was another dog who walked close to me while I was staying still, and that was fine, because I could tell that dog was not a problem for me. 

After we were all done, I went back in my kennel while Angie and the other people talked.  When she came back, she opened my kennel door, put her head close to mine, and whispered in my ear, “I am so proud of you, Sammie.  You are on your way to becoming a Texas Task Force 1 Disaster Search Dog!”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Welcome to Disaster City

Angie, Kip, and Chris are away.  I didn’t like this at first. I mean, they bring me to live with them, and then they leave me by myself. Was this going to be like the shelter, just with better food? Then I learned that every day, they came home. I didn’t need to bark, or try to tear up the dog bed or escape. And when they came home, I was able to go out into the yard and play. Angie would throw a red ball, and I would go get it. As soon as I put it in my mouth, it made a squeaky sound--so I bit down on it and it made the sound again! I don’t know what I liked best, the running to get it, or the way it felt in my mouth. If I wanted to keep playing, I brought the red ball back to Angie when she called “Sammie, here,” and she told me to “drop it.” At first I didn’t think that was a great idea, but that was the only way we could keep playing.

We also started to work on my manners.  These are some of the words I learned: Sit, stay, here, down, heal, take a break, kennel. The better I got at doing what the words meant, the more fun I got. I would get snacks, head rubs, and ear rubs; and always, Angie would tell me what a good dog I was. She didn’t always say it the same way. I liked the different sounds that she made, like “Good dog, beautiful girl, smart puppy, that’s my Sammie, way to go, yes.” When we were finished working on my manners for the day, she told me “all done,” and then it was usually time for dinner. I was starvin’ Marvin after all that work. When it got dark, the house was quiet and we all went to sleep. I was starting to enjoy my new life, but it was about to get so much better….

One day, Angie loaded me up to the kennel in the car. She wore different clothes and especially different shoes that were black and big. The pants had all these pockets on them. We were in the car for a long time. I was too excited to sleep. Road trip! Just the two of us. We finally got to where we were going, and I didn’t know what to think. Of course there were new smells, but when I got out of the kennel, I saw piles and piles of rocks and concrete, taller than a person, bigger than the yard, and then Angie said, “Welcome to Disaster City, Sammie.” 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When we go inside the house, the cat goes even before me. That silly cat is acting like he is top dog, sitting on everything, tail up in the air, giving me the stink eye. Angie, Kip, and Chris let me walk all around. I have never been in a place with soft surfaces, cool hard floors, and windows. There are so many rooms, not just one like the shelter. I just don’t know how to act because everything is new and different. I could not go slow, just fast, running around, putting my paws up on something because there were food smells that I wanted, jumping on Chris who is not that much taller than me when I am on my back legs.  And I was hungry and thirsty. This place was mine, all mine, and I was ready to go, go, go. That was about to change….and for the first time I heard the word “kennel” and learned about house rules.

I did go kind of crazy and when Angie put a stop to all of that, I was not sure what to think. Even though I didn’t like the shelter, nobody there told me what to do, and they pretty much left me alone. Now that I was in a new place I had to learn new ways. There was so much, and looking back on it now, it seems like it didn’t take that long…but then again I have been told I was selected from a Gifted Animal Program at the shelter. I guess the first thing that I learned was who was the boss of me. The main boss was Angie, and Chris and Kip not so much. And that grumpy old cat, Oscar, never! Here are the rules that I had to follow:
  1. Work before play.
  2. My kennel is where I stay when I am not working (at least at first…this changed after a while).
  3. No jumping on people.
I also learned that every day was the same, but in a good way. You might not believe this, that I brush my teeth in the morning. I wait for Angie to brush her teeth, and then she rubs my teeth with toothpaste that tastes like chicken, or sometimes peanut butter. And as soon as that is done, I go out in the yard to take a break. Then I eat, no leaving food in the bowl. I tried that once, to make it last, and that was a mistake. So now I eat it all, no snacking during the day. Back in the kennel where I have my entertainment center, a bone, a soft bed just for me, and a window that lets me watch what is happening in the yard…trees, squirrels, birds, and once in a while Oscar does something to tease me, like sitting on the other side of the window and staring at me, or giving me “the paw”…if you know what I mean.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A New Home

The funny thing about being a dog is that time is not the same for us as it is for people. I don’t know if it was the same day, or the next day, or the next week, but I do know that these people came back, and that I left the shelter with them this time. All of the other dogs were loud like always. I turned my head as I walked past them to make sure that they saw me walk out of that place. Yea for me!

The lady had a collar and leash ready, and I had some trouble figuring out how I was supposed to walk with them on. Plus, I wanted to run fast, away from the shelter! We went to something that looked like a giant room, but with black circles underneath on each side, and the lady said, “Load up.” What the heck does that mean? There was a box inside that had wires around it, kind of like the gate at the shelter. She showed me something that smelled good and put it in the box, so I jumped up to get the thing and ate it. It was very good, but the best part was when she looked at me and rubbed my head and made some sounds that were fun to hear…”ooo, ood irl, ammie,” or something like that. I could feel my ears liking the way her voice sounded, and my tail liked it, too.

Oh, no, what is going on? We're moving! I'm having a hard time standing up, so I decide it might be better to lay down. That way I won’t tumble from side to side. Still, I am not too sure about all of this. Maybe I should have stayed where I was? The next thing I remember is everything is still, not moving around, and the lady tells me that we are “home.” Home, what does that mean? So many new smells that my nose is moving up and down, trying to make sense of all of them…human smells, grass, food, and a not-a-dog but another animal…hmmm, this is strange.

So here is where I meet my new family, or should I say my only family since I have never had one before. It took a long time, but I've learned their names. The lady is Angie, the man is Kip, and there is a boy whose name is Chris. And that other animal smell belongs to a cat named Oscar. I never met a cat before, and since this one was small with a long furry tail, I thought he might be another toy! So the first thing I did was grab that tail with my mouth and…never mind, because I didn’t get far. Ouch! Oscar used his paws with sharp nails to let me know he was not part of this game. And remember that leash?  Angie jerked on it and said in a voice she had not used before, “NO, LEAVE IT.” Wow, there are a lot of rules at my new "home!"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My name is Sammie

My name is Sammie, and I have a story to tell. I have light yellow fur, brown eyes, floppy ears, and a long tail that moves a lot. Right now, my paw is up in the air to show you that I’m ready to shake your hand. Even though I’m not even three years old, and a Labrador retriever dog, I have learned that it is important to be nice and use good manners. When people are in big trouble, I can help. If somebody is buried under a building like when there is a hurricane or tornado or earthquake, I use my special sense of smell to find that person. I am trained to do that work…but guess what? I think that I am especially trained to have more fun than most dogs, cats, or any other animal. More about that fun part later.

When I was a puppy, I lived in a building that was so loud. There were always other dogs barking, yelping, growling, sometimes crying. My room was very small, with a hard concrete floor, no windows, just a gate in the front. I spent almost the whole day in that boring place. I did not have any friends. Sometimes people came to this place, and that is when the noise was the worst. I thought that all of the dogs were trying to tell the people, “Pick me! Take me home with you! Look at me and nobody else!” I did the same thing because I did not want to stay in this place that was called a “shelter”. It was where animals lived who did not have anywhere else to go. Sometimes dogs left, sometimes new dogs came to live there. It was not fun.

One day, this lady came up to my room and looked through the gate at me. The next thing that happened was she took me outside where there was grass, new smells, and a man. They showed me a yellow fuzzy long toy (I didn’t know that it was a toy then) that made a funny sound that I wanted to hear again and again. Then the man ran away with the toy while the lady held me. As soon as she let me go I ran so fast to that toy and the man held on to it and I held on to it and it made that noise and we both played with it. I wanted to do it over and over, and so did the man. They also brought some blocks and a little ladder, and I got to climb on that stuff. It was hot outside, but I didn’t want to stop playing and climbing. I even barked to tell them, “Hey, don’t stop, keep playing with me.” But they went away after that, and even though they rubbed my fur, and touched my toes and showed me their teeth in a smile, I was alone again. But not for long……