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Help stop black dog syndrome. May 14, 2014

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are the delighted owners of a BIG, black German shepherd, our beloved Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you). So we were horrified to read this morning that there’s something going on in shelters that’s so common that it even has a name: Black Dog Syndrome. Apparently black dogs are the last to be adopted, and big black dogs, especially if their ears stand rather than droop, are pretty much doomed to be euthanized or stay in the shelter for life. Apparently, people are afraid of them.

We’ve had two wonderful golden retrievers, and OFB grew up with an adored cocker/Springer spaniel mix and several springer spaniels, so it’s not like we’ve always had black dogs. But our Shiloh is so loving (towards everyone), so fun-loving, such a happy dog, with her constant huge smile, that she’s more than earned her name “Special” (from her grandfather, Lucas von Shiloh Special).

The thought that someone would reject a happy, loving (and, incidentally, gorgeous) dog because she happened to be black is appalling. After all, haven’t Labrador retrievers been the most popular dogs in America for more than 20 years, and aren’t most of them black, fairly large dogs? People come up to us in parks all the time and ask who we got Shiloh from, something that never happened with any of our other dogs (all of whom were also great, people-loving, attractive dogs).

We understand that some people are “big dog people” and some are “little dog people.” For us, even in our small cottage home, big dogs rule. Let others have the pugs and chihuahuas and bichons and papillons and all the rest. But please, whatever your preference, give black dogs a chance next time you want to adopt. That black poodle is just as smart and loving as the golden one in the next pen. And so is that black German shepherd. Please help put a stop to the stereotyping of Black Dog Syndrome and give these wonderful dogs the forever home they deserve.

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Threatening the dog. October 21, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have a big, bad, black German shepherd named Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. (I wanted another golden retriever, but Silence found Shiloh online and informed me that she was going to be our next dog and her name was going to be Shiloh. Well, alrighty then. And when we found out that her grandfather’s name was actually Lucas von Shiloh Special, we just couldn’t resist adding it onto her name.)

But to get back to our by now very big, very bad dog. When she does something bad—deafening us with her barking, chasing the cats or putting them through the “catwash” (her tongue is as big as the rest of her), pulling on her leash, or just generally being annoying—we threaten her. Not, mind you, with physical harm. Being wordsmiths, we threaten her with a fast flight to Asia.

Silence once read a story about Koreans’ fondness for dog meat. The proprietor of Mr. Moon’s Dog Stew Emporium, which apparently was doing a booming business when the reporter visited, served up a delicious bowl of hot dog stew. His may have been the most celebrated, but was far from the only, dog stew emporium in the city.

After Silence read this, and of course shared it with our friend Ben with an appropriate amount of outraged commentary, we began threatening Shiloh at every instance of bad behavior with instantaneous exportation and being sold by the pound to Mr. Moon.

Since Shiloh weighs more than 90 pounds, we figured we could get a decent return on investment, especially if Mr. Moon was willing to pay shipping costs. Loud barking and destroying our rugs while rushing through the house brought pointed comments about how meaty Shiloh’s thighs were, and how succulent they would be in a stew.

Admittedly, these comments appeared to be completely lost on Shiloh, but they sure made us feel better about her outrageous behavior. Recently, though, we’ve had a change of tone in our threats. Silence read that the Vietnamese, who also love dog meat and believe that eating it brings good luck, have apparently recently begun to also embrace dogs as pets. Or, at least, high-end dogs; the rest are still consigned to the pot, and apparently the devoted pet-dog owners enjoy their lucky dog-meat dishes as much as everybody else.

Silence, a devout vegetarian, practically beat our friend Ben over the head with the offending article while ranting on (and on, and on) about how perverse people could be when deciding which animals could be sacrificed for meat and which were considered cherished family members. But she didn’t show me the article because of that, but rather, because it said that a pet German shepherd could bring as much as $40,000 (U.S. dollars) in Vietnam.

Okay, we’re not Einsteins, but we don’t think we could get that much from Mr. Moon, no matter how hefty Shiloh is or how much he’s paying per pound. So we’ve changed our threat to benefit our bottom line. Now, when Shiloh misbehaves, we inform her that we’re buying her a one-way ticket to Vietnam, and that we hope she’ll appreciate the contribution she’ll be making to our bank account.

Mind you, she pays no more attention to the latest threat than she did to our promises to sell her to Mr. Moon. But we don’t care. Every time we mention her future fate, we can sit back, relax, and imagine what we’d do with $40,000. And, once we feel totally cheered up, we can rub Shiloh’s belly and smooth her ears and enjoy the company of the best bad dog that ever was without having to shell out another cent. That would be the loving, happy dog with the huge smile and lolling tongue and bright eyes and waggily tail.

Not that she wouldn’t sell us in a heartbeat for $40,000 or even $40 worth of dog treats, or pizza and white Zinfandel for that matter. But that’s another story. (Don’t even think about giving her tequila; she’d sell you to Mr. Moon ASAP and claim you were a massive Bassett hound or something. One taste of spilled tequila on the floor, and the hilarious, horrifed expression and wrinkled muzzle, put Margaritaville forever on the back burner as far as Shiloh was concerned.)

Anyway, we encourage you to threaten your dog in the most inventive ways you can come up with. Even if the dog is oblivious, we promise, you’ll feel much better.

Shiloh to the rescue! October 13, 2013

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Shiloh, our friend Ben’s and Silence Dogood’s gigantic black German shepherd, is a wuss. Yes, her size and deep-chested barking do tend to unnerve FedEx and UPS men, not to mention the postman and water delivery guy.

But that’s just because, seeing a huge black dog racing between the front window and door, barking enthusiastically, they don’t notice the huge, happy smile and lolling tongue, the furiously wagging tail, and the excited tone of the bark: “Look, we have visitors!!!” People who actually come into the house immediately realize there’s nothing to fear except an enthusiastic licking.

Shiloh proved her lack of guard-dog chops once and for all when we were sleeping soundly and, at 2 a.m., there was a loud knocking on our (very isolated rural) door. Silence, half-asleep, was completely terrified, since in her groggy state it didn’t dawn on her that a murderer was unlikely to knock, however loudly, on the door. “BEN! What are you doing?!!” “I’m answering the door.” “NOOOO!!! Here! Take this pepper spray! Get the baseball bat! Do you want ME to take the pepper spray?!!”

It turned out to be the fire police, informing everyone on our street that a garbage truck had crashed into a telephone pole down the road, breaking it and pulling over a connected pole across the street. (Mercifully, no one was hurt.) They wanted us to turn off our power so the repair crew could get to work safely.

So where was our fierce watch beast, normally up and barking loudly (if cheerfully) at every passerby—and every passing dog—during all this? Well, there was Silence cowering in terror on the bed. And there was Shiloh, having picked this up from Silence, cowering very quietly in the pitch-dark on her bed at the foot of our bed, doubtless thinking that no one would notice her way down there, blending into the darkness.

Let us stress again that Shiloh loves dogs. Shiloh loves all dogs. She lives to play with dogs (and try to steal their food and toys, but that’s another matter). Keep this in mind as you read what recently happened.

So, last weekend, a friend of ours came over. His job is to go into people’s houses and advise them on how they can weatherproof their houses. And he told us that we’d be amazed to know how many of these homeowners had pitbulls, especially in urban areas. He said that many of the pitbulls were perfectly friendly, but many were not, to the point where the owners had to cage the pitbulls while our friend did his evaluations.

In one house he recently visited, the pitbull was so vicious that it dragged its huge crate across the floor after our friend, growling, snarling and barking as it tried to rip him apart. Our friend was so concerned that he recorded the dog’s behavior on his smartphone, in case he or his survivors needed it for legal purposes. “See? Just look at this,” he said, playing the clip of the snarling, growling, leaping dog. It was certainly an unnerving performance.

But what was truly remarkable was the transformation it produced in Shiloh. Our normally upbeat, happy-go-lucky dog heard those threatening sounds and recognized them, and what they meant, immediately. She didn’t know where they were coming from, and assumed they must be outside, since there was obviously no other dog in the house.

Rushing to the deck door, she let loose with such a ferocious, deafening, menacing round of barking as we’d never heard in our lives. Her meaning was perfectly clear: “Try to hurt my people and I’ll tear you end to end.”

Our friend hastily ended his clip, and the second the noise stopped, Shiloh stopped barking and went back to being her loving, friendly, “Want to play with this squeaky toy, and if not, how about a treat?” self. But now there was no doubt in our minds: If we were truly under threat, from a dog, at any rate, Shiloh would protect us with everything she has.

Our friend Ben guesses that, ultimately, it’s just poetic justice. I wouldn’t (under threat of my life) dare to call Silence cowardly, but as the incident related earlier in this post might suggest, she’s not exactly fearless. However, the mere thought of someone laying a harmful hand on Shiloh turns this timid lamb into a raging lion. “If I ever found someone trying to hurt her, I would pound them into pulp! They might not live to regret the day they ever laid a hand on her!!!”

Gee. If only I could get her to feel that way about me…

Checking in on Shiloh. July 15, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have been blessed to have our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), for four years now. Shiloh’s name is “von Shiloh Special” because she’s the granddaughter of Lucas von Shiloh Special, so who could resist? But she is very special to us: beautiful, funny, smart, loving, big, bad (in a comical way), and above all, happy. Seeing her huge smile and lolling tongue is enough to bring someone back from the dead.

Our friend Ben and I had lost two beloved golden retrievers to cancer when I started the search for Shiloh. Just this morning, I read that one in three goldens now loses their life to cancer, and the numbers are expected to rise. OFB has been hoping that one day, we’ll have another of these beautiful, laid-back, joyful dogs. But having seen our two beloved friends suffer, I told him that there’s no way we’re getting another golden unless researchers can break the cancer conundrum; I can’t face that heartbreak again.

Of course, we got Shiloh four years previous to this morning’s revelation. OFB wanted another golden retriever pup then, too. But I was on a mission from God. I loved my goldens, but I’d always wanted a German shepherd. I’d tried to rescue one from a shelter as my first on-my-own dog, but the shelter refused to give her to me because I was single and worked. Better to euthanize the dog than send her to a home where she’d be cherished, apparently! I was and remain incensed about this, but I never forgot my dream of owning a German shepherd.

After our beloved golden Mollycule (that would be the gigantic Hawk’s Haven Molly, aka “the little Mollycule”) died, I went online and searched “German shepherds PA.” I knew the time had come for a female German shepherd; I knew her name would be Shiloh. The question was, where was she?

A few clicks later, I found her. Pioneer German Shepherds, a small family operation near Gettysburg, offered large, calm, family dogs. “Calm” was, of course, a necessary trait, and “family” implied that they would get along with everybody, including our cats and birds. But “large” was also important to me. I like big dogs and, despite their fearsome reputation, most German shepherds are medium-sized dogs. They were originally bred to herd sheep, not cattle, after all. They’re bigger than spaniels, but most are way smaller than rottweilers, sort of the size of Lassie.

Not so for Pioneer’s shepherds. Shiloh’s father weighed in at 135 pounds and looked like a lion; her mother was a respectable 90-something. (And in both cases, this was size, not fat. These are big dogs.) As it happened, Pioneer had two pups left from their latest litter, and had posted photos. I saw the photo of the adorable little black female pup and was lost. I knew she was my Shiloh.

But there was a problem: We couldn’t go down to get her right away, and another couple was coming to look at the two pups first. What if they chose my Shiloh over the other pup? Fortunately, they took the other pup. Shiloh was ours.

I still remember how quiet and calm she was in her carrier all the way back from the Gettysburg area to the Lehigh Valley, a two-hour trip. Her breeder called her a “thinking” pup, enjoying life while discovering everything she could about it. She instantly took to us, to the cats, to the birds, to her toys, to everything. She has given us four years of unmitigated joy.

Shiloh is the greatest. But so are her breeders. Just this morning, Shiloh’s breeders e-mailed to ask how she was. They remembered everything about her while she was with them, the way she loved to swing on the puppy gate, how smart she was. They asked if we could send an update and some photos. And this is four years after we brought her home! How often do you think that happens?!

I’d have said never, and I’d have been wrong. Dog lovers, if you choose a breeder rather than adoption, please choose responsibly. Do your research, trust your instincts, and don’t patronize puppy mills. How wonderful to find a breeder who loves—and continues to love—your dog as much as you do.

‘Til next time,

Silence

The good shepherd. March 12, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I grew up with dogs and have now had three dogs together, and our pre-Shiloh experience has been consistent: Our dogs were wonderful, our dogs were loving, and of course we adored them, but our dogs had not one ancestral or breed instinct to share between them.

Our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), therefore came as a considerable shock. Shiloh is first and foremost a shepherd, and her breed instincts shape her behavior. Yes, she’s a happy, joyous, loving dog who adores romping with her toys, performing “tricks” for treats, and generally lolling happily in our presence. But, unlike all the other dogs we’ve had and known, she knows she’s a dog with a job, and that job is to be a shepherd, to protect her flock.

Shiloh is happiest when her entire flock—me, OFB, our cats, Plutarch the Parrot, and our parakeets—are all in the same room, so she can comfortably keep an eye on us. She herds her toys into a tight group where she can keep an eye on them as well.

But human life isn’t like that. If, say, I’m in our home office on my computer, and OFB is at the kitchen table on his computer, Shiloh will dutifully split the difference, lying in the living room where she can easily rush to my or OFB’s defense should the need warrant it. If OFB is outside and I’m inside, Shiloh will rush to every window and door, trying to locate OFB, and alternate her patrolling with rushing back to me to make sure all is well.

Shiloh does her job beautifully, the job she was born to do. She loves us, and we love her so. How blessed we are to be in the care of such a good shepherd!

How do they know themselves? March 7, 2013

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It’s so easy for humans to recognize themselves as human. We see our families, our fellow humans, every day. We see our own human faces in the mirror. But what about dogs who have never seen a mirror, have been separated from their parents and siblings at 8 weeks old, have been sent to live in a home without other dogs?

This fascinates our friend Ben, especially watching the identification of our current beloved dog, our black German shepherd, Shiloh. It’s not like Shiloh is looking in a mirror or being told “I’m a German shepherd.” Instead, we adopted her as a puppy and she’s grown up with our neighbors’ dogs and the dogs she met in puppy playschool and her training classes. There was not a single other German shepherd in the bunch.

Shiloh loves all the other dogs, though let’s just say that her love isn’t always reciprocated. But apparently, she understood that the other dogs were playmates but ultimately had nothing to do with her. When she met a senior German shepherd, and only then, she became completely submissive.

This wasn’t limited to her, as I saw when we took Shiloh to the vet’s for a checkup. A German shepherd puppy was there for his or her checkup as well. The puppy barked up a storm and attempted to dominate every other dog in the waiting room, despite his diminutive size compared to theirs. But when we brought Shiloh in, this behavior stopped immediately, and the puppy kowtowed to Shiloh, acknowledging her as top dog. We’d seen Shiloh do this herself when, and only when, she encountered a mature German shepherd.

How on earth do they know? Separated from their families two months after their birth, with no mirrors or other aids to show what they look like and what their fellow breed members look like, how can they immediately understand that this dog, out of the millions of dogs, is like them, is connected to them?

Could we humans really recognize each other under similar circumstances? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Darker and darker. September 19, 2012

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How do you know when to get up? Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have an appropriately named vintage “Big Ben” wind-up clock in our bedroom, but I use it to check the time if I’m having a sleepless night, not to decide when it’s time to get up. Instead, I gauge when it’s time to rise by a picture on our bedroom wall.

The picture is a beautiful photograph of birch trees with a spray of red maple leaves spilling across them. It’s a masterpiece. But it’s also a timepiece. When I can see the trunks of the trees, I know that it will soon be time to get up. But it’s when I can see the red leaves, see that they’re red, that I know it’s time to get up.

In summer, this can happen as early as 5 a.m. In mid-September, it doesn’t happen until almost 7. I could set the alarm and get up in pitch dark at 5, but I feel it’s more natural, more healthy, to wait for the red leaves and get up then.

Our friend Ben isn’t so lucky. Typically, our beloved black German shepherd Shiloh gets up at 5:30 year-round and lets OFB know in no uncertain terms that he’d better take her out for a bathroom break or else, light, dark, or whatever. I guess it’s a good thing we love her so much! 

How do you know when to get up?

           ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

Interview with the dog. September 16, 2012

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Yesterday, we realized that dogs were being shortchanged on WordPress. (See our post “WordPress: What’s hot” for details.) So today, our friend Ben is interviewing our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you) to give a little equal time.

Our friend Ben: So, Shiloh, what do dogs really want?

Shiloh: All you need is love. But lots of treats and toys don’t hurt.

OFB: Democrat or Republican?

Shiloh: Hey, think I want to be strapped to the top of somebody’s car? No way! But what I really like is the idea of riding in the back of a pickup truck with the wind in my fur. Libertarian all the way for me, baby. Don’t tread on me!

OFB: I keep reading that dogs can be vegetarian. Is that true?

Shiloh: Technically, yes. But, like humans, we’re actually omnivores. And since nobody’s asking our opinion on the matter, I’d appreciate it if you kept giving me dogfood that has some meat in it, please. Not to mention that I love actual food like green beans, cheese, bread, radishes, chips, pistachios, sweet potato fries, pizza, and the other stuff you people eat. (Not too big on tomatoes, though.) Would it be too much to ask that you share it with me?!

OFB: If you could be a human, who would you be?

Shiloh: Who’d want to be a human, forced to work like a dog simply to survive? But if I absolutely had to choose a human alter-ego, it would be the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn, since they both seem so happy all the time. Happy is definitely the way to be!

Hmmm, there you have it, straight from the dog’s mouth. Shiloh also notes that any treats contributed by readers would be most appreciated!

Let’s be kind to dogs. August 30, 2012

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This past Sunday, August 26, was National Dog Day. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were up in the Catskills and had a good friend watching over our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. But oh, we were so happy to see Shiloh when we returned home, and she was so happy to see us!

Shiloh isn’t like our two previous dogs, who were both golden retrievers. We adored our goldens, and they adored us. But they both thought they were people, and had no dog instincts at all. Shiloh has every shepherding instinct there ever was. She is only happy when everyone she’s watching over is together in a space she can oversee. If it happens that our friend Ben, Silence, any guests who happen to be here, and our cats are all within Shiloh’s view, she’s ecstatic. But if, say, OFB is in the living room watching a mystery on TV and Silence is in her office working on the computer, Shiloh will position herself exactly between us so she can keep an eye on us and make sure we’re both okay. Exactly between us. And she’ll hold that position until we come together.

Unlike most of us, Shiloh knows exactly what her job in life is, and she knows how to do it. OFB and I understand that our job is to make sure she’s able to carry out her job without hindrance from us. We love you, Shiloh!!!

Do you know what your dog’s job is? Do you know how to help him or her achieve it? Do you know how to show your dog how much you love him or her, in a way s/he understands? Please, please try.

        ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

How about a dog bird? June 24, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have had two beautiful, wonderful golden retrievers, Molly and Annie. Golden retrievers are what are called bird dogs: When they see a bird, they stop, lift up a front leg, and “point” in the bird’s direction. They also have what is called a “soft mouth,” so they can retrieve a duck or other game bird after it’s been shot without biting into it. Labrador retrievers and spaniels are also bird dogs.

These days, OFB and I have the pleasure of living with our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, whose herding instincts are superb but whose hunting instincts are nil. Squirrels send most dogs we know nuts, chasing them and barking endlessly in frustration, long after the squirrels have gained the safety of the trees. Shiloh just watches them (in silence, thank God). Baby raccoons waddle in front of her; she looks like she’s trying to figure out the best way to herd them—if only she weren’t on this wretched leash!—so she could keep them safely under guard.

Yesterday, I was taking Shiloh outside for a bathroom break when we had a new (and very endearing) experience. We were in the backyard, bound for the circle of trees, known as the Circle of Doom, that’s Shiloh’s outdoor bathroom area. I saw that two robins were blocking our path. One flew out of the way as it saw us approaching. The other held its ground.

I realized that I wasn’t looking at two adult robins, but at a parent and its just-fledged offspring, whom it was teaching to cope with life outside the nest. It was this toddler robin, probably on its very first flight, that was still in our path. I brought myself and Shiloh to a full stop to give the little robin time to run or fly away.

But it didn’t. It looked at us with the most extreme interest, and then began making a beeline right for us, running over the lawn on unsteady legs. All the while, its distressed parent hovered nearby, calling what no doubt translated as “What are you doing? Get back here!!! That dog is going to swallow you in one bite! And what about that scary person? Come back! COME BAAAACK!!!” Naturally, the young robin completely ignored its parent’s frantic cries.

Shiloh and I watched this phenomenon with quiet fascination. As it became clear that the little bird really was going to run right into us unless I took action, I took Shiloh back to the house, not because I thought she would hurt the robin, but because I was concerned about causing further distress to its parent. When we came back out later, both robins were gone.

I guess we’d had our first encounter with a dog bird.

            ‘Til next time,

                        Silence