The Dog in the Polish Village

ID-10025746 I have no name, but that doesn’t bother me.  What is a name anyway?  I live in the woods near the farmhouse at the edge of the village they call Pierzwin.  The little girl lives in the farmhouse.  She’s small, so small, and toddles when she walks.  She is mine, this I know.  I am hers.  This she knows. The one who doesn’t know is the old woman with whom the girl lives.  The girl must always beg for a scrap of bread for me, which the woman throws far from the farmhouse door, as though this would keep me away from the girl.

When I first saw the little girl playing along the edge of the creek, I knew she was mine to watch over.  She was stooped down looking at a rock, the sun glinting off her flax-colored hair.  I stood downstream, regarding her.  The girl looked up at me and laughed.  I can still hear the sound—like a thin, golden strand twirling up into the air.  I walked to her and nuzzled into the crook of her arm.  She laughed again, breathing sweet breath on me.

Today everything is different.

Yesterday as the day darkened, the little girl played alone in the farmyard.  Snow started, then grew heavy, swirling from every direction.  Instead of going inside, the girl toddled toward the woods.  I watched the farmhouse door to see if the old woman would call for her.  She did not. I followed the girl, a few feet behind her, whining and willing her to turn back.

She meandered to the edge of the creek.  Looking up at the sky, she stuck out her tongue to catch the snowflakes, lost her balance, and slipped down the steep slope toward the water.  I caught the edge of her skirt in my teeth but it did not stop her.  The cloth ripped, the water splashed, and the girl cried.  I leapt to her.  She took hold of my fur, and I pulled us up the slope.

I tried to lead her to the farmhouse, but she turned the other way.  I barked for her to follow me, but she kept her course, away.  I followed.  At the edge of the woods I tried to steer her back, but she sat down, shivering.  I took the arm of her coat gently between my teeth and tugged, but she lay down and cried.  I peered into the darkness.  Was there no one who would come for her?  I thought to run to the farmhouse door and bark, but I couldn’t leave her.  I lay down, circling myself around her small body, willing her shivering to stop.  More snow came.  The girl slept, and so, eventually, did I.

At first light, I heard the calls.  I nosed the girl awake and barked, again and again.  The girl sat up.  I nosed her again: call out, cry out.  She sat mute.  I continued barking.  I sensed the footfalls on the earth before I saw the people.  I ran to the men, then sprinted back and forth between the men and the girl, trying to tell them.  They followed me.  A man scooped the girl into his arms and carried her away.  I stood watching for a few moments then, hanging back, followed.

The old woman ran from the farmhouse door and grasped the girl.  There were so many people, so much noise.  I watched, then retreated.  As I walked into the woods I heard a whistle.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw a man coming toward me.  I thought to dash away, but something in his manner seemed gentle.  I sat down and waited for him to approach.  He extended his hand for me to sniff and touched my head.  “It was you,” he said, “you are the one.  Come.”

I walked a few respectful paces behind him.  We entered the farmyard.  The man said some words to the old woman.  She studied me, then opened the door wide and with a sweep of her hand asked me to enter the farmhouse.  I looked into her eyes for a moment, and then stepped inside to warmth.


German shepherd photo by Maggie Smith

A Letter to Miss Tia

by guest blogger Jay Erb*

January 2015
Dear Miss Tia,

I miss you every day, but this month has stirred my thoughts even more as I remember the 14th anniversary of when we met and the one-year anniversary of when we laid you to rest. Miss Tia 2

You were such a pitiful sight when we met. At 26 pounds, your spine and ribs were showing, ear mites kept you scratching and shaking your head, fleas caused patches of missing fur, and you had an umbilical hernia, but you were still a really cute little dog. Your personality was interesting—so friendly yet so scared that you shook. It didn’t take long before I knew I wanted to adopt you. I bet you really felt better once Dr. G took care of your medical issues, and soon you doubled your weight to get to your healthy 50 – 55 pound range. Every year when you went in for your annual checkup, Dr. G and her staff would comment on what a pretty girl you were and how sad you looked when they first met you.

I really miss our daily walks, and not taking walks with you every day has also really hurt my fitness level. For a while, walking at Coventry Woods wasn’t an option for me, as it felt so empty walking the trails without you. You were such a big part of helping to design and build that trail system. Now other dogs can bring their humans for a hike because of the work you helped to do. I am beginning to enjoy those trails again, because I remember the times we worked on and walked those trails together. Then there were the mental health benefits of our walks. Especially when your Grandmom and Granddad got sick and passed on, those walks in the woods with you really helped me. So many people knew you as my walking partner. Our bicycle rides on the Schuylkill River Trail were a lot of fun too.

Miss TiaThe house still seems really empty without you, especially when I get home and you don’t greet me at the door. Going to bed isn’t the same; I miss your little, contented sigh every night when you’d curl up at the foot of the bed and I’d cover you with your blanket. Meals aren’t the same either, without you lying next to my chair in the kitchen. I continue to see hiding places in each room for your treats when we played your favorite “Find It” game.  I know your Mommy really misses you too.

Thank you for enriching my life, and for being Daddy’s little girl.

Love, Dad

*Jay Erb is Chair of the North Coventry Parks & Recreation Commission.

Shelter – part 3

© Karla McLaren 2014

Milton’s behavior in round two is interesting.  He has moved very far away from the untouched treat I placed on the left side of his blanket, and he sits very still on the rightmost side of the front of his kennel, staring fixedly, straight ahead.  I sneak some sideways glances at him from my kneeling position.  He’s a very handsome boy with a Doberman’s black and brown coloring, but his body shape and size is closer to a Beagle’s.  He’s a fit, compact little guy, with a clean short coat and healthy skin and paws.  I know that he hasn’t been given a bath here at the shelter (no one has time), so he’s clearly very careful about his own hygiene.  Very self-contained.  Milton’s body language interests me, because even in the confines of his kennel, he has many choices.  If he really didn’t want to see me, he could simply go outside in his run, and effectively disappear.  He could also curl up against the wall and present his back to me.  He could push the treat outside his kennel, tear up his blankets, or rush the kennel door and bark menacingly.  But he does none of these truly antisocial things.  Instead, Milton has entered into a relationship with me – and in all honesty, I think he’s trying to teach me manners.

I continue to kneel, and I watch Milton out of the corner of my eye.  His eyes do not seek mine, but his stare has changed from the beady malevolence of our first meeting to a more relaxed yet determined stare.  If we were humans, and if we were looking at each other, this would be a staring contest.  But with Milton in charge, it’s a not-staring contest, and Milton is in it for the duration.  I can see Jake in the next kennel, sitting patiently and quietly, but getting antsy as he waits for me, and I wonder about my next move in Milton’s dance.  I wonder if I should take the offending treat away, but I think that would be a mistake.  It was a gift, which means it belongs to him now. And though he hasn’t eaten it, he is using it to communicate with me.  I don’t want to make the wrong move.

If I were a dog, Milton’s determined stare of avoidance would mean that I had broken a social rule.  My response, if I didn’t want to get into a fight, would be to cease my incorrect behavior and make myself small and subordinate.  I wondered if this would be a good thing.  At the shelter, we’re supposed to position ourselves as the lead dogs in this pack, but I grew up with animals who knew with absolute certainty that they were the real leaders.  My brother’s brilliant dog, Johann, pretty much trained himself and looked after my sisters and brothers as if he were our uncle.  My cat Sofia, who learned to open doors and turn on faucets, lived life on her own terms.  Or my little bonsai stray, Kiku, who had every disease known to felinity and never grew much larger than a kitten, yet who taught herself to use her litter box, to put herself to bed every night, and to understand all the intricate rules of human-cat wrestling.

I felt that Johann, Sofia, and Kiku would be offended by the shelter’s training methods, even though these methods were humane and respectful for most animals. These three were self-contained animals, very self-aware, and extremely quick to decipher all the rules of the house and human relationships.  I wondered if Milton was this kind of animal, and if he had had the extremely bad luck to have an owner who treated him like a knucklehead, which to be fair, some dogs truly are.  I wondered if Milton was not so much hateful and dangerous as he was affronted by treatment that did not respect his innate intelligence and his dignity.

I made a decision. I looked up and down the kennel rows to make sure no staff person was around, and I lay down on the cold cement walkway in front of Milton and curled my head in supplication.  I waited for a few seconds, and then reached my hand gently toward Milton’s kennel door – not touching it, but asking if I could.  I peered up at Milton, and he looked down his nose at me for a long second, then looked away, off to the left.  I looked in that direction, too.  I touched my side of the metal frame of his kennel door – I didn’t put my hand inside.  Milton didn’t look back at me, but he slowly reached out with his left paw and touched the frame on his side.  We weren’t looking at each other, and we weren’t touching, but we were both looking in the same direction and touching the same door frame, and we had reached some kind of compromise in Milton’s world.

I didn’t want to break the mood, but I was cruising for a bruising from the staff if I got caught here – especially if I got caught letting a dog take what the staff saw as a dominant role.  So I whispered, “Thank you Milton – you’re a good dog,” and I slowly placed a new treat on the bottom frame of Milton’s kennel door, between his paw and mine. I got to my knees slowly and crawled to Jake’s kennel.  The poor sweetie had been waiting very patiently, so I patted him through the kennel bars, scratched his long ears, and gave him two treats, and then went further into the chained-off area.  On my way back out, I lowered my head when I got to Milton’s kennel.  I didn’t look at him, but I whispered, “I love you Milton. You’re a very good dog.”

The third round through is the final training moment before I start walking specific dogs, doing mountains of kennel laundry, or working in the cat annex.  In the first two rounds, I had established myself as someone to look forward to, and I had given all of the dogs some idea of correct behaviors (and two almost free treats).  This time, the treats have a real cost – the dogs have to be seated, still, and quiet, and almost isn’t rewarded on the third pass.  Many dogs get very excited and begin to bark as I near them, but I make eye contact, raise my finger to my lips, shake my head, and say, “NO, quiet.”

to be continued next week…

for part 1:
for part 2:

Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.

The Art of Empathy

What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life.  Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you

It Only Takes a Moment to Feel

It only takes a moment to feel.  Just drop inside your body, and from there, perceive.  This cuts through the clutter and diversion of mind chatter and justifications, and for just those few moments, you can perceive what is without much of a filter.

What if everyone practiced this heart-based seeing to a greater or lesser extent?   Probably the world—and our treatment of people and animals—would be much kinder.  ID-100222200

Here’s one example.  The man waited in line at his favorite lunch stand on a busy city street in Philadelphia.  He noticed the stray dog, again.  He’d seen him on other days but hadn’t given the dog much thought beyond: oh well, survival of the fittest.  The rumpled-looking dog sidled up to the lunch cart, sniffing the fragrant food and looking up at the people in line, hopeful.  Like all the other passersby and people in line, the man ignored the dog.  It’s easier not to pay heed.

On this particular day, however, the man looked into the eyes of this creature and recognized something.  He broke off a corner of his sandwich and held it out for the dog, who took it gingerly from his hand.  Then he pulled out his cell phone, called directory service, and dialed the number of the local humane society.

The man sat on a nearby bench, the dog following a few respectful steps behind.  He held out another piece of his sandwich to the dog, who swallowed it without chewing then looked up at the man, expectantly.  Over the next half-hour the man gave the dog the rest of his sandwich in small pieces while checking his phone for the time and peering up and down the street.  Finally, a small white truck pulled up and parked, and a uniformed woman climbed out.  She glanced at the man, nodded to him, then crouched down and extended a treat to the dog.  As the dog took the food, the woman spoke softly to him and slipped a leash over his head.  The dog sat down at her side and looked up at her as if to say, what’s next?  The woman asked the man if he’d seen the dog there before, and thanked him for caring enough to make the phone call.  She opened the back of the truck, and the dog jumped in, happily.  Off they drove.

The man bought another sandwich, this one for himself, and as he walked away, chewing thoughtfully, he felt good.

To find the phone number of your local shelter, add in your zipcode:

Brown stray dog courtesy of – tiverylucky.

Angela Bassett Hound

by Cherie Damron (co-founder of Untold Animal Stories)

718848917_c1ad164ee0A few years ago I moved back to the small town in rural NC where I grew up.  I started volunteering at the local animal shelter, photographing adoptable dogs and cats for the shelter’s site and the “Pet of the Week” feature in the local paper.  I’ve always had a soft spot for seniors and animals with special needs, shy pets, and animals needing assistance.  I started a small rescue service, taking as many of the dogs as I could that weren’t likely to be put up for adoption, finding foster homes for them or working with other rescues outside of the area (usually in the northeast).

One day in May 2007, Animal Control was called to come and pick up Angela, a 6-year old female basset hound, and take her to be put down.  Her back legs had become paralyzed and she was unable to walk or urinate on her own.  Had Angela gone to the shelter, she would have been immediately euthanized (there is no “hold period” for owner surrenders of high-needs/unadoptable pets).

The Animal Control officer knew I loved hounds and called me as she was leaving Angela’s house to see if I were willing to take her.  I met the truck before it arrived at the shelter and took Angela directly to our veterinarian.  He explained the surgery that was needed, which had to be done at a specialty hospital, and left it up to me and my partner, John, to make our decision.  There was no decision to make for me, and when John looked into those big, sad basset eyes as Angela sat crumpled in the corner of the exam room, he knew we were about to embark on a very expensive, difficult mission.

Off we went to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Cary, NC.  Doc called ahead to schedule surgery to correct the two ruptured disk in her spine.  The surgery had to take place within 24 hours of injury or the likelihood of her walking again would be slim.  Angela was taken in to surgery that night.

Angela came through the surgery very well, although bloodwork revealed that she is Heartworm Positive and has antibodies for both Erlichiosis and Rocky Mtn. Spotted Fever, 2 tick-borne diseases.  I brought her home from the hospital two days later.  Angela was still unable to walk or urinate on her own at that time; however, she had no problem wagging her tail!

By Day 4 Angela was going to the bathroom on her own and there was very slight movement in each of her back legs. By Day 9 she was still unable to support her weight or walk without a sling, but there was a great deal of movement in her legs and she “pedalled” in the air as if she were walking.567079651_8e08b6735f

Exactly three weeks after surgery, Angela took a few steps on her own without the assistance of the sling.  Five days later, she was walking completely unassisted by a sling, and although slightly wobbly, she was able to stand still and support herself without swaying from side to side.

A week later Angela had a setback—she became depressed, lethargic, and stopped eating entirely.  She had a temperature of 105.5, and a full-blown case of Erlichiosis.  Four days of hospitalization, IV fluids, and antibiotics later, she was on the mend but fragile.

567089635_de0fba56ecShe came through that, completed her Heartworm treatment, and just prior to her spay surgery, Angela’s teats started growing and she began “nesting” type behavior. There was no possibility of pregnancy, as she hadn’t been in contact with any except my pets, and mine were all neutered.  Our vet suspected a “pseudo-pregnancy,” which I had never even heard of.  We went ahead with the spay surgery and the pseudo-pregnancy was confirmed.

Finally the medical procedures were done and Angela could start being a dog.  Throughout her recovery her personality blossomed.  Angela Bassett Hound has become a fun, happy lady with a huge voice and a very, very big heart.  She loves everyone she meets.  Now, 6 1/2 years after her surgery, at almost 13 years old, Angela has moved across country twice, attended Basset Tea Parties” with founders, and although she is slowing down a bit, she now loves to run and play on the beaches of Cape Cod.  I am so very grateful that I’ve had the chance to have this wonderful being in my life.2011 11 26_0270

2011 11 26_0257

The Starry Night Was My Blanket

My path here was roundabout, here being a place with space to roam and explore within a context of belonging.  Here I’ve come to know something I’d not known before: trust.  Sometimes it feels foreign, and I retreat back to my native high alertness.

I had lived on a ranch where I had a job to do: tending the livestock.  I took my job seriously and performed it with singular focus, but the time came when the cattle were moved and the people left.  I ran after their truck, sure there had been some mistake, until I could run no longer.  I returned to the empty place; knowing no other place else since puppyhood, I stayed.

There was a trickle of water at the edge of the property from which I drank.  I passed my days foraging for food.  The starry night was my blanket, the warm sun my companion, the rain my welcome, thirst-quenching friend.  And so I passed my time.

One day I saw a car coming from a distance, a cloud of dust trailing behind it.  People I didn’t know emerged from the car.  It was the woman who saw me first, pointing me out to the others then calling to me.  I approached her cautiously.

She stooped down, holding her hand out to me.  I looked into her eyes then walked to her.  She touched my forehead, my ears, my neck and spoke to me quietly.  I didn’t understand her words, but I understood her.  She placed her hand on my spiny back, each finger resting in an indent between my ribs.

They took me to their house.  I hung behind as we walked in, as I’d never before been inside a house.  A cat at the far side of the room arched his back and widened his eyes.  I looked toward the woman for reassurance, who nodded.  I moved slowly toward the cat, my head hung low to show respect.  I reached my neck forward and touched his nose with my nose.  The cat sat down and began bathing his paw.  I went back and stood beside the woman, glancing up to her to make sure I’d done the right thing.  She placed her hand gently on my head.  I closed my eyes.

These days, there is a cedar-smelling bed near the woodstove and bowls of fresh food and water for me, always.  Sometimes I walk to the far edge of the property and sit on the bluff.  From there I gaze out toward the place I used to live and back toward the place I now call home.  I almost always lay my head on my paws and, under the big sky, doze.  Later, I rise, shake myself off, and follow the familiar path home.  There, I am greeted with love, always.

•photo by co-founder Cherie Damron,

Kuruk: The Little Bear that Could

We have the pleasure of featuring a guest post by Kuruk (with Julianne Victoria)   

I was born near Wasilla, Alaska into a large pack of 170 Alaskan Malamutes.  That’s much bigger than wolf packs, but we haven’t been wolves for thousands of years. We much prefer to be with people, helping them work and lounging with them.  But my pack was trapped in this place that humans call a puppy mill.

I vaguely remember playing with my siblings when we were very small and free to wrestle in the snow and explore a little.  Mostly, though, I remember being on that four-foot chain, like all of my pack family.  I tried to make the most of it by learning how to play without getting all twisted up.  I must have learned well, because my Mama now says I am like Houdini (whoever that is) and can get unwrapped no matter how tangled I might get my leash.

My puppyhood was not easy.  Often we didn’t have enough to eat or drink and survived by eating snow with a little dirt.  I didn’t like it, but I didn’t know anything else.  When I was about one year old, things got even worse and some of our pack started to die.  The grandparent pups told us kids stories about warm, dry homes where pups lived alongside humans and got lots of food, water, and best of all…treats!  I didn’t know what that was, but they made it sound awesome.

One day when all seemed hopeless, some humans came and put us all in crates and trucks.  I was terrified.  I had never left this place I called home.  They took all of us to a shelter where we were inspected by doctors.  My anxiety was so severe that I was put on medication.  I don’t know if it helped because I was still very nervous and shy, but at least I now had food.

After a few months, four of us were put into crates and flown to Seattle by the Washington Alaskan Malamute Adoption League (WAMAL).  They gave me the name “Kuruk,” which means “Bear” in the Native American Pawnee language.

After a short stay in a kennel I went to live with Foster Mama Miss Cindy and her two snow pups, Tara and Timber.  She took us hiking a lot, but everything was so new that my anxiety was bad.  After about a month I started to understand the leash thing and even like the hikes.  Tara was my shining star—she showed me to trust humans and enjoy nature.

And then a lady named Mama and a big Malamute named Simba came to visit me. They asked if I would like to live with them.  I was shy and nervous, but I said ok.  The day before my new Mama took me home, I approached Miss Cindy for the first time and crawled on her lap to say thank you for all she did for me.

My Mama took to my very own home.  The stories the grandparent pups had told us were true—I couldn’t believe it!  I still needed lots of healing, but over time I got better and better.  Big brother Simba taught me everything he knew, and Mama poured lots of love into me.  I gained 50 pounds since being rescued, was quickly off the medication, eventually stopped pacing all the time, and slowly got used to people.  Children were especially frightening, but now, two years later, I like to give them kisses.

It’s been a long journey.  Sometimes I’m still a little shy around strangers, but usually I will say hello.  Mama is very proud of me.  I even had the courage to start my own poetry blog,  I am also working on completing a book about my rescue story, including some haiku, and will donate a portion of the proceeds to animal rescue groups.

I am so thankful for being rescued, and I want to help other animals like me.  We all deserve to be loved!  Wooooowooooooo!

• When you buy dogs from pet stores (and some private owners), you are likely buying from puppy mills.  The exceptions are PetSmart and PetCo, which feature adoptable pets from local rescues and shelters.  Please adopt from rescue organizations/shelters.  One in four pets in shelters nationwide is a purebred.

•• To view a video about Kuruk’s rescue, please view:

•••  To be a guest blogger, please contact us via our contact page or at   We’d be delighted!