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On the ground: What it’s like to volunteer at Villalobos

**This is a guest post from hubby, the man behind the blog. 

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Maggie and I like to volunteer whenever we get the chance. It feels good to help causes that are important to us. Simply due to our schedules, Maggie was often more active than I was, but it was something I still liked to do. When I first got to Louisiana and Maggie was still in Indiana, I took the opportunity to put in as much time as possible at work. I wanted to make a name for myself, and I figured that since we weren’t in the best situation, I’d try and make the most of it so that it would pay off in the future. That meant that I didn’t have much time to do anything else.

After I’d been here for about 10 months, we were well into winter and things slow down for us, meaning I had more time on my hands. I told Maggie that I wanted to look into volunteering somewhere around here, and she immediately suggested that I get in touch with Villalobos, the pit bull rescue organization from Animal Planet’s Pit Bulls and Parolees. I went to their website, filled out their forms, and heard back a few weeks later. I got to volunteer at the rescue facility early on a Saturday morning in February. There were already people walking dogs when I got there, and I quickly figured out they were employees. There were only about 6 or 7 volunteers there, and there were too many dogs for all of us to walk. We had additional forms to fill out, and we had to write our name on a piece of paper and hold it in front of our face while a production assistant took our picture. We were told not to approach any of the cast members unless we had a real reason because they were filming the whole time. It was weird having cameras all over the place, but I got used to them quickly and was so busy I ended up not noticing them.

Katie

The whole process was a well-oiled machine. In their main parking lot/courtyard, they set up folding chairs with water bowls next to them. A leash was handed to us with a dog at the other end, and they had us all walk a pre-determined route. We were told to keep all of the dogs away from one another, just in case we had one that wasn’t comfortable around other dogs. But, we were allowed to give them as many treats as we wanted, we could take a little extra cuddle time. We could run if they wanted, and they had photographers snapping pics of everyone.  When we were done walking and made it back to the courtyard, another employee would direct us to a chair and we had to wait until someone came and took the dog from us. Then, someone else would bring another and we’d do it again. Throughout the day, I probably walked 10 or 11 dogs in total, all of them wonderful. There was Tiger, Marsha, and my favorite, Gilbert. Right before we got started, the volunteer coordinator said that since I was the biggest volunteer there, I would probably get the stronger dogs, the ones that liked to pull.  Seeing as how I had about 5 inches and 60 pounds on everyone else, I said, “Sure! Not a problem!”

Then came Gilbert. No one wanted to walk Gilbert. The same coordinator said to me, “You sure you can handle a puller? He’s big and he goes where he wants to go.” I told her that as long as he’s friendly it wouldn’t be a problem. If he weren’t friendly, I’d like to know so I could be sure to be extra careful. She said, “Oh, no! He’s happy as crap!”

Gilbert

Apparently, “happy as crap” means 120-lbs bulldog that goes wherever he wants. He was the sweetest giant I had ever met, but I had never felt so helpless on the other end of a leash before. By the time we were done, my wrist, ankles, shoulder, and back all hurt. When we made it back to the courtyard, the coordinator had everyone else move because she knew exactly where Gilbert was going.

The rest of the day went by quickly. At the end, we were given a tour of the facility, and we got to see some of the dogs that were rescued during last season’s episodes. They had on displays the chains that were used to secure dogs in yards, chains that looked too heavy for me to hold. They had dogs that were terrified of everyone but a few of the employees.

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But, the important thing to remember, regardless of how sad any of their stories were, was that these dogs all were getting a second chance. Even though I was just walking a few dogs for one day, that day was better for those dogs than any day before they got there. What those people do every single day is nothing short of amazing. That goes for any rescue organization. And yes, I did get to briefly meet Tia Torres. And yes, she’s just as bad-ass in person as she is on TV.

It’s official: We have a cat!

Greetings from the bayou! A few months ago, Maggie did a post about a stray cat that I found. I had come back from happy hour and was sitting on balcony enjoying the night. I don’t live in the nicest part of Houma, LA (go ahead and look it up, chances are you’ve never heard of it). I don’t mean to say that I live in a dump; it’s just an older part of town without the fancy shopping centers and typical chain restaurants. More importantly, people don’t tend to value their pets the way I do. I see stray dogs and cats all over the place, and there are about four or five resident stray cats around the apartment complex.

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That night sitting on my balcony, I hear a cat. I see a little black cat that definitely wasn’t one of the regular strays. When she saw me, she flopped onto her back. Figuring it was someone’s lost pet, I went outside and she came right over to me. This sort of freaked me out because I am NOT typically a fan of cats. Anyway, I brought her inside, went and got her some food and a litter box, and started putting up ads and posters around the neighborhood hoping someone would claim her. A few weeks went by with no one claiming her.

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Despite the horrible suggestions given to me from others (I’ll save that for later), I got her checked out by the vet, I signed her up for the low-cost spay and vaccination program, and decided I would hang on to her until I could find a good home for her. A few more weeks went by and still no one called to claim a lost cat. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted her, and she settled right on in. So, now I have a cat. Her name is Newt. I’m not so scared of her anymore. She hasn’t tried to claw my eyeballs out. I haven’t seen her plotting my demise, and she’s pretty much content to lay around and be my buddy. It definitely took a while for me to get used to her and for the two of us to get into a good routine, but I guess I finally did find her a good home.

She loves playing inside this beer box.

She loves playing inside this beer box.

Note from Maggie: Neither one of us ever had a cat, so this experience has been all new! I’m glad she’s settled in to life with John… The trick will be introducing her to the boys when John’s done in LA! I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!

On the mend

 

Howdy, folks. John here again. I figured it was about time for another update on Maggie, the dogs, and even me! Maggie finished her daily chemo treatment two weeks ago. Right now, it seems like that was all went by in a blur, but I know it wasn’t like that for Maggie, who felt completely miserable the entire time. She’s now on the second week of the 11-month portion of the treatment. She has to give herself a shot three days a week. Last week when she started, it was pretty bad. Migraine headaches, nausea, fatigue, all of the same stuff she’d been feeling for the past month. The side effects aren’t as bad now, mostly she’s just tired all the time. But, she’s able to work on some of the projects she put aside while all of this was going on. We had our weekly meeting with the oncologist today, and he seemed pleased with how everything was going, and told her that since the shots weren’t kicking her butt, he saw no need to lower the dose. Everyone reacts different to the chemo, so throughout the treatment, the oncologist will lower the dose as needed. Maggie made it the entire month without having her dose lowered until the last two days of her treatment. Most people need the dose lowered the first week. I tell you this so you’ll know how tough she is… Anyway, she’s doing well, and the dogs are of course keeping her perfect company.

During her month-long treatment, she was spending her time at her parents’ house in Indianapolis and Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper were her round-the-clock nursing staff. They had so much fun, but I think they’re glad to be home. We’re happy, because it means we can get Cooper back in doggie daycare, which means it’ll be quiet around here to get some work done! Trust me, we love him, but he is one loud (and sometimes annoying) little bugger. Since there aren’t any major dog-related revelations or happenings, here are some recent pics of our guys (I got an awesome new camera for Christmas…).

 

Emmett's so distinguished...

 

He looks tough, but he's so small!

 

Pasta!

 

More pasta!

He's guarding us from the children who dare ride their bikes in front of our house...

 

 

I take the pictures, but I don't edit them. He's still handsome!

 

Give us that treat and no one gets hurt....

A quick update

John here. I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on how Maggie is doing these days. Yesterday, she started her third of four weeks of daily chemo. Some days are better than others in terms of the side effects, and even though it’s a pretty rough process, we know it’s for the best in the long-run. However, knowing that doesn’t really help much, especially on the bad days.

We’ve had some amazing support from family and friends, and we couldn’t be luckier when it comes to the doctors and nurses we see every single day. Through all of the surgeries, blood draws, infusions, meetings, follow-ups, check-ups, and all of the other daily activities, we are constantly reminded of, despite everything, just how lucky we are. Seriously, if you’re a doctor or nurse, you should know how much you’re appreciated. If you’re not a doctor or nurse, thank any that you know.

Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper haven’t left Maggie’s side in the past months since all of this has been going on. Surprisingly, Cooper has actually stepped up to be Maggie’s protector. She’s been staying at her parents’ house during the week since she gets her treatments in Indianapolis, and I’ve been going back and forth from there and Bloomington, and the dogs have stayed with her. The first few nights, when things started getting bad, Cooper slept on Maggie’s feet the entire time and even growled at her parents when they came to bring her food, tea, medication, or even another blanket. He finally came around and realized they were there to help, but you’ve got to appreciate his level of concern for Maggie. Truly amazing that little guy is…

These next two weeks are going to feel like forever, but once they’re done, things should start to get a little better for her. Again, a big “thank you!” to everyone who has sent a kind word, had a positive though, sent a card, or even just posted something nice on her Facebook page. Your continued support means more to her than you can ever imagine, and I truly appreciate everyone keeping Maggie in your thoughts.

I apologize that I don’t have any cute dog pictures to go along with this post. Hopefully, we’ll have some good pictures of Maggie feeling better covered in a pile of dogs in no time!

 

*Maggie didn’t proof this post, so I apologize if there are any grammatical errors!

Have you thanked your dog today?

Seriously.

Have you thanked your dog for never being angry at you when you’re too busy to throw the ball one more time? Have you thanked your dog for keeping your feet warm when it’s cold outside? Have you thanked your dog for being so excited when you come home, no matter how long you’ve been gone? Have you thanked your dog for loving you unconditionally? Have you thanked your dog for never judging or criticizing you? Have you thanked your dog for his/her unending optimism? Have you thanked your dog for showing what true kindness is? Have you thanked your dog for never asking to be thanked for anything? Have you thanked your dog for always being a dog, and so much more? If not, get to it!

What do you thank your dog for?

**Hey, guys! Maggie here. As you can see, John now has his own byline since he’s taken over the blog while I recuperate. I got the tube out of my arm yesterday (yippee!) so after a weekend of rest and puppy snuggles, I hope to be back next week with tons more dog-related posts because, oh man, these guys have had an eventful couple of weeks. Thanks for sticking around!

Gentle giants (and a gentle pipsqueak)

Sometimes, these monsters just amaze me. I’m not as patient with the dogs as Maggie is. I don’t always think everything that they do is cute. Frequently, I get annoyed with things that they do, even though they’re just being dogs. Granted, the last few weeks have been stressful for me (Maggie, too, I suppose…) and I’ve felt a little stretched at times. But, for all of the barking, the jumping, the messes, the pulling things out of the garbage, the refusal to allow a new toy to survive longer than 20 minutes, every day these guys make me realize just how special and unique dogs really are.

Not once have the jumped on Maggie since all of this has started. Not once have they gotten too pushy with her, or gone after her medications, or the other items associated with her recovery. In fact, they’ve been nothing but gentle with her. I’m amazed that they’re still terrified of the vacuum cleaner while simultaneously realizing that they need to be careful around Maggie.

Any instances like this where your dog seemed to just know?

To update everyone, we got the pathology results back from Maggie’s last surgery. That set of lymph nodes that were removed came back cancer-free, which means that even though the cancer started to spread it didn’t get very far. The past month has sucked, but “cancer-free” did a pretty good job of cheering everyone up.

Guest post: John pinch hits as a dog blogger

Needless to say, things have been a little hectic around here for the past several weeks. In early December, we found out that Maggie had melanoma and would be needing surgery to remove the tumor and the nearby lymph nodes. We got through that and the surgeon got clean margins but found that two of the five lymph nodes that were removed tested positive for cancer cells. While not the best possible outcome, it wasn’t the worst one either. So, she had another surgery last week to go back in and remove the rest of the lymph nodes from the region. It was much more invasive than the first surgery, she’s in a lot more pain, and the recovery period is going to be a bit longer.

Throughout all of this, Emmett, Lucas, and even Cooper have been great. They’ve been careful around Maggie, curling up around her in bed keeping her company, and doing their very best to cheer her up. The support we’ve gotten from friends and family has been amazing as well. Maggie has gotten cards, cookies, flowers, and tons of good wishes. Friends and family have dropped off food, come by to cook for us, and have come in to help take care of Maggie while I deal everything else. Melanoma or not, work still needs to get done, bills still need to be paid, and the house needs to be cleaned.

We’re incredibly grateful for everything that everyone has done and said over the past few weeks. Things should slowly get better over the next few weeks or so, and I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated if Maggie can’t get some posts up (though she’s going to try – she really misses writing about dogs and keeping up with all of you). While Maggie is recovering, I’m going to continue to dote on her continuously and do everything I can for her, although there is seriously no way I can compete with this:

And who would really want to?

Taking a fearful dog on a group walk? Yep!

Note: This is a guest post by John, the man behind the scenes. He took Lucas on this group walk because we both agreed that he’d be much calmer than I would be. :) And, I must admit, I cried when John told me this whole story and showed me the accompanying pictures. My dogs never, ever cease to amaze, impress, and inspire me!

A little background for those of you aren’t familiar with Lucas, our fearful dog. We’ve had him for four years now, and he’s never been great with new dogs. Double that for big dogs (he’s 80 lbs, himself). Triple that for when he’s on his leash. It’s all fear-based. It’s something we’ve, unfortunately, come to expect from him time to time. As such, we’ve learned to manage it. We avoid situations where we know he’s just not going to enjoy himself.

Right before we moved from DC toIndiana, Lucas made some remarkable strides. He was a social butterfly on our daily walks, and he loved going to doggy day care. Sadly, when we moved, we began to see fewer and fewer dogs, and Lucas reverted to his old ways of preventing dogs from getting close to him. We were fortunate enough to take Cooper to a wonderful trainer, Leslie, here in town who also has a weekend dog-walking club. They meet on the edge of the Indiana University campus and walk around downtown Bloomington. She recently invited Maggie and me along and told us we should bring Cooper. After discussing it, we decided this would be a perfect, controlled opportunity to get Lucas around other dogs where he wouldn’t feel threatened, and he would at least know one other person and dog. The trainer and her wonderful dog Mercury, as it turns out, were the stranger and neutral dog when Lucas took (and passed!) his Canine Good Citizen test. So we figured she would be understanding if we wanted to bring Lucas. She was all for it.

Lucas and I got there early with lots and lots of meat. We walked around without other dogs in sight and just enjoyed ourselves. We got to the meeting place and settled on the grass where I just kept feeding Lucas treats when he noticed anything: people walking by, strollers, dogs at a distance.

Slowly, dogs started trickling in one by one, until there were nine other dogs there. Lucas was fully aware of them, but he wasn’t crying, staring, or even ignoring me. When we saw Leslie, she walked up to us with Mercury and asked if he could say hello to Lucas. I told her maybe later, that he was doing great and I didn’t want to rush him. Ever the trainer, she told us where we were going and Lucas and I ended up in front. (I think she did that on purpose.)

Right away, I saw one dog that I knew Lucas would be perfectly fine with. She was a pit-mix puppy named Freelove, and Lucas has always gotten along with puppies.

Naturally, I didn’t get the guy’s name, but we chatted and walked together with everyone behind us. Almost immediately, I forgot about all of the other dogs around us and Lucas seemed to as well. We strolled along downtown, making our way to the Farmers’ Market with hundreds of people, including small children and senior citizens in motorized wheelchairs. I readied myself with more treats thinking this would be where Lucas would have an incident. As if on cue, Lucas walked right up to the woman in the wheelchair and licked her arm. This, mind you, is the dog that at one time was terrified of umbrellas, plastic shopping bags, the television, and more. I soon realized that I was the only one worrying.

When we reached an area with a bit more room, I asked Leslie if I could have Lucas sidle up next to Mercury while we walked. She said of course, and Lucas moved right on up to Mercury without breaking stride. ELATION. After that, Lucas and I got a lot braver. I moved Lucas right into the middle of the pack and not once did he seem scared, tense, or anything other than a big yellow dog enjoying himself.

By the end of the day, he walked next to Mercury, sniffed a little dog named Link, made friends with Freelove, walked next to a Shar-pei-Rottie mix, and pranced right by the world’s best Pomeranian.

We walked for almost two hours, and when we got home, Lucas could barely keep his eyes open.

Maggie, of course, was beyond words when she saw the pictures. Lucas proved just how amazing he is, and how amazing all dogs are. None of the dogs knew about Lucas’ troubled past, and within minutes, I don’t think Lucas had much memory of his fears either. This is exactly what Lucas needed, and what I needed, too. Needless to say, we cannot thank Leslie enough and will be back whenever we can.

Finally, as proof, here’s the video of Lucas and his new friend Mercury.