The Landfill Dogs

“The dog’s agenda is simple, fathomable, overt: I want. “I want to go out, come in, eat something, lie here, play with that, kiss you. There are no ulterior motives with a dog, no mind games, no second-guessing, no complicated negotiations or bargains, and no guilt trips or grudges if a request is denied.” 
― Caroline Knapp

Mistletoe ~ Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

Not long ago I came across something that really moved me, spoke to me deeply, and inspired me to help something greater than myself.

Shannon Johnstone, an art professor at Meredith College in North Carolina, recently launched the Landfill Dogs project.  Every week she takes one shelter dog on an afternoon outing and photographs him or her playing, frolicking, sniffing, lounging in the grass, and just being a dog at the state landfill where they will end up after they are euthanized. Yes, you heard right.  These dogs are on death row.

So why would someone even care to do this?  Johnstone explains:

These are not just cute pictures of dogs. These are dogs who have been homeless for at least two weeks, and now face euthanasia if they do not find a home. Each week for 18 months (late 2012–early 2014) I bring one dog from the county animal shelter and photograph him/her at the local landfill.

The landfill site is used for two reasons. First, this is where the dogs will end up if they do not find a home. Their bodies will be buried deep in the landfill among our trash. These photographs offer the last opportunity for the dogs to find homes.

The second reason for the landfill location is because the county animal shelter falls under the same management as the landfill. This government structure reflects a societal value; homeless cats and dogs are just another waste stream. However, this landscape offers a metaphor of hope. It is a place of trash that has been transformed into a place of beauty. I hope the viewer also sees the beauty in these homeless, unloved creatures.

As part of this photographic process, each dog receive a car ride, a walk, treats, and about 2 hours of much needed individual attention. My goal is to offer an individual face to the souls that are lost because of animal overpopulation, and give these animals one last chance. This project will continue for one year, so that we can see the landscape change, but the constant stream of dogs remains the same.

Here are a few of Shannon’s images that so beautifully capture the spirit of each dog: 

Momma: Impoundment #68215 Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone
Momma: Impoundment #68215
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
― Mark Twain

Rose: Impoundment #82564 Photo by: Mary Shannon Johnstone
Rose: Impoundment #82564
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Pigpen. Impoundment #85852. He never found a home.
Pigpen. Impoundment #85852.  He never found a home.

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”
― Milan Kundera

Ice Frosting:  Impoundment #82263 Mary Shannon Johnstone
Ice Frosting: Impoundment #82263
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
― Josh Billings

Charo, impoundment #90561. She is still looking for a home. It has been 118 days.This good girl is very busy, likes to keep herself occupied, and LOVES to be around people. She does not miss meals, is extremely treat motivated, already knows "SIT".
Charo, impoundment #90561. She is still looking for a home. It has been 118 days.
This good girl likes to keep herself occupied, and LOVES to be around people. She never misses a meals, is extremely treat motivated, and she already knows “SIT”.    Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“The assumption that animals are without rights, and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance, is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion in the only guarantee of morality.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality


Her images are poignantly beautiful.  Looking at these faces, I can’t help but think about the millions of dogs and cats that end up at landfills all over the world because of factors that we do have direct control over: lack of spaying and neutering, lack of planning and prevention, the endless need that we have to breed more and more dogs to satisfy the desire for a designer dog, or because dogs and cats are surrendered to shelters due to “behavioral problems” – many of which could be prevented with education, proper training, and socializing.  Every dog, cat, or other companion animal that ends up in these landfills is a life that could have been saved from such a fate.

It’s hard to not get emotional looking at this images, knowing the ground that the dogs are standing on, and what their fate will most likely be. But we can help them.

We do have the power to help all companion animals – right in our own backyards – that need our help.  We can speak up for them by sharing their story and their faces.  We can help other animal guardians avoid having to surrender their companion animals to shelters through education and training.  We can stress the importance of microchipping, spaying and neutering every cat and dog!  If someone can’t afford to spay or neuter their animal, we can show them that there are affordable spay and neuter options!  We can speak with our local shelters and ask to volunteer there, or even be a foster mom or dad to animals in need.  We can be an advocate for no-kill shelters and support their never-ending hard work. We can encourage our friends, coworkers, and family members to adopt dogs, cats, birds, etc, that need loving, forever homes, rather than buying from breeders. There are so many ways to prevent this.

These are not “abandoned pets” or “throw-aways”.  They are living beings with a soul. They deserve a life of compassion and mercy. Each one of them has so much love to give, so many lessons to teach us, and ways of opening our hearts so that we may know, feel, and understand unconditional love and acceptance.

Our Hocus Pocus was rescued from a no-kill shelter here in North Carolina.  If it wasn't for Robeson County Humane Society, she would have been one of the Landfill Dogs.
Our Hocus Pocus was rescued from a no-kill shelter here in North Carolina.  Her mother was found pregnant along the  side of the highway during winter.  If it wasn’t for Robeson County Humane Society, Hocus, her mother, and all of her siblings would have all become Landfill Dogs.

Landfill Dogs who are still looking for homes:

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Landfill Dogs is a photographic project to showcase the beautiful souls of the most overlooked dogs, located in Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.  You can read the full story from The Unexamined Dog about Beautiful Animal Advocacy here.  To learn more about Shannon Johnstone’ project visit here.

To see most recent Landfill Dogs – the souls who are still in need of forever homes please see the Landfill Dogs facebook page or visit this gallery.  Landfill Dog Adoption info here!  Please share their story with others!

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” 
― Anatole France

How Well Do You Know Your Canine Companion?

It’s natural to feel that we really know everything about our canine family members, but maybe we really don’t.  Dognition has collected some surprising facts from a five-question survey that they sent out this morning to 600 dog guardians, asking them, “How well do you know your dog?”. The answers they found may surprise you.

Dognition’s Survey Found These Surprising Results

Learn more at

Stray Cat Strut

Lil Alley Cat by Rachel K Schlueter
Lil Alley Cat by Rachel K Schlueter
Black and orange stray cat sittin’ on a fence
Ain’t got enough dough to pay the rent
I’m flat broke but I don’t care
I strut right by with my tail in the air
Stray cat strut, I’m a ladies’ cat,
A feline Casanova, hey man, thats where its at
Get a shoe thrown at me from a mean old man
Get my dinner from a garbage can
Yeah don’t cross my path!
I don’t bother chasing mice around
I slink down the alley looking for a fight
Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night
Singin’ the blues while the lady cats cry,
“Wild stray cat, you’re a real gone guy.”
I wish I could be as carefree and wild,
but I got cat class and I got cat style.
~Stray Cat Strut by The Stray Cats, 1981


Today, October 16, is National Feral Cat day.  Many years ago I fell madly, deeply in love with two feral cats.  Both of whom, during separate chapters in my life, taught me more than I could have ever imaged about stray cats.  Although we have said our goodbyes, they are still with me in my heart, and they are the inspiration behind this post.

My hope is that you will learn something new here, and in the process, gain compassion for these wise, street savvy souls.  Once we truly understand the myths (and truths) about feral cats and their communities, we can educate others on the many ways to care for and protect these very misunderstood animals.

Samantha, our beloved feline family member, who was once a feral cat on the streets of New Orleans.

Myths and Truths About Feral Cats


Myth #1:  Feral cats are best cared for in animal shelters.

Fact: Adult feral cats are euthanized more frequently than any other dog or cat (this includes adult dogs, bully breeds, fearful and aggressive cats, aggressive and fearful dogs, and heartworm positive dogs).

Shelter life is incredibly stressful for any animal. Throw in a few sprinkles of feral, and you have a recipe for an all-out-fear fest.  Since feral cats are naturally afraid of humans, they are rarely adoptable, so the majority of  feral cats who enter shelters are euthanized quickly — even though 99 percent of these feral cats have no debilitating conditions, trauma, or infectious diseases.

Even no-kill shelters can’t place feral cats in the average home.  However, feral kittens can often be adopted into homes, but they must be socialized at an early age.  There is a crucial window, and if they aren’t handled in time, they will remain feral and therefore unadoptable. Learn more about feral kittens and socialization here.


Myth #2: TNR is cruel.

TNR is the practice of Trapping, Neutering, and Returning cats back to where one found them. TNR has been shown to be the least expensive, most efficient, and most humane way of stabilizing feral cat populations.  The very best thing we can do for a feral cat is to spay or neuter it, then return it to its original community.


Myth #3: Feral cats are sick.

Feral cats are just as healthy as your own companion cat, with equally low rates of disease, and equally long natural lifespans.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found that of 103,643 stray and feral cats examined in spay/neuter clinics in six states from 1993 to 2004, less than 1% of those cats needed to be euthanized due to debilitating conditions, trauma, or infectious diseases.


Myth #4: Cat overpopulation can be fixed by removing the feral colony.

Neighborhoods and communities will often roundup colonies of feral cats – either for euthanasia, or to relocate them, but neither of these choices are a permanent or humane solution.  The reality is that it’s impossible to catch all of the cats, and it only takes one male and one female to begin reproducing again.  Even if all ferals are removed, new cats will soon move in and take their place.

Relocation should only be an option when the cats’ lives are at extreme risk, and then responsible relocation practices should be followed.


Myth #5: Anyone can socialize a feral cat with a lot of time and patience!

Feral cats survive by avoiding intimate human interaction.  Socializing a feral cat can take years sometimes. Trust me; it took me a year to even touch my beloved Samantha when she was a feral cat.  If you have a feral cat outside your home that you want to befriend, I recommend learning more about feral cat socializing from the the experts.


Myth #6:  Shelters are a huge help for lost cats that are found!

Fact:  Only 2 to 5% of lost cats in U.S. shelters are reclaimed by their owners.
Fact:  Most lost cats will eventually return home on their own.
Fact:  Spending time in a shelter actually decreases a cat’s chances of being reunited with his/her guardians.

One of the easiest and most important things you can do for your cat (or feral cat that is living under your care) is give him/her a proper ID tag, AND have your cat microchipped!  This means that wherever they wind up, they can be identified.


Myth #7:  Feral Cats are decimating native wildlife and bird populations! 

Many people dislike the idea of stray cats, but science has cleared them of the blame for impacting wildlife populations.  The true threat to other species are human activities such as habitat destruction, fragmentation, pollution and encroachment.  Outdoor cats occasionally kill birds and other wildlife, but the bigger truth that we need to recognize is this: humans are the species that have most significantly damaged the environment, habitats, and ecosystems.

“The clear leading animal that’s really putting wildlife at risk is the human population.  We just don’t like to acknowledge that it is our fault. It’s not a case of the cat being the worst offender.  It isn’t even remotely the worst offender.  It’s us.”- Wildlife Biologist, Roger Tabor, one of the world’s leading experts on feral cats

Read more about How Much of an Impact Cats really Have on Native Wildlife.

Myth #8: Feral Cats are “homeless” cats

Feral cats are not homeless.  They have a home; it’s outdoors!  Feral cats are no more “homeless” than squirrels, raccoons, or rabbits; their community is their home.  It’s where they learned to live, adapt, and thrive — often with help from a compassionate caretaker.  The outdoors is the natural habitat for feral cats.


Feral Cats and Stray Cats – What They Really Need

Outdoor cats have existed alongside humans for 10,000 years.  They are not a new phenomenon.  Feral cats and stray cats (yes, there is a difference) live and thrive in every landscape, from the inner city to rural farmland.  Although they greatly appreciate a delicious can of tuna, they don’t want to snuggle with you on your couch.  It’s important to recognize and respect that they belong outside, vaccinated, spayed and neutered.  Feral cats are members of the same species as companion cats.  This is why feral cats are protected under state animal anti-cruelty laws. Just like our feline family members who live indoors with us, shelter, food, and water are especially important to feral and stray cats in cold weather!

"Mama Cat" and her kittens.  Mama Cat was a feral cat that lived around my house in New Orleans. I TNR (spayed and released) her and then spayed and neutered her kittens and found homes for most of them.  I loved her so much.
“Mama Cat” and her kittens, one of whom lives with us now.  Mama Cat was a feral cat that lived around my house in New Orleans. I spayed and released her, then spayed and neutered her kittens and found homes for all of them.  I loved her so much, but I knew she could never live an “indoor life”.  I did what was best for her by allowing her to live outside, vaccinated, and spayed.

Cats are a Natural Part of the Landscape.

Cats have always been a part of the natural environment.  They have adapted to the changes that humans brought about in their environment, but their biological instincts and interactions with their surroundings haven’t changed.  What has changed in the last 10,000 years is how humans have impacted the environment. Our unrestrained use of natural resources has damaged crucial habitats and resources that species need to survive.  Instead pointing the finger of blame at wild felines, we need to take a hard look at what we can do to change the way we impact our world and the animals we share it with.

Feral Cats Belong Outdoors. They have been along side humans for 10,000 years. We can help them by spaying and neutering them, then leaving them be.
Feral Cats Belong Outdoors. They have been along side humans for 10,000 years. We can help them by spaying and neutering them, then leaving them be.

Why Should We Even Care?

Today, On National Feral Cat Day, we celebrate the growing movement to protect the lives of outdoor cats with humane and effective programs like Trap- Neuter-Return (TNR). ~ Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies.


In the video below Jackson Galaxy reminds us that:

  • Feral cats are not socialized to people.
  • Feral cats cannot be adopted.
  • TNR helps reduce the number of cats being killed in our shelters each year.
  • More than 330 local governments have ended ‘catch and kill’ and embraced TNR, but there is still much more work to be done.



Common Questions about Feral and Stray Cats




What is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?

Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane and effective approach for stray and feral cats.  It has been in practice for decades in the U.S. after scientific studies in Europe show that Trap-Neuter-Return improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time.

Did you know that TNR:

TNR (Trap & Neuter Return)
A Conscious Companion doing a TNR (Trap & Neuter Return)

Informing friends, neighbors, and family members, about the benefits of TNR can be tough.  There are so many misperceptions about stray cats and feral cats. But Alley Cat Allies has a great resource on their website called Troubleshooting with Community Members.

In this Alley Cat Allies PSA,  Jackson Galaxy explains why National Feral Cat Day® is the perfect time to raise your voice to protect the cats you love—indoors, outdoors, and everywhere in between.  We can educate people about feral cats, how to help them, and what not to do.  Please help to spread the word that TNR is the humane approach for feral cats.  Do you have any experience with stray cats or feral cats? I would love to hear your stories!

coraline-cat-stray-cats-feral-cat_stray cat strut

“What’s your name?” Coraline asked the cat.

“Look, I’m Coraline.Okay?”

“Cats don’t have names.” he said.

“No?” said Coraline.

“No,” said the cat. “Now you people have names.  That’s because you don’t know who you are.  We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”

― Neil Gaiman, Coraline


Matthew Bershadker – President & CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

Free Feline Resources!


Cat Sense

Cats have been popular household companion animals for thousands of years, and their numbers only continue to rise. Today there are three cats for every dog on the planet, and yet cats remain more mysterious, even to their most adoring guardians.  Unlike dogs, cats evolved as solitary hunters, and, while many have learned to live alongside humans and even feel affection for us, they still don’t quite get us” the way dogs do, and perhaps they never will.  But cats have rich emotional lives that we need to respect and understand if they are to thrive in our company.


In CAT SENSE: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, renowned anthrozoologist John Bradshaw takes us further into the mind of the domestic cat than ever before, using cutting-edge scientific research to dispel the myths and explain the true nature of our feline friends.

Tracing the cat’s evolution from lone predator to domesticated companion, Bradshaw shows that although cats and humans have been living together for at least eight thousand years, cats remain independent, predatory, and wary of contact with their own kind, qualities that often clash with our modern lifestyles.

As Bradshaw shows, cats still have three out of four paws firmly planted in the wild, and within only a few generations can easily revert back to the independent way of life that was the exclusive preserve of their predecessors some 10,000 years ago. Yet cats are astonishingly flexible, and given the right environment they can adapt to a life of domesticity with their owners—but to continue do so, they will increasingly need our help. If we’re to live in harmony with our cats, Bradshaw explains, we first need to appreciate their inherited quirks: understanding their body language, keeping their environments—however small—sufficiently interesting, and becoming more proactive in managing both their natural hunting instincts and their relationships with other cats.

A must-read for any cat lover, CAT SENSE offers humane, penetrating insights about the domestic cat that challenge our most basic assumptions and promise to dramatically improve our animal companion’s lives—and ours.

Read an excerpt here!

Click Here for a Chance to Win a Book Giveaway for Cat Sense!



World Animal Day is for anyone who loves animals

A cow’s “moo” has a different accent depending on what region they originate from.  Goats have accents just like we do.  Bats always turn left when they fly out of a cave.  Zebras are actually white with black stripes.  Flamingos can only eat when their heads are upside down.  Dolphins make a unique signature whistle that describes its individual identity. And a duck’s quack never echoes, anywhere, but no one really knows why!  These are just a few of the million amazing animal facts – facts that prove just how incredible and unique animals are.  Their presence on this planet enriches our own individual human journey through life.

There are a lot of things in the world that threaten the future of animals that call this planet home.  Everyday, natural resources are being misused, wetlands and forests are being destroyed for new cities to be built, and habitats are being fragmented for roadways.  Harmful species are being introduced into ecosystems they do not belong in, and illegal wildlife trade and poaching are wiping out entire populations of animals.  It’s estimated that nine percent of all species become extinct every million years; one and five species go extinct every year.  This rate of extinction has sped up five times in the Earth’s history.  As human beings, we are neighbors, roommates, and friends to these creatures, and it’s our responsibility to help protect them so that their future generations can grow and thrive, and, in turn, our future generations can be blessed with the joy of sharing their lives with them too.

World Animal Day began in 1931 as a way to highlight the plight of endangered species. This day has since evolved into a day to honor all the animals of the world, regardless of the celebrators nationality, religion, faith, or political beliefs.

Why We Celebrate World Animal Day Every Day

  • To celebrate animal life in all its forms
  • To celebrate humankind’s relationship with the animal kingdom
  • To acknowledge the diverse roles that animals play in our lives – from being our companions, supporting and helping us, to bringing a sense of wonder into our lives
  • To acknowledge and be thankful for the way in which animals enrich our lives


World Animal Day was started in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species.  October 4 was chosen as World Animal Day because it is the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment
St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment

Since then, World Animal Day has become a day for remembering and paying tribute to all animals and the people who love and respect them. It’s celebrated in different ways in every country, with no regard to nationality, religion, faith or political ideology.

The online World Animal Day event was launched in 2003 by Naturewatch and the number of events taking place throughout the world has increased each year. They hope that with your help this trend will continue.

That is the aim of the World Animal Day initiative: to encourage everyone to use this special day to commemorate their love and respect for animals by doing something special to highlight their importance in the world.  Increased awareness will lead the way to improved standards of animal welfare throughout the world.

Building the World Animal Day initiative is a wonderful way to unite the animal welfare movement and something that everyone can join in with whether they are part of an organization, group, or as an individual.  Through education we can help create a new culture of respect and sensitivity, to make this world a fairer place for all living creatures.

On their website you will find everything you need to make World Animal Day a reality in your area today and every day. They have events listed by countries and continents.  Now is a great opportunity to help make animal welfare issues front page news around the globe – a be vital catalyst for change in the world!

world animal map

How You Can Get Involved on World Animal Day

• Expand your own knowledge and broaden your own horizons by picking up a book by an animal expert extraordinaire

• Write a letter to your local newspaper, or put up a post on your favorite social media site, or blog informing people of World Animal Day

• Donate to a local animal charity or shelter. Local shelters are always in need of food, litter, and supplies. Check with your local shelter before going shopping as many have a giving tree or wish list.

• Volunteer at your local shelter or look into fostering an animal.

• Make your garden more animal friendly: Add a bird bath, and include bee-friendly plants. Learn more here!

• Surprise your animal companion with an unexpected treat, walk, or toy, and carve out some extra time during the day to enjoy their company. If you know somebody who doesn’t have that same opportunity, volunteer to spend some extra time with their companion, too!

The purpose of this day is for people to “use this special day to commemorate their love and respect for animals by doing something special to highlight their importance in the world. Increased awareness will lead the way to improved standards of animal welfare throughout the world.”

Empower. Educate. Collaborate. Be a part of something special today to celebrate all of the animals of the world!


Before you get out there and make a positive difference in your community here is a humorous collection of animals around the world doing what animals do best: having fun and enjoying life!

Enjoy and please spread the joy!

Watch the World Animal Day Mash Up Here!


How will you celebrate World Animal Day?


Fall Leaves Frenzy!

All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it. ~ Samuel Butler

Be Careful What You Wish For

Be Careful What You Wish For

April’s Fool on Us

When my brother Jason and I were in high school we lived with quite the menagerie: three dogs and a rabbit – oh, and a mom and dad, too.  The dogs and rabbit were as different from each other as they could be, yet they all somehow managed to get along.  The loudest, biggest and last to join the pack (yes, the rabbit was part of the pack) was April. My brother and I were given permission by our mother to find a dog from the local shelter.  She gave us instructions to adopt a “small to medium dog.”  Well, we fell in love with this lanky black and white “lab mix.”  Less than six months later, April weighed nearly 60 pounds and had another 60 pounds to go.  It turned out that she was a Great Dane, Labrador, pit bull mix.  So much for a small dog.  April was born on April Fool’s day, and she certainly lived up to it.

Sadie cat and April enjoying each other's company on my mother's porch in Orlando
Sadie Cat and April enjoying each other’s company on my mother’s porch in Orlando (Sadie adopted  our family later, and taught April to love cats.)

Our menagerie was mischievous to say the least.  Starch, the one-lop-eared rabbit, was always looking for Penny, the beagle-Springer mix.  Starch enjoyed searching around the house, going from room to room looking for Penny.  While Penny was peacefully sleeping, Starch would risk life and limb by creeping up and nipping Penny on the leg.  Then she would hop away as quickly as she could – probably silently laughing as she bounded onto the porch, with Penny chasing her all the way.  April enjoyed stalking Starch and taunting her as well.  Maggie, the meekest of the bunch, was happy just being my shadow.

As the years went by, everyone settled into their daily routines.  Weekends were fairly uneventful, unless April got bored.  I remember the day “it” first happened.  My brother Jason and I were watching T.V. and we heard a panicked bark coming from my bedroom.  We knew it was April, because we could tell by the deep, loud barking, except she sounded more like a puppy.  She was whining and she sounded scared.

We rushed back to my room to discover that April had somehow managed to squeeze her 120 pound body between the wall and the backside of my waterbed.  She had crawled into the narrow space behind the bed and was now facing the wall, unable to back up or go forward.  Because the bed was a water bed, there was no way to physically move it. So we knew that we had to convince April, who was now starting to panic, to “back up!”, but it was not working.  She would try to shimmy backward then she would panic and go forward even more. Eventually she made her way to the wall, and then somehow squeezed around the sharp left turn at the “dead end” of the bed frame and was now heading down the side of the bed along the wall.  She was utterly and completely stuck, and now she was really freaking out.  We had to think of a solution quickly and act fast.  She could really injure herself.

We tried her favorite treats, but she was not taking the bait.  We tried calling her name excitedly, but it was no use.  It just made her more frantic.  We tried cheering, ringing the doorbell, getting her best pal Penny to come in, but none of it worked.  She was still panicked and still not moving!

Then it hit me!  April HATES nail polish remover!  We figured what the heck, it’s gonna be awful and she might completely freak out, but we are desperate at this point.  So I soaked a cotton ball with the powerful solution and stuck it right in front of that giant, sensitive black nose.  That dog moved backward so fast, you would have thought she was on fire!  She made it to the sharp left turn then stopped.  I shoved it into her face again and she cleared the corner and shimmied backward out of that crawl space as if her life depended on it!  April was finally safe!  We did it and she freed herself!  We were nearly in tears and so relieved that she was unharmed, except for a few traumatized nasal receptors.  My family and I were all so glad that was over, but we couldn’t help but wonder how and why that happened; it must have been one of those freak accidents.

Less than a month later we learned how wrong we all were; there were other forces at play.

The 120 pound Mischief Maker
The 120 pound Mischief Maker

Yesterday I was reminded of how mischievous animals can be, and how easily we humans can be misled by the animals we share our homes with.

The video below reminded me of our sweet (yet clever), mischievous April.  The video describes the scene as this:

“With the summer heat, Darwin sometimes likes to sleep on the cool tiles in the bathroom.  Every once in awhile, he gets trapped in there and scratches at the door to ask for help to get out.  Feeling bad for the little guy, I usually gave him a cuddle and a treat, until one day, when he got trapped a few times right after getting freed.  So I grabbed my camera and this happened…”

Amazing isn’t it?  Animals are so clever!  I laughed so hard when I saw this video, because it was all too familiar, and I thought about how long Darwin had their humans fooled until she caught him on film!

Ok, back to April’s “Help me I’m stuck!” story.  About a month later after freeing her from the doggie crawl space from hell, all was quiet and relaxed at the house, until we hear that same panicked barking coming from my bedroom again.  Lo and behold, April was somehow stuck behind the water bed again, but HOW?  And WHY?  So we tried everything again, and 10 minutes into it, we decide to break out the Eau de poison perfume again.  It worked like a charm.  April freaked with one whiff of the nail polish and she was out of there.  Free at last!  Free at last!  April Davis was free at last!

Again, my family and I discussed what could be the reason behind this behavior.  What was luring her back there?  Was there food back there?  Was it a mouse?  Was it a cool toy or ball that she dropped? What was it that made her get stuck again?  She was clearly terrified while being stuck, so whatever it was, it had to really be worth getting herself into that situation.

A few weeks later, it happened again.  We could not believe it.  So of course we went through the whole fiasco again, with the same “tools” and the same results.  Then, less than five minutes after April was rescued, we caught her crawling back in there!  We couldn’t believe what we were seeing!  She was doing this on purpose!!  Why?  I will tell you.  She loved the attention.  It was the best cure for her boredom.  We were astonished to learn that she would endanger her safety and security for attention.

We started to put the pieces together.  April would start by bringing out any of our stuffed toys from our bedrooms.  Then we would stop her.  Then she would gallop by with one of mom’s house shoes.  We would end that game.  Then she would take it up and notch and run by with one of Jason’s prized baseball hats, then one of my favorite shoes.  We would redirect her to her “chewy”, and then … she would raise the stakes of mischief and head to crawl space behind the waterbed.  We would certainly have to pay attention to her then!  She knew how to play us all like a tune.  She had us all fooled with her shenanigans.  The joke was on us and we fell for it every time.

I eventually built a huge April blockade so she couldn’t do it anymore, but she tried.  Oh, she tried. We found other ways to give her appropriate attention that didn’t involve rescues.

One of April's famous "crazy faces" when she was feeling frisky
April’s famous “crazy face” when she was feeling frisky

April was one of the greatest and most amazing dogs that I have ever known.  When she passed on a few years ago, my mother, brother and I were heartbroken.  She was an incredibly dynamic member of our family, and a gentle sibling to a cat, two dogs, and a rabbit that all loved her as much as we did.  April kept us laughing, smiling and on our toes, even up until she moved on into Spirit.

When I think of animal intelligence, clever animals, devoted dogs, and beloved family members, I think of our sweet April.  Thank you for coming into our lives, April.  You made life richer and fuller for all of us.  We love you and miss you every day.  High Paw to you, Big Girl.

beautiful family dog April Davis lab pit bull mix
April Big Girl Davis  (April 1996 – April 2010)

Do you live with mischievous animals?  Have you ever been fooled by a clever critter?  

Please share your stories with us!