Category Archives: Rescue

Rainbow Bridge Detour

rainbowbridgepreThe loss of a loved one and the grief associated with it are never easy.  There is no play book or standard operating procedure to deal with the wide array of emotions that are attached to those two subjects.   I remember taking a Death and Dying class in high school and learning about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  I also remember thinking that if we could all just accept that death was inevitable, then we would not have to spend weeks, months or even years of our lives crawling through each stage and missing the ‘living’ part of life that our lost loved one would have wanted us to embrace.  In Kübler-Ross’s grief theory, the length of time a person spent in each emotion differed greatly.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross noted that the stages are not meant to be a complete list of all possible emotions that could be felt, and they can occur in any order. Her hypothesis holds that not everyone who experiences a life-threatening or life-altering event feels all five of the responses, due to reactions of personal losses differing between people. (Wikipedia).

To some of us, losing a pet is like losing a human family member.  To true animal lovers, our pets are our family members.  They are family members with significantly shorter life spans, typically, and we grieve the loss of our furry loved ones over and over in our lifetime.  One major difference occurs though.  If our pet does not die suddenly of an accident or illness, and we are fortunate enough to have them into their old age, at some point, we are faced with a decision.  We have the ultimate power to put our pets to death, humanely, of course, but that horrible word, euthanasia, comes with a big price; guilt.  Kübler-Ross didn’t cover guilt when I learned about death and dying in high school; so as prepared as I thought I was to skip over stages one through four and go straight to acceptance, I was devastated when this unprepared emotion named guilt crept into the picture.

Cane 2000The first time I had to make that decision as an adult was with my ten year old German Shepherd, Canein.  The family spend a long, emotionally draining, tear filled day saying good-bye to him only to change our minds when we saw how excited he got after loading him into the car.  His old, tired head perked up as if he was ‘going for a ride’ to something fun.  I didn’t have the heart to take him to the vet that day, and I convinced myself that the old boy still had life left in him.   We took a detour from Rainbow Bridge.  Unfortunately, a few days later, he couldn’t even drag himself out of his bed.  He whimpered in pain and his eyes pled with me to make it end.  I carried his once strong frame, now weak, frail and thin to the car for the long, heart wrenching drive to the vet.  I walked into the waiting room, my vision blurred by my tears as everyone turned to look at me.  One by one, people quickly averted their gaze at the realization of what was.  An uncomfortable silence hung over the waiting room, even the dogs seemed to bow down their heads as I carried a dying old man past them into a private room.

I sat on the cold, tile floor with him, only a white terry cloth towel to cushion his brittle bones from the hard surface.  I held his head in my lap trying to remain strong for him.  I owed it to him.  After ten years of love and companionship, I owed it to him to be there with him, to comfort his fear.  I tried to control my breathing as the vet injected the vein in his right arm.  I watched his breathing slow, and I felt mine come faster until I was in an all-out uncontrollable, heaving sob.  I buried my tear soaked face in the black and tan fur that stuck up on his neck from a lifetime of wearing his collar.  His breath slowed to a stop.  He was still.  The vet silently exited the room, and I sat there with my boy through a full box of tissues.

I thought I had this down.  I had expected sadness, what I didn’t expect was the guilt.  Had I made the right decision?  Was it too soon?  Could he just have been having a bad day?  Could I have managed his pain better and given him more time with me?  Did I do everything within my power to make him better?

I went home and wrote, because I thought writing always made me feel better.  Not that day.

Our dear friend Canein was put to sleep today. It was the day he decided that play no longer outweighed the pain.  For Cane, you see, a warrior with a reckless abandoned and an undying loyalty to his people, play was his motivation for living.  Catching a Frisbee, popping a basketball, splashing into the pool, tugging his rope or playing hide and seek.  We promised ourselves that the day he stopped playing would be the day he was to go peacefully into freedom.  Freedom from all his ailments and fears.  He was the true and classic definition of man’s best friend.  A protector, a guardian, a healer, a playmate, a puppy, an old soul.  The sound of his howl, the smell of his head, the warmth of his breath and the dance in his eyes. Cane was all those things and more. Words fail me now.  But memories will last a lifetime. (Originally posted on Florida K9 website- May 29, 2003)

The entire family was affected by the loss of Canein, even his best friend, Bantam.  Bantam was my eight year old Doberman Pinscher that had never known life without Canein.  She cried.  She whined.  She paced.  She died ten days later, and I repeated the entire soul wrenching process again.  Guilt times two now.Bantams 2

I memorialized them by wearing their brushed nickel Ruin Symbol on a piece of leather around my own neck.  Canein wore the symbol for Protection and Bantam wore the symbol for Humanity (years later, tattooed these symbols on my body to remind me of the tremendous lessons that loving those dogs taught me).  I kept their collars displayed, but back then, I never thought to retrieve their ashes, something I regret to this day.

Then nine more years passed before I ever had to make that decision again.  This time, though, I did so without that nasty emotion named guilt.  I had rescued an old Doberman Pinscher from the county shelter at about eight years old.  About the time Quinn turned 12, her old body was wearing out and she had the beginnings of a liver issue.  At the same time, my old Great Dane, Emmit, was becoming withdrawn, not eating and having an extremely difficult time getting up.

emmittinthejungleMy neighbor shared with me his experience with a veterinarian named Dr. Dani McVety who started a company named Lap of Love.  He explained that she was an emergency room vet that started a practice for in-home euthanasia and hospice care for dogs.  He went on to tell me one of the worst days in his dog’s life was able to be virtually added stress free, and he was able to grieve in the privacy of his own home.

My wife and I called Dr. McVety for an in-home consultation.  Her message to us was this:  the kindest thing anyone could ever do for their pet was to never let them suffer one moment.  I then realized that there is no “right” time aside from adhering to the philosophy of never letting my dog suffers one second.

I have received hundreds of calls from panic-stricken dog training clients over the last 20 years, as their dog was screaming in pain, asking what to do.  Of course, this usually happens in the wee hours of the morning and they have to make the Nascar race to the emergency vet in middle of the night.  What if what Dr. McVety has said to me was true then?  If they had not waited until that horrible moment when their dog’s eyes are laced with panic and fear themselves, could there have been a kinder last moment for the furry loved one?  My answer now is resoundingly, yes.

A few years back, Dr. McVety has come to our house to evaluate Emmit.  Her assessment found that Emmit still has life left,  and he was not suffering, but Quinn was another story.  So it was with Quinn and then Emmit six months later, they passed on to Rainbow Bridge peacefully as they lay on their own bed, in their own home devoid of all the stress and fear of the unknown that the ride to the vet brings.  They never knew a day of inexplicable pain or suffering.  And while I still sobbed deeply over the loss of my furry family member, guilt was no longer a factor.  I knew that I made a kinder, selfless decision for them.  The decision this time was for them, not me.2010-06-11 20.10.40

Its human nature to want to keep what is comfortable and known to us and to avoid pain.  We keep our pets around much too long under the guise of taking care of them or not giving up on them; when in reality, we are taking care of our own emotional needs.

My wife asked Dr. McVety why she would have a hospice care program.  Her answer was simple.  She manages the pain of the pet until the owner is ready to let go.

I am now of the belief that if my old dog has a terminal, debilitating disease or reoccurring pain that will not ease or cease, then it’s time for me to start looking hard at the quality of life my dog has and the totality of the circumstances.  Lap of Love has a quality of life scale on their website that I have used.  It was quite eye opening.

Making the decision when to let my dog go peacefully over the Rainbow Bridge will never be an easy one, but I know now that I can do it without guilt.  The kindest and most loving decision I can ever make for my furry loved one is to never let them know pain and allow them the dignity of dying with grace. I will never take the Rainbow Bridge Detour again for the sake of my own heart.

After the excruciating pain of losing a pet, I have had people tell me they never want to go through it again and will not have another pet.   To them I answer like this:  I am willing to know extreme pain and heartache time and time again throughout my life in exchange for the immeasurable love and joy they bring me during their short time here on earth.  And if you are a person capable of knowing that much pain over the loss of a pet, then the next unwanted soul needs you just as much as the last one you loved with all your heart.  Save another life.


This article is published under my new Blog page and Florida K9.


Wikipedia contributors. “Kübler-Ross model.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.

Introducing Florida K9’s Newest Demo Dog (In Training) Epic Reign von der Brickhaus

Twenty years ago this year, a German Shepherd Dog named Canein Cahloo von BonJon came into my life and awakened my passion for training dogs.  He taught me so much about the delicate balance in communication between human and canine; he started FloridaK9.  Many dogs have graced my life since Canein who passed onto Rainbow Bridge in May 2003, but none have been the quintessential German Shepherd until now.  Named as a tribute to Canein…the Reign continues.

Check back regularly to  watch him grow up and watch how positive leadership creates a well trained dog and perfect companion, and thanks to Brickhaus Working Dogs for breeding such an amazing animal.

A Seminar for Fosters of Rescue Groups

Florida K9 and Groovy Cats & Dogs are partnering on February 23rd, 2013 from 12-1 pm to hold a free seminar to Rescue group foster’s about adapting your new foster to your existing pack, avoiding common behavioral pitfalls and starting them on the path to good, well trained behavior to solidify their place in the new FOREVER home.  RSVP at, call Anna at 813-843-4005 or contact Yvonne at Groovy Cats & Dogs 813-265-1333. The seminar is limited to the first 25 RSVP’s.

Charlie’s Story – The Unconditional Bond between Human and Canine

Back in 2009, I had been on a domestic call in East Tampa and was inside the victim’s home.  When I exited the house, I noticed my partner, Officer Shane Gadoury, closing the back door to my police car.  This was particularly odd because we were not riding in a two-person capacity that day, and he was not the back-up officer dispatched to the scene with me.  I knew instantly, he was up to no good.

When he looked up, his faced contorted into the look you see when a child gets caught doing some thing they should not be doing.  Before I could speak, he yelled out, “I couldn’t leave him there.”

I knew immediately what he was talking about.  Shane and I had all too often run across an injured, sick or emaciated stray dog that we could not drive pass during our patrol in East Tampa.  We often took turns taking those dogs home, rehabilitating them and then finding their forever home.  I had just re-homed a red Pitbull that I had for six months, on top of my own family of four: two Chihuahua’s, a Doberman and a Great Dane.

It was Shane’s turn and my instant response was, “No! It’s your turn,” as I made my way towards my police car.

Shane pled with me arguing that he had three dogs at home and was about to go on vacation.  “Shane, I have four dogs!” I countered, as if he didn’t know.

His weak argument was won the minute I opened the back door to see the passenger. Inside I saw a terrified, cowering Pitbull mix with eyes that reached right down inside your soul and begged for mercy.

I quietly shut the door.  I didn’t say another word.  I shook my head yes as a haunted sadness filled my heart contemplating how the human race could be so cruel to man’s best friend.  My partner leaned in and said, “That’s why God made people like us…for them, Anna.”

As I drove home that night, I could see the fear in the back seat passenger’s eyes as if he wondered what fate he would endure next.  I promised myself that I would not name him because that last dog, Ivy, stayed too long and tugged tightly on my heart strings when she was re-homed.  My intention was to quickly get this dog into a foster home with another group.

The first 24 hours proved difficult as I quickly learned that this dog had never been inside a house, walked on a tile floor, ridden in a car and most likely obtained the scars around his face from other dogs trained to bite him.  I had to carry his 55 pound frame into the house and one by one tried to introduce him my pack, which didn’t go so well.  He flattened his body against the ground and urinated in submission at the sight of the first Chihuahua.  The vision of the Great Dane through the screen door put him over the edge and sent this poor baby running and yelping across the yard into the hedges that lined the back fence.

During the first week, I reached out to several rescue groups with which I worked and to everyone I knew that was looking for a companion.  I needed to call him something rather than “DOG”, so I decided to refer to him as, “two-nine,” this being the street on which he was found in East Tampa, 29th Street.

St. Francis Society Animal Rescue in Tampa agreed to run him through their organization for adoption as long as I agreed to foster him.  He slowly gained a sense of trust with me as the days went on, and he became the Velcro dog that I could not walk away from for even a minute.  At the end of that first week, I introduced him to a dear friend and co-worker at the time, Corporal Sheila Griffin.  Two-nine and I had rehearsed their introduction before she arrived.  I told him that she lived on ten acres and was a push over for a sweet face.  As if on queue, as soon as she sat down, Two-nine placed his big black paws up on her chest and rested his chin on her shoulder with a big sigh.

Of course, Sheila assured me that she could not take this dog, however I could not keep calling him Two-nine.  He looked into her eyes and she said, “I see you Charlie Bear,” and in that moment, Two-nine became Charlie Bear.

Sheila’s father Wendell was aging and lived alone.  We decided Charlie was the perfect dog for him, whether he wanted him or not.  We were convinced that he just didn’t know he needed the love of a dog yet.

Sheila and I conjured up a grand plan to “save” Charlie.  She explained to her father that I was taking Charlie to a vet in South Tampa but also had a several appointments and meetings right afterwards.  Since I lived quite a distance from South Tampa, she asked Wendell if Charlie could stay there for the day until I finished up my appointments.  Wendell was just too sweet to say no.

As I walked Charlie into Wendell’s home, that big, bad Pitbull made his way to Wendell’s recliner chair, and ever-so-gently placed his paws and head into the old man’s lap with his big brown eyes soulfully looking upward.  I think it was love at first sight.

By the end of a six-hour visit, Wendell called Sheila and told her that Charlie could spend the night if I was too busy to pick him up.  High-five, plan was working.  Wendell kept Charlie for three days, but sadly, Charlie proved too strong for Wendell and he asked me to come pick him up.  Charlie was scheduled to go to the Florida State Fairgrounds Pet Adoption Expo the next day, and I was convinced this sweet boy would be adopted. I was going to pick him up the next day for the Expo.

On the morning of the Adoption Expo, Sheila called me and relayed the conversation she had just had with her dad.  Wendell had been at the kitchen table drinking his coffee and reading the paper when he saw a full page add for the Adoption Expo.  He asked Sheila if that was where Charlie was to go today.  She said it was, and Wendell worried himself with who Charlie’s new family would be.  “How will we know if Charlie goes to a good home? he inquired.

Sheila explained that there were, of course, no guarantees, but rescue groups generally screened prospective pet parents.  “Well what if Charlie doesn’t like his new home?” Wendell went on.

Sheila shrugged, and Wendell continued, “Well I don’t like that one bit. You just call Anna and tell her Charlie is not going anywhere.  He’s not going to that adoption thing.  He’s going to live with me.”

And so began a love affair between Wendell and Charlie.  The next time I saw Charlie, he had gained quite a bit of weight.  I asked them what they were feeding him.  Wendell told me that he didn’t eat that “crappy” dog food that we gave him; so he’d been cooking him breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast.  Lunch was usually hot dogs and tater tots while dinner was a frozen meal he heated up in the microwave.  Wendell was quick to tell me that he took the desert out of the meal because he knew chocolate was bad for dogs.  He ate that himself.

It warmed my heart to see a once scared, scarred, skinny dog from East Tampa, having dinner with his owner on a TV tray while they watched old westerns together.  I couldn’t have wished for anything greater for Charlie.

Things were great, except for one issue.  Charlie was a cat killer, and Wendell took care of a feral cat colony that had taken up refuge in his carport.  Charlie learned to be gentle and know his own strength when it came to Wendell, but curbing his prey drive towards the cats seemed futile.  They learned to avoid confrontation at all costs.

Charlie lived with Wendell for the last few years of Wendell’s life.  He never left his side, slept next to his bed on his slippers and if Wendell got up in the night to use the restroom, Charlie followed, waited and then walked him back to bed.  They ate every meal together, watched TV together and had long, deep conversations about life.  Well Wendell did, and Charlie listened.  Charlie was there as Wendell took his last breath on December 30, 2010 and at that moment, Charlie jumped onto his bed (something Charlie had never done) and laid his head upon Wendell’s chest as he drifted into forever sleep.

Charlie took it hard along with the rest of us.  For weeks, he laid his big body down next to Wendell’s bed when it was time for sleep and at times refused to leave the empty room.  Sheila was faced with having to re-locate Charlie to her own home on ten acres with one very gloomy outlook.  Sheila had nine cats.

Sheila set out to change Charlie’s behavior and quickly.  Through positive reinforcement and shaping of wanted behavior, Sheila was able to teach Charlie to leave the cats alone.  Sheila also told Charlie that this is what Wendell would want and somehow, I think he understood, because in one short week, and after two long years of attacking cats, Charlie arrived at Sheila’s house and proceeded to take a nap with female cat named Charlie.  Sheila’s jaw dropped, and she was speechless, but able to capture a photo as proof of an amazing transformation that could only be attributed to one thing:  the unconditional bond between human and canine.

Charlie did his job taking care of Wendell while he was here on earth with us.  Somehow, it seemed Charlie knew that he was taken from the hard, dirty streets of an East Tampa drug hole and given a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect with another sweet soul like himself. And now, Charlie lives his life on ten-acres, patiently waiting for the day he will see his best friend again at Rainbow Bridge.  I know Wendell is waiting.

Saving the World – One Dog at a Time

My “other job” has afforded me many opportunities to come across those in need; both the two legged kind and the four legged kind.  It seems, though, that the four legged kind tend to leave a lasting impression on my heart.

Last week, someone I work with responded to a call about the big bad Pitbull roaming loose.  My co-worker, Rich, is about as big a dog-lover as I am and has to be with three huge Boerboel’s occupying his home.  Luckily for the big bad Pitbull, Rich was the one that found her.  What he found was a little girl Pitbull running crazy with the big scared eyes as if she was searching for safety.  Rich patiently convinced her to climb into the back of his car and he brought her to me.  She had fresh cuts and old scars on her neck and forearms but timidly stuck her head out of the window and took a treat.  Once she realized I wasn’t going to hurt her, she warmed up and gave me a kiss.  I returned the affection before Rich whisked her off to the Emergency Vet.  Knowing that Hillsborough County Animal Services is so full with dogs that need forever homes and her “big bad” breed reputation could cause someone to look past a forever opportunity, I lost sleep thinking about this Baby Girl nearing an unfortunate end.  As a stray animal, she had a finite amount of time to be re-claimed or adopted.

The next day, I reached out to rescue group contacts that I had.   A wonderful human being named Carie Peterson, who works for The Humane Society of Tampa Bay stepped up. With the help of Loretta Magee at the Hillsborough County Animal Services, Carie Peterson and her director Pam Backer, Baby Girl was saved from an ultimate demise.

She has received much attention due to the picture that was snapped of her and I in Ybor City that night, but she still needs her forever home. She is a sweet, lovable soul with so much to offer. Her personality epitomizes the breed and hopefully changes the opinions of the close minded people who still “judge a book by it’s cover”.

If you know someone who is willing to begin a relationship with this beautiful Baby Girl contact The Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

See the original story on Facebook here.