Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Better Integrate New Dogs in a Home.

I had previously posted this in Serena's adoption page, but figured it was worth posting separately as well. These are tips of integrating dogs from the "Parsons Dog Handbook." My family has adopted many dogs over the years and these are some thoughts that might help others be more successful at that.

If you are determining whether a dog will accept a new household with existing dogs and vice versa, consider trying the following steps. While these are not exhaustive tips on integrating dogs, they really helped with Ginger when my parents took her. Please consult dog behavior books for further instruction or consult with dog professionals in your area for assistance if there is any doubt. Special care should always be applied so that none of the humans, dogs or other pets are injured.

1). Let them meet in neutral territory - take them for a walk.

Let the dogs meet for the first time near the final home but where neither sees it as their "territory." Have the current masters walk each dog, and then start walking side-by-side toward the final destination (the new home, or even the new owner's car, if in different cities). If there are multiple dogs in the new home, a separate person should walk each dog.

The goal is to walk them until they are all just really tired and end up at the new home/new car. Let them sniff briefly initially, greet, and then repeatedly for brief periods along the walk, but keep them moving on the walk - which is their common task.

Let the environment be casual as possible, "non-eventful" since that will tell the dogs they can be relaxed too and enjoy the walk. As they start sniffing stuff together they might begin seeings themselves as a pack - and dogs are naturally pack animals. If they get too assertive with each other on any of the greetings on the walk, pull them apart for a few feet, keep walking forward, and then try to see how they later walk together. Let them greet again later, each time briefly and casually, with each master having strong control over their own dog.

Any inappropriate actions can be met with a strong, "No!", but then forgotten and keep them walking. This will help the dogs develop familiarity with each other, and allow the masters to determine if the dogs can ultimately live together. If the walk goes well, then the end result is that the dogs end up at their new home/car. All the dogs should be "dog tired" at the end and then give the dogs all water. They most likely will simply lay by each other and that will show some how they will interact - and if they will accept each other.

2). At the new home or the new owner's car, let it be casual with the existing owners/"parents" so that the dogs still get signals that everything is causal and fine.

If everyone is at the new home, have the old owner come in as well, so their dog doesn't understand at this point there is a shift in ownership and will feel more comfortable with the home. During this process, the owners may at times shift leases so they are holding the other's dog and that will also tend to convey to the dogs that everyone is friendly and there is no need for concern.

If these efforts don't allow the dogs to be relaxed and there is any consistent, high level of aggression between them - particularly when they are tired, then it may show that the effort may not work - or needs professional efforts to try to start the integration of the dogs. Each person holding a dog's lease should be comfortable exercising dominance over the dogs so that the true "alphas" are understood to be the people.

3). The Dirty clothes 'trick' can help with a crate.

Once the old owner leaves their dog, one idea that can help their dog transition into its new home is to also give a bag of dirty t-shirts/towels that belong to the old owners and have not been washed. They will have the scent of the old owner on them and can help comfort a dog if the pet seems sad/lonely when the old owner is not around. It can often be helpful for a crate also to be used as a place for the new dog to sleep, so he/she may sleep apart from the other dogs. Ideally, the crate door should be left open initially so the dog does not develop a negative impression of the crate. The old master's dirty clothes can be put in the crate as bedding, and allow the dog to feel safer as they adjust to their new home.

If the crate with old clothes is used, the new dog may be territorial of it if the other dogs enter the crate since the old master's scent is in it. In such instances, take care when other dogs are allowed in the area. The crate might be placed in a separate room, with the crate door left open for a long while. Once the dog goes in there, and the dog often will feel safe, so the door can be shut later on. In time, the clothes can be taken out in a day or two so that the dog starts bonding with the new family.

4). Separate at feeding/sleeping/alone times.

Food aggression is one of the most common reasons for flare-ups with a new dog and the existing pack. The dogs should be separated at feeding time until the pack's roles are clearly defined and accepted. Dogs should also be separated in a similar fashion when they sleep or are alone without supervision.
Over time, allowing the dogs with supervision to interact can allow the roles to be defined. Care should also be shown when dogs enter buildings, if one is allowed on furniture or in special places, and when loaded into a vehicle. These are all things that show alpha status and the dogs will have to work out these issues somewhat among themselves - with parents around to ensure it is done safely for all pets.

5). Special care with particularly smaller pets and cats.

With a new dog in a home, special care should be taken to determine if prey aggression will impact birds, cats, and other smaller animals, even small dogs. With such size differentials, it can be dangerous since the smaller animals will not be able to fend off an assault. If the new dog attempts to show any aggression with the smaller "prey," then likely the owners need to understand that this may never stop. For at least small dogs that are sufficiently aggressive themselves (many terriers), the danger may be less since they may be able to protect themselves.

However, with cats specifically, they may not be safe with any prey aggression. If the cat is declawed, then the cat must be protected at all times. Understand that the cat's only remaining defense of biting is INSUFFICIENT since cat jaws are very delicate and that the cat is at serious risk of a jaw fracture if they have to defend themselves against a dog.

Again, these are not exhaustive tips, but can be helpful.

Connect to the The Thirst Project

As a sign that 20 somethings and Gen-Y are thinking globally in a way that prior generations have not, Seth Maxwell at 22 yrs old and the non-profit The Thirst Project, that he founded at 19 yrs old, are showing that any person in the U.S. can impact global poverty. He has engaged many around him to follow his leadership and has even succeeded at getting several "Glee" stars and other young people in Hollywood to step up and help.

Seth's passion for this area is impacted by the fact that he knows 1/6th of the world's population have no clean and sufficient water to drink. With the water sources that many do have, disease and other contaminants pollute what water that they can drink. While the efforts of Seth's non-profit, he is helping to educate Americans on the issue and how they can impact the problem globally. Recently, Seth had his Annual fundraiser in Hollywood, hosted by “90210” star AnnaLynne McCord (seen above with Seth Maxwell) where Harry Shum Jr. ("Mike Chang"), Heather Morris ("Brittany") and Naya Rivera ("Santana", seen below) of "Glee" also participated.

For those in Texas, Seth will be coming through the State in mid-September 2010 to try to find new people to connect to this non-profit and its collaborative efforts with similar non-profits. His primary focus is to connect to college, high schools and middle schools students to whom he can present his educational program. Additionally, others in the community interested in hosting a presentation, or meeting with him, such as those in the environmental movement here, ought to also let me know.

Feel free to email me at and I can relay the information to Seth so that he can go through those interested and determine his itinerary and other ways he may be able to engage those interested. You are also welcome to "like" the Thirst Project on Facebook and look for Seth there.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lori Tullos Barta

July 24, 1971 - Aug. 19, 2010
(Funeral Aug. 24, 2010)

Lori lived only 39 years on this earth, and in that time she was able to have significant impact on both individual lives in it, and on broader issues of the world - particularly the need of individuals with learning disabilities and down syndrome.

Lori's impact, though, is not at an end - since she will continue to live in the hearts and minds of those that knew and loved her, those that knew of her in her life, and those that only learn of her after her passing and still miss her now. As one of her apostles, I can give testiment to that fact that I am who I am as a leader, and in many ways as a person, because of the impact Lori had in my life as one of my closest friends.

From about 1997 to 2005, we were very close friends and during that time each of us married our spouses (she married Adam in 2001, and I married Heather in 2003). I did her bridal photography, and that was such a great day. I proposed to Heather with Lori's help in rigging a "White Elephant" at Lori's Christmas party in 2001 for me to surprise Heather. Our wedding anniversaries are in fact one day off each other. But as with life when each goes their own way, and takes on their own responsibilities, we had less time together as close friends in later years. Both Lori and I acted as President of a local non-profit for 2008 and 2009 - I with YouthLaunch and she with Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas (DSACT), she had 3 children (one with down syndrome) and I had my own serious health problems including miraculously surving sepsis in 2008, and surviving a serious fall in 2009. We were not able to talk as much in the last 5 years. Through Grace, though, we were able to reconnect in Feb. 2010 and made an effort to periodically talk through July, 2010. I had lunch with Lori when her heart problem was first diagnosed and I am glad that I was able to tell her then how much she had impacted my life, and that I loved her dearly. As someone who does credit her for my ability to have impact in the world, I want to make sure others know her story, at least in part.

For those that don't believe I once was an introvert and shy, I was. Lori was one of the main reasons that I am not now. She had a gift of seeing people for whom they could be, for their possibilities when others would write them off, and not simply seeing them for whom they appeared to be. She provided the understanding that people need to feel included and cared for, and she would invite them into her large social circle, and then engage them and lead them to have social impact. She did not do this in so many words, but would make you think you were doing it only because it was good for you, all the while she wanted you to be part of the change that she foresaw. She did this with the Austin Young Lawyers Association, with DSACT, and many other groups. And more importantly, in her wake she has left a virtual army of leaders all shaped and impacted by her own leadership. These leaders independently are doing similar good work, but more importantly we are now going to help ensure that Lori's mission in life does not end with hers, but will continued well into the future, in her memory.

The story of her death is documentated online at her journal site, where the first entries were her own. After she went into surgery on Friday, August 13, 2010, the entries were then from her husband, Adam, and her step-mother, Susan. So many people were monitoring the journal through her last days that the entire website crashed for over a day until they could upgrade their servers and system. Many of her family, and friends from DSACT and other parts of her life, stayed with Lori 24/7 in the hospital and many more stayed in the ICU waiting room through the week so that she was never alone. From my time in the ICU waiting room, I learned that many of her most special qualities were in fact "Tullos" qualities, made part of her by a family that grew from 10 siblings, her father being one, and currently has 80+ awesome members. I also saw the great bond that exists between Adam and his brother, Mark Barta, and the special qualities that the Bartas have, as well.

For those unable to be at the hospital or have direct information from those who were, the journal was often an agonizing process of constantly checking for updates - "how is Lori doing? nothing is posted." Early on, no news was good news since nothing bad had to be reported. Later on, no news was bad news, and most knew it.

What the journal will also tell you is Lori's "Story" that she was not aware of any serious health problem until a few months before her death. She progressively realized that she had some sort of heart issue, and they determined over several weeks (a few prior to her death) that it was a severe mitral valve regurgitation, and that she would need surgery much sooner ... in a matter of weeks. Having to decide location and exact type of surgery, she decided to have a doctor perform the surgery here in Austin, Texas, at the Heart Hospital.

The method of surgery was originally only supposed to take 3.5 hours, but that time quickly passed and Lori was still in the operating room, and her family and friends became more concerned. The surgical team could not get her off heart bypass and get her heart to restart, and they had to open the chest cavity and perform a full open heart surgery to try to get her heart restarted. After 12 hours, they had her on a ventricular assist devise (VAD), which was a term her friends and family became way too familiar. In the following 12 hours post-op, as Lori fought to live for her husband and 3 young children (again, one of which has down syndrome), Lori had another 6 hours of surgery in 2-3 periods, as the surgical team tried to keep her at all stable, albeit still critical in ICU. Lori had told me that her biggest fear was that her children would grow up without a mother; Lori's own mother died when Lori was in her mid-teens.

The days after showed periods of improvement, although she never came out of ICU or regained consciousness, and the moments of improvement of any sort were rare and fleeting. In that time, Lori experienced cascading organ failure - from kidneys, to liver, to Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Lori continued to fight for life even then. Because the Heart Hospital is not equipped to deal with such complex issues following heart surgery, she had to be transferred to Seton Main (Seton Medical Center on 38th Street, Austin) a few blocks away. Seton was amazing to the family and treated Lori as a VIP. At her transfer, though, the concern became more that her pupils were fixed and dialated, which could indicate brain damage. At Seton Main, her EEG showed that she was flatlined with no apparent brain activity. The next day the CT scan showed definitively that she had suffered at some point from multiple strokes and had severe swelling of the brain, which would be unable to sustain life. Our Lori was brain dead. Lori's was only being sustained by a respirator and the VAD, which were then turned off a few hours later. Lori was gone and the countless people that loved her remained.

So that there is a documentation of the sermon given at her funeral, I thought it was important to post it in this blog. It is so moving and I hope finalizes the story of a woman who is very much loved still. I hope you who read this will help share her memory and her story, to ensure that others are inspired to be better than they believe they can be.

From: The Rev. Kelly Koonce
Homily for the funeral of Lori Tullos Barta

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9
John 14:1-6

“[God] does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone” – so the author of Lamentations assures us. But that is not to say that affliction and grief will not come. There are many things that God does not will – suffering and death chief among them – but they are ours to bear nonetheless as inhabitants of this curious creation, this world, this life – so gorgeous and yet so dangerous, so vigorous and yet so frail. Death is a part of life. We know this. Nothing and no one escapes it. Yet, when death comes, it always seems to take us by surprise – not the fact of it, necessarily, but the force of it. When it comes out of place and out of time, it is doubly shocking. It leaves us stricken, short of breath, with puzzled minds and broken hearts.

Lori Barta died too soon. It is not sensible. It is not fair. Why do we have to be here today, doing this, of all things? How did a routine surgery turn to tragedy? What went wrong? I wish I knew the answers. But I’m not sure they would really make a difference. I’m not sure they would serve to blunt the pain.

What I do know is that Lori lives now in God and God lives in us, which means that she is not as far from us, nor we from her, as we might imagine. What we are grieving is not a relationship that has ended, but a relationship that has changed. Lori’s light has not been extinguished. It continues to shine in the life of her family, in the lives of her friends, in the lives of all of us gathered here and countless others far beyond these walls. Just as Lori burned on this earth with an unrelenting passion for justice and mercy, with a seemingly boundless and indiscriminate love for all sorts and conditions of people, so she continues to blaze, like a newborn star, deep in the heart of God.

The early Christian theologian Irenaeus of Lyons famously wrote that “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.” When I hear that quote, I think of Lori. I did not have the privilege of knowing her personally. And yet, I feel I have met her, in a way, in the lives of those family members and friends with whom I’ve journeyed over the past week – in Adam, Emma, Hannah, and Sarah; in Gerry and Susan, Michael and Erin, Cyndi and Jennifer. And the woman I met in their eyes, in their words, in their laughter, and in their tears, was truly a force of nature. Precious wife, adoring mother, beloved daughter, sister, cousin, and friend, skilled attorney, tireless advocate and activist – Lori devoted her life to improving the lives of others. In 2008, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities as a result of her work with the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas. First as a committed volunteer and then as president of DSACT, Lori worked ceaselessly to raise awareness of the unique challenges facing those with mental disabilities in general and those with Down Syndrome in particular. She developed an Educator Manual and training program for teachers of children with Down Syndrome which remains in use throughout area school districts. She led efforts to educate parents of special needs children, helped develop an Inclusive Congregation Campaign for faith communities, and worked to train healthcare providers to care more effectively for individuals with Down Syndrome.

It is one thing to have faith. It is another, and more difficult thing, to live it. It is one thing to believe the gospel. It is another to embody it in our lives. Lori Barta was a living proclamation of the good news of God. She incarnated, daily, the gospel imperative to reach out to and care for the downtrodden and the dispossessed, the left out and the left behind. As Adam put it, “It was almost as if [Lori] was destined to have a child with special needs,” because she had always reached out to those whom most of us would choose to avoid. Her particular passion for improving the lives of special needs children was born with her daughter Hannah. From the outset, Lori refused to accept the negative assessments and bleak predictions for the future that she and Adam received from so-called experts in the field.

Following a particularly disappointing meeting with a geneticist not long after Hannah was born, Lori composed an email, a manifesto of sorts, to her family and friends. In it she wrote: “Bottom line, [the expert] said, is that there is no cure and Hannah will never be ‘normal.’ We walked into the meeting with hope and came out feeling numb and apprehensive about the future. Well, I refuse to accept that (gee, Dad . . . guess my stubborn streak came in handy after all!)! And that has led me to this 4 a.m. e-mail to you all. What is ‘normal’ anyway and why is that something to strive for? What is it that I really want for my children? When I strip away all the misplaced expectations and get down to basics, my wish for [my children] is this: (1) That they will be HAPPY; (2) That they will know they are LOVED and love others; and (3) That this world will be a better place because they are a part of it. So here I take the first step in trying to ensure that others love and value our children (and all children) as much as we do . . . When it comes to the TRULY important things in life, we need to start valuing individuals – with all their assets and limitations – and stop placing labels on our children! It has to start somewhere if we want this world to be a better place for them.” The rest, as they say, is history. The rest is passion. The rest is fire. The rest is gospel.

In the biblical understanding, the saints are all the people of God. I am a saint and you are a saint because God’s Spirit dwells within us. But later Christian tradition narrowed the definition somewhat, defining saints as those whose unique holiness of life was worthy of emulation by others. I think it’s safe to say that Lori was a saint in both senses. Of course, she was not perfect. She had her faults and her foibles, just like the rest of us. But the path she cleared is well worth following. The road she paved is well worth traveling. The life she lived is well worth emulating. If Lori could speak to us today, I believe she would tell us to continue what she began. Stoke the flames, tend the fire, shine the light, keep up the fight. When you encounter someone who is differently abled, don’t pass by on the other side. Reach out to them, take hold of them, love them, and let them love you. See them for the gift that they are and receive the rich blessing that only they can give.

When I met with Lori’s family on Saturday, Adam, Emma, and I took a walk in the fairy garden, a whimsical retreat that Lori designed for the girls in a secluded corner of the backyard. Adam asked Emma what she would like for me to tell you all about her mommy. Her response was brief and pure: “Tell them I loved her.” As I look around this church today, I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for Lori. She was loved so well by so many because she loved so many so well. In the final analysis, that’s what Lori did best: she loved. And I can think of no better testament to a life well lived.

Lori’s favorite quote, her mission statement, if you will, was “the reason we’re here is to leave the world a better place than we found it.” By any measure, she succeeded in spades. This world is truly a better place because Lori Barta was in it – eyes were opened and lives were changed. We can only hope that someday the same might be said of us, that we might make such a difference.

I was going to conclude by saying “Rest well, good and faithful servant.” But I’m not sure that rest is in Lori’s vocabulary. I hope the angels have had their Wheaties, because they’ve sure got their hands full. I imagine that even now Lori is enlisting their help with some new celestial campaign. But before it begins, I can see her gathering the children in her arms and telling them how much they are valued, how much they are cherished, how much they are loved. And I can see God . . . smiling."

May Lori rest in peace but know that her family will be loved by countless people here to help them as they go through their difficult journey and that the rest of us will continue the work she started.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Ebony and Ginger Project - "Serena"


Prior post:
For those not familiar with the goals of this project, it is to help rehome pets that find themselves in difficult situations or shelters. Although I have not done much on it in the last 12 months, due to a severely fractured dominant arm in Sept 09 (fully healed) and sinus surgery in July 10 (healing), I have a law school classmate who needs to find a new home for her dog, "Serena."

Serena is a mixed breed, 60 lb, 1 year 4 month spayed female, living in Austin, Texas. The current owners have had her for about a year, adopting her from a local shelter. Serena is housebroken and extremely bright and trainable. Her current parents easily taught her basic commands like sit, (lay)down, and target. She likes people and has lots of energy, and she loves belly rubs! She has done extremely well with the children in her current home - ages 5 and 11 - and they apparently deeply love Serena. I would assume that Serena is a natural alpha-type female. That would likely make her a good guardian for her person(s). According to her current owner, she is extremely loving with people, is smart, and has a great personality.

The potential homes do need to know about the recent issues Serena has had with other dogs in her home, which is why she has to be rehomed relatively quickly. Serena, as an alpha, developed a serious conflict with another dog in the home. Serena needs a home that will allow her to be high energy, since she has it, and it sounds like she still has a puppy in her. One animal behavioralist does not believe Serena is automatically aggressive toward other dogs, and thought the problems may be the personalities of the particular dogs involved. As noted, Serena gets along with the human members of her current household well.

Given my own experience with dogs, Serena likely would need either a home without other dogs/pets, or owners who are pretty skilled and patient enough to integrate her into their existing pack of comparable sized dogs (by doing such things as separating them at feeding, sleeping, and alone times until their pack roles are well defined, etc.). An alpha female can often do well also with a single neutered male, if they are properly integrated. Serena might benefit from some socialization efforts, as well. Given her larger size, longer legs, and higher energy, Serena would be an excellent companion to a family wanting a dog who is affectionate and likes to snuggle. A single female owner, particularly a runner, might particularly like this dog since Serena would be a good guardian for her.

Part of dog ownership is finding a good home that fits each dog, and Serena sounds like she is still looking for that perfect fit for her forever home. Our dog "Ginger" was like that - she is an AWESOME dog, and there were concerns that Ginger would not integrate in with other dogs. However, my parents who are VERY skilled with dogs have successfully put Ginger in with their other 3 dogs, for 18 months now, and of course Ginger is the alpha and their roles are now defined. While there is no guaranty that Serena can be similarly integrated with other dogs, a family skilled with dogs might still consider visiting her and see what they think. Consider the tips for helping with that process if you have other dogs (Edit - These tips have now been moved to a new post on August 30, 2010).

Please feel free to forward this link to those that might want to adopt Serena from her owners. Any inquiries can be directed to her owner, Melissa, at (512) 289-1255.

As previously noted on August 13th, Serena shows a great ability to be integrated into a home with other dogs, and she is doing well in such a home for several weeks. While Serena is staying with the dog trainer, she is living among his personal "pack" of dogs. That pack contains dogs of both sexes and varying sizes and breeds (pit bulls, greyhound, whippet, chihuahua, hound, lab, and others). Serena has been there about a week and has had no problems, having integrated beautifully into the group. This is great to see, but she only has three more weeks before she has to leave; time is growing short for her to find her new home!