If you’re looking at this page, then you are probably curious as to who I am and how I have come to live with a whole bunch of dogs. My name is Michele, I live in the Chicago area, and I am in my late 50’s. Like many people, I’ve always loved animals, but unlike many, I have had the good fortune to spend my entire adult life working with them.
I have always been kind of dog crazy. As a young girl I studied dog breeds and wrote stories about dogs and made drawings of dogs…you get the idea. I remember in junior high one of my classmates asked a boy if he thought I was “cute” he said “Yeah, sure but all she cares about is dogs, so I wouldn’t want her as my girlfriend.” He was right, all I cared about was dogs, and I certainly wasn’t upset in the least that he didn’t want me to be his girlfriend. I was then, and continue to be “All about the Dogs”.
I graduated from high school in 1978, and as I had not planned to go to college, that winter got my first full time job. I was the “kennel girl” in a large boarding kennel. I was in heaven being surrounded by dogs all day. In the 4 years I worked there I learned a lot about dogs – how to read a dog’s body language to know if I could approach them, how to earn a dog’s trust, and I even learned a bit about grooming. While working at the kennel, I also developed an interest in conformation dog showing, and even had the opportunity to attend the famous Westminster Dog Show in 1982. I was already familiar with obedience after taking my first class with one of our family dogs when I was only 12. Since then, I’ve enrolled in countless obedience classes through the years, and still take classes with new pups. Over the years I have also accumulated a rather large personal library of books on dog behavior.
After a few years of working in the kennel, I decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life shoveling dog poop. Little did I know then, that I would continue to do just that, but fortunately, so much more than just that. I enrolled in Jr. college to explore other animal related options. Upon graduation, I moved to Minnesota to attend a technical college, where I earned a degree in veterinary technology. While in technical college I worked part time in the county animal shelter, and in addition to shoveling poop, learned how to deal with the public, and also learned even more about how to handle frightened and unruly dogs, (and cats too) in the process.
My veterinary technician career lasted for nearly 20 years, and loved pretty much every minute of it. I loved helping animals, I loved the science involved, and I loved interacting with the clients and their pets. I worked for most of my career in a small practice in Minnesota that was like a second family to me.
Near the end of my vet tech career, I was living in Southern California, and became seriously involved in dog rescue. I volunteered as a foster mom for a local rescue that specialized in small dogs. I’ve always had a soft spot for special needs, sick and injured animals, and with my vet tech experience, I was able to foster dogs and cats that needed special nursing care, including pregnant dogs. My experience, and interest in training and behavior also came in quite handy when preparing dogs for adoption, and helping the owners of newly adopted pets with any adjustment issues.
Back in those days, most rescue groups were pulling dogs from shelters that might need a little cleaning up, but for the most part would have been considered highly adoptable. The California shelters were (and continue to be) overcrowded, and as a result gorgeous, young, happy, healthy dogs were being euthanized. That left very little hope for senior, sickly, fearful, or otherwise less attractive dogs. Depending on the situation, many dogs were euthanized the same day they arrived at the shelter.
In the 15 or so years I was involved in rescue, I fostered over 450 dogs and few dozen cats. Of course the majority of them were part of the over population problem, and considered highly adoptable. The pets who came to us because they arrived at the shelter injured or ill, were typically successfully treated and placed up for adoption.
Then there were the special needs animals. Unfortunately, the county animal shelters were more often than not already overcrowded, and in addition had limited funds to devote to the aforementioned injured, elderly or sick animals, let alone animals who arrived with a physical handicap. They were the first added to the euthanasia list. They were also the dogs I was immediately drawn to.
After awhile, I developed a relationship with the rescue coordinator for a high kill county shelter, and ended up being kind of a “go-to person” when there was a handicapped, senior, injured, sick, or extremely fearful small dog at risk of euthanasia. Before long I was also being contacted by other rescue groups who asked if I could take a dog that they had pulled from a shelter, and then realized they were not equipped to deal with due to a medical or behavioral issue.
Over the years, the pets who passed through my doors (and in some cases stayed), included multiple blind dogs, many who were born blind (one born blind and deaf), several dogs with heart conditions, 3 legged dogs, paraplegic dogs, 3 legged cats, paraplegic cats, blind cats, and a whole range of various medical conditions including seizure disorders, kidney disease, cancer, cerebellar hypoplasia and other neurological issues, glaucoma, Cushing’s disease, diabetes, dementia, and let’s not forget a few dozen senior dogs who were unwanted just because they got old.
My involvement in dog rescue gave me the opportunity to put all of my experience and expertise as a vet tech, and as a dog trainer into one venue. In many ways it felt like I’d been preparing for it my entire life. Rescue work is very rewarding, but also hard work both physically and emotionally, and the burn out rate or “compassion fatigue” is fairly high. To be honest, for me it was dealing with the human aspect of rescue work that was the hardest. Dealing with cruelty and neglect cases is particularly tough. As is dealing with would be adopters, who don’t understand why you won’t just give them a dog because they want it. For the most part the dogs just want kindness, compassion, food, and a warm bed. People are often much harder to please.
Of course I had “failed fosters” which is the term used when the foster family adopts a pet they are fostering. I personally don’t think this is a failure since the pet has a forever home. I’m sure because I was often taking in the dogs deemed “un-adoptable” my foster failure rate was a bit higher. Basically, no matter how “un-adoptable” they were, if I wasn’t able to turn them around enough to be considered “adoptable” and they got along with my crew, they had a home. I already had a few of my own special needs dogs and cats as a result of working in the vet clinic, so I didn’t hesitate to foster them.
In 2012, in the midst of a divorce, I moved back to the Chicago area, and decided it was time to retire from actively rescuing and re-homing dogs. I still sit on the board of a non-profit dog rescue, I’m just not involved in fostering, or all of the day to day work involved with running a rescue any longer. After my move back to Chicagoland, I worked for a few years as a professional dog trainer, both in a training facility and also privately. As of 2016, I am officially retired from my vet-tech career, my dog rescue career, and my dog training career. Nowadays I spend my time tending to my own pack of misfits, and still love every minute I spend with dogs, no matter how much I may complain at times.
These days in addition to managing my dog pack, I’m pursuing some of my other more creative lifelong passions by trying to find time in my day for writing, painting, and sculpting. So far, I’ve not been too successful finding much extra time to pursue these other interests. That could be due to my daily routine… laundry, feeding, mopping, laundry, playtime, laundry, mopping, treat time, laundry, cuddle time, laundry, mopping, yard time, more cuddle time, and did I mention laundry?
I can honestly say that I am living my childhood dream, happily ever after in my wonderful home with my wonderful pack of dogs, cats, and a few parrots.