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 60’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. It was quite a thrill for me.
Another interest of mine was dog training and behavior. I was already familiar with obedience, I started taking classes with our family dogs when I was only 12. Since then, I’ve enrolled in dozens of 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 career 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, where in addition to shoveling more poop, I 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 23 years, and I 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 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.
Most rescue groups pull dogs from shelters that might need a little cleaning up, but for the most part would be considered highly adoptable. The California shelters were horribly overcrowded, and as a result gorgeous, young, happy, healthy dogs were being euthanized. That left very little hope for senior, sickly, fearful, injured or otherwise less attractive dogs. As a result many of these dogs were euthanized the same day they arrived at the shelter.
I didn’t see the shelter employees as the “bad guys”. I had worked in a high kill shelter while I was in technical college and knew how difficult it was, particularly when you’re talking about a county shelter funded by minimal tax money and not a private facility. They do the best they can with a very difficult situation. After all, it is actually the general public’s disregard for being responsible pet owners that result in most of the animals who land in shelters.
In the many years I was involved in rescue, I fostered over 450 dogs and few dozen cats. The majority were dogs and puppies that we pulled from the shelter that would be considered highly adoptable category. The other 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 and senior dogs dogs. They were the true underdogs in every sense of the word and before long I found that they were the dogs I was immediately drawn to.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned 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 often the first added to the euthanasia list, but not if I could help it.
Eventually I developed a relationship with the rescue coordinator for a high kill county shelter, and became a sort of “go-to” person to contact about taking in a handicapped, senior, injured, sick, or extremely fearful small dog at risk of euthanasia. Before long word got out and I was also being contacted by other rescue groups who asked if I could take dogs 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 special needs pets who have passed through my doors (and in some cases stayed), include multiple blind dogs, many who were born blind (or born blind and deaf), several dogs with heart conditions, 3 legged dogs, paraplegic dogs, and a whole range of dogs with various medical conditions including seizure disorders, kidney disease, cancer, cerebellar hypoplasia and other neurological issues, glaucoma, liver disease, Cushing’s disease, diabetes, dementia, and let’s not forget a few dozen senior dogs who were dumped just because they got old. There were also special needs cats over the years – paraplegic cats, blind cats and a few 3 legged cats.
My involvement in rescue gave me the opportunity to put all of my experience and expertise as a veterinary technician, and dog trainer into one venue. In many ways it felt like I’d been preparing for it my entire life. Rescue work is incredibly rewarding, but also hard work both physically and emotionally, and the burn out rate or “compassion fatigue” is fairly high. The same goes for working in the veterinary field. 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, patience, compassion, food, and a warm bed. People are 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 was often taking in the dogs deemed “un-adoptable” so naturally my foster failure rate was a bit higher. Basically, no matter how “un-adoptable” a dog was, 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 previous experience with adopting a few of my own special needs dogs and cats as a result of working in a vet clinic, so I didn’t hesitate to foster them once I started into rescue.
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 had a large pack of dogs who came with me when I moved, and I adopted a few puppies the first few years after the move. I took them to puppy classes and eventually was hired as a trainer. I worked for a few years as a professional dog trainer, both in a training facility and also privately. As of 2016, I officially retired from all of my dog related careers (vet-tech, dog rescue, and dog training). 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 caring for my furry family, I’m pursuing some of my 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, food prep, 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 family of dogs, cats, and a few parrots.