Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I have the BEST friends!

I'm not sure if I'm just lucky or if I have done a fantastic job of choosing my friends. But you are all absolutely amazing!

I'm sure you all know that I work for the Marine Science Institute (MSI) in Port Aransas, Texas. But I am stationed in Austin at the main UT campus. I'm sure you also know that cat 4 Hurricane Harvey hit MSI directly and there was extensive damage.

On Friday afternoon when I realized this might be a whole lot more serious than a little tropical storm, I asked on facebook if anyone had a spare room to loan out to poor graduate student hurricane evacuees from MSI. I've gotten 18 offers of rooms and I've been able to pretty quickly accommodate everyone who has responded to my email asking if anyone needed a place to stay. Even those with cats or a chinchilla, those without a car, etc.

A few of the comments from friends (either to me or to the evacuee staying with them):

"don't take a cab to my house! I'd be happy to [drive from North Austin in horrible rush hour traffic] pick you up at the airport"

"of course we'll babysit your chinchilla while you go down to Port A to survey the damages to your home"

"a friend from Houston just claimed our spare bedroom, but we'll go over and clean up the house we're in the process of moving out of and let people stay there"

"I can take allergy meds, so I'm happy to welcome them and their cats, it's no big deal"

"we already set our Airbnb to $0 for evacuees, but if one of your people needs it, just let me know"

[Their kids just started school, they have an older dog, and her father just passed away, but] "we're happy to offer our spare room"

And quite a few "are you still looking for rooms for hurricane evacuees from the Marine Science Institute?", "I don't have a spare room, but I can loan out air mattresses".

Reading the reports of damage from our director at MSI has made my heart sink, but seeing the generosity of my friends makes my heart soar. It's been an emotional few days and it probably won't be over soon. From the bottom of my heart, I just wanted to say Thank You.

*just as a note- as of right now, I have more rooms offered than I have MSI people needing them. If that changes, I'll definitely post and ask if anyone else has space.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Copper was our second foster dog through Austin Dog Alliance. I didn't write a blog about Copper while we had him, but I thought I would now. Austin Dog Alliance adopted him from a shelter in Buchanan Dam TX because his personality shows promise for becoming a service dog.

When they adopt a dog, he/she always goes to a foster home for 2 weeks just to de-stress and get healthy if needed. In Copper's case, he was stressed from being in the shelter and he was severely underweight. He also needed to get neutered before he could move up to ADA and begin his service dog training.
He came to our house and it was pretty apparent that he had never lived in a house before, he wasn't house trained and didn't even seem to understand that when I hold a treat in my hand, I want to give it to him. But he adored Jeff and I from the start, followed us around the house, always hung out right by us. We had to put his crate in our bedroom so he would sleep at night.

Copper is very sweet and has a great personality, he loves to play fetch, loves to play with Roo, and loves to play in water.
He clearly had never been taught anything, before coming to our house, but he's smart. I was able to teach him to sit, and we got him house trained in the 2 weeks he was with us. He's working on polite leash walking and chilling out around other dogs at ADA now.
He gained almost 6 pounds in the 2 weeks he was at our house, he got neutered, and he seemed to gain energy and feel healthier in the time he was with us. It was pretty cool to see the difference in just 2 weeks.

Copper moved up to Austin Dog Alliance on July 31st and since we were there for my party on August 5th, we got to see him. He looks great and his trainers agree that he's very smart and a fast learner.
Good Luck with service dog training Copper!

40th Birthday Thank You

My 40th Birthday was a huge success! Both the fundraiser and the celebration. To blatantly steal the words of Laurie Allen “'Thank you' seems inadequate to convey my gratitude"  to everyone who donated. I appreciate it so much, but I guess "thank you" is all I can say. So THANK YOU!!

At this point I have raised $4245 for Austin Dog Alliance. This has absolutely been meaningful and rewarding, exactly what I wanted for my 40th birthday. And the money will definitely make a difference for Austin Dog Alliance.

The Executive Director of Austin Dog Alliance told me she's honored to have me supporting ADA. And she said my fundraising is "impressive". I told her, it has very little to do with me, it's that I have amazing and generous friends and family. That's the absolute truth. All of your love and generosity made my 40th birthday my best ever. And it will make a huge impact for Austin Dog Alliance.

If you meant to donate, but haven't done it yet, you can definitely still donate here. 

One more time: THANK YOU!! 

Friday, July 7, 2017

40th Birthday!!

Donate here

In 29 days, I will turn 40! It's a big milestone that makes me reflect on my life. Although some of my friends who are 50, 60, 70, and almost 80(!) may not agree that 40 is any big deal, it feels like a big deal to me right now.

I have had a pretty great first 39.9 years. I have a great family, an awesome husband, lots of super cool friends, the best dog in the world (and 2 of the best dogs in the world before him), a good education and job, and I get to live in Austin, Texas. I've finished 3 Ironmans, won a public speaking contest, won a "best teaching" award, and I hope I've positively influenced the lives of some young adults and maybe even a few friends. Though I sometimes I feel like I haven't accomplished enough and I'm not successful enough at almost 40, I'm really not doing too bad.

But I want to do more. I want to feel like I'm making a difference. When I was young (really until I started college) I wanted to be a veterinarian. I wanted to work with dogs and other animals every day and help them. For many reasons, I've put off this dream for a long time, probably too long. But luckily I have other options to realize this dream in a different way. At this turning point in my life, I want to do more work with dogs and do more to help both dogs and people. I want to have more meaning and purpose in my life.

This brings us to Austin Dog Alliance. Austin Dog Alliance does so much great work and I feel really lucky to have found them and to get to be a part of that amazing work! I'm also really grateful to have found the amazingly awesome Quintana Roo (thanks Kristen M. and Melissa D.!!) --without him, I might not have gotten involved with Austin Dog Alliance. Roo and I love Bow Wow Reading. We go to the library where kids read books to Roo. It's fun for us and for the kids and I can see the kids' reading improve over the weeks. It's an awesome feeling to make a difference in someone's life!

To celebrate my journey toward having more meaning in my life, I want to have a special birthday. So I decided to plan a Birthday Fundraiser to benefit Austin Dog Alliance! You can donate here, and the first 40 people to donate over $40 get the first invitations to my party. I hope to be able to invite more people, but that will depend on the place.

At first I wanted to say "everyone who donates anything is invited" but then Jeff and a couple of friends brought me back to Earth. "Heather, you could end up with hundreds of people invited. You don't have that much space and you can't afford to feed them all!" Unfortunately, they're totally right. So we went with the obvious theme of "40"

I really hope everyone will donate whether it's $100, $40, or $5 because Austin Dog Alliance is an awesome organization and I really want to be able to give them $4000 for my 40th birthday!!

You can learn more about Austin Dog Alliance at their website, or you can get a very brief overview on my Fundraiser site.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Luke Skywalker our very first foster dog

Roo did his therapy dog training through Austin Dog Alliance, so I learned a lot about their programs. Aside from working with schools, libraries, hospitals, nursing home, etc to set up therapy dog visits, one of the major things ADA does is train service dogs for veterans. They usually find dogs in shelters who show promise as service dogs and then train them. Pretty cool!

Not every dog is able to complete service dog training, it's pretty intense, and a dog has to be just about perfect to be a service dog. Luke is one of the dogs who showed promise, but didn't quite complete the training. I believe his downfall in service dog training was that he loves other dogs too much.

I told ADA that we'd be willing to short term foster a dog for them from time to time. Short term at ADA generally means about 2 or 3 weeks. About 3 days after I told them this, they asked if Roo and I would come up and meet Luke and think about fostering him. Luke and Roo got along well at the meet and greet, so home we went with Luke!

ADA says Luke is a Labrador/Shar Pei mix. He does love to retrieve and he's got lots of cute wrinkles around his face. But I think he may have some Australian cattle dog (Red Heeler) mixed in too. Some friends who've seen him say "yeah, for sure he's got some red heeler" and some say "no way" so who knows. But whatever breeds he is, he's very sweet and very smart.

Luke is well house trained, he has not had one accident in the house. He is crate trained and does well in the crate for as long as 8 hours at a time. I usually have to guide him into the crate rather than just telling him...who wants to go to bed when there's fun to be had!?!

Luke came to us knowing how to sit and lie down, and quickly learned to shake paw after watching Roo do it a couple times. He's very smart, learns quickly and is motivated to please people.
 Luke loves to play fetch and he's learning to drop the ball/toy in your hand when he brings it back. But for now, I mostly use 2 balls, which makes him drop the first one at my feet immediately when he brings it back.

Luke is also great at walking on a leash nicely. He generally wears an EasyWalk harness for walking (that's what Roo wears too) and he rarely pulls at all, it's pretty impressive! I've also taken him on 2-3 mile runs and he LOVES that.

Luke loves to play with toys, but he needs the indestructible kind. He thinks all squeakers must be removed! He has done really well with West Paw zogoflex toys, rope toys, Benebones, and Galileo bones.

Luke also loves to play with Roo. I think Luke would like to live in a home with another dog, but it should be a fairly high energy dog, as I think Luke might annoy an older or low energy dog. I think Luke would also love to have kids to play with. We had him at an event last weekend and he loved meeting all the kids and was very good with them. He actually had a little girl at his last foster home.
I would say Luke is moderately high energy. He loves to play and go for walks or even runs, but he also loves to lie down and cuddle and watch tv with you. He'll chill for hours in our office chewing on a toy while Jeff works.

Luke is really smart and learns quickly. I think he would really enjoy getting to do something like agility training or nosework. Luke is a great dog and just waiting to find his forever family. If that might be you, please contact Lindsey@austindogalliance.org

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Canine Camp

Many of you helped Roo and I go to Canine Camp by "liking" this picture on facebook and helping us win part of our camp entry fees, so I thought I should tell you all about it.

Thanks for voting for me!!
The Canine Center for Training and Behavior holds Canine Camp every year (this was year 7 I think) at Lazy Hills Retreat & Conference Center outside Ingram. Lazy Hills is 750+ acres and TCCTB brings all their stuff for every single class they normally teach at the center. You can do basic skills training, manners, tricks, Canine Good Citizen training, Lure, Air Scenting, Confidence Building, Agility, Tracking, Rally, Ttouch, Yoga with your dog, Nosework, Fieldwork, Dog Powered Sports, Swimming & kayaking, seminars on first aid, nutrition, toy making, etc. The possibilities are endless. When they sent the schedule of classes the week before camp, I spent hours deciding what to do and when! This was going to be Big Fun!!

The night before we left, I told Jeff, "I really hope I'm not setting myself up for disappointment, I have pretty high expectations for this being a ton of fun, I feel like it'll be hard for it to be as good as I expect"...

I took Thursday afternoon (and Friday) off from work and Roo and I headed west at about 1:30, so traffic wasn't too bad leaving Austin. I don't love driving long distances (some might say 2 hours isn't that long, but it's pretty long for me!) so I planned a few fun stops along the way.
Heading to Camp!
First stop Wildseed Farms. If you know me, you know I love this place.
pictures in the big red flowers

more pictures with the flowers with my mom
I realized my phone was almost dead despite being plugged in the entire drive, so next stop was the AT&T store in Fredericksburg for a new phone charger.
helping my mom get a new phone charger
Then on to Jack & Adam's to say hi to owner Josh and meet his new dog Remy. But Remy was away at boarding school and Josh was on his way to Galveston for the half Ironman over the weekend.
I didn't get to meet Remy at J&A
On to Kerrville and dinner at Grape Juice, where Roo got a lot of attention.
Can I please have some?
We spent Thursday night at By the River RV park & Campground, I had never been there, and it's a beautiful place! There was a waterfall right by our campsite!
Our campsite, Turtle Falls

Turtle Falls
Friday morning we explored at the campground a little then headed out to Lazy Hills for Canine Camp! I had 2 goals for Canine Camp. Roo has been afraid to swim and nervous about kayaking with me. So I really wanted him to learn to enjoy swimming and kayaking during camp. I was really disappointed at check in/sign up when the first swimming & kayaking class was already full. I hadn't planned an alternate class for that time, since swimming & kayaking was our main objective. I asked trainer Shari what we might like to do instead. She suggested Hunting Instinct Testing. So that's what we signed up for instead. We got checked in to our room and unpacked, then it was time for lunch, so Roo hung out in his crate in the room and I went to lunch. I'm not sure what I had expected, but for whatever reason, I assumed the food for the weekend would be just ok, but I was very pleasantly surprised! The food all weekend, was really good! I brought lots of snacks and I don't think I ate any of them.

Our first class after lunch was Nosework. That's where the dog finds a hidden scent. Roo seemed to like it and was pretty good at it. A couple of times trainer Julie set up a course with lots of boxes and the scent in one, I'd walk into the area and think she would tell me to let Roo start searching, but Roo had already found the right box!
Nosework is fun!

Our next class was the Hunting Instinct with trainer Jane (also the owner of TCCTB). Each dog would follow Jane's German shorthaired pointer hunting dog on a ranging run and she'd see if the new dogs showed any interest in finding game. Roo did flush out a bird at one point, but we agreed he had no idea he'd done it. He had a ton of fun bounding through the tall grass and brush with Jane's dog. Toward the end I asked Jane what she thought, she asked what our goals were. I said "I don't hunt, I just wanted to see if this was something Roo might enjoy". She replied "he clearly enjoys running around out there" Haha! Jane is definitely a "tell it like it is" person. Since we were first to go, Jane said we could watch the other dogs or go do something else. So we took off to go see what else we could do. I noticed that some of the kayaks were not being used, so we raced up the hill to the room, I grabbed swimming stuff and we ran over to the swimming lake. Pam was in charge of swimming & kayaking so she was happy to see us and helped us get in a kayak right away. Roo got in without any trouble, but he was scared while I paddled around. Not as scared as the first time I took him in Austin, but still not enjoying it. So we got out to try some swimming. This was really my biggest goal for camp. Roo loves playing at the edge of the water, but he'd been very afraid to get deeper than he can touch. So we put a life jacket on Roo, I knew he could swim without one, but I thought it would help him be less afraid.
I like this life jacket!
Then Pam, Shari and I got in the water along with Shari's dog Madame Curie and told Roo how much fun it is to swim! I wish there was video, we were being silly, offering treats, and encouraging like crazy, and at first Roo was having NONE of it! Shari was giving Curie treats and saying "dogs who swim get treats!"in a sing-songy super happy voice. Roo was super jealous! Finally he got in and swam out to us, then swam right back where he could touch, but that was really all it took!! He did that a few more times, with all of us praising him and telling him how awesome he was. Then he found a big stick so I threw that in the water and he went out to get it, I threw it further and further until he was swimming out pretty far! Then I took the life jacket off to see if he would swim without it- No problem at all! I was SO HAPPY!!!  That's really all I had wanted from camp was to get Roo to enjoy swimming. I must have said a million times "Roo, you're making me so happy!!" and "Roo you're the best dog in the whole world!" It was awesome!!

Canine Camp is on a schedule so we had to get out of the water so I could go to a Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture seminar. On the way up the hill, I ran into Jane I told her "Roo and I don't have hunting goals, but we do have swimming goals, and Roo can swim now! I'm so happy!!!" She probably thought I was crazy getting so excited that my Labrador can swim :)  Roo took a nap while I learned about Chinese medicine and acupuncture. It was really interesting. I really like this kind of stuff especially after our experiences with Katie and her cancer. Dr. Carolyn Love taught the class, and I definitely know who to go to if we ever need that type of help for Roo!

Next we had another opportunity for swimming & kayaking, yay! This time Roo got right onto the kayak and acted like he loved it!! Again, I was SO HAPPY!!! Seriously, I had 2 goals for Canine Camp and we accomplished them both before dinner on day 1!! Then Pam put Roo in a life jacket again so we could practice the "if your dog jumps in the water from the kayak, this is how you get him back in". That didn't work so well, when Roo jumped in, he swam straight to shore, so we'll have to work on that.
I'm the captain!

By dinner time, I was STARVING!  And the food was so good! spaghetti (with zucchini noodles as an option), turkey meatballs, salad, and brandied apples with ice cream for dessert- YUM! Of course I was telling everyone how happy I was that Roo had become a swimmer and kayaker and those were my main missions for camp!  After dinner the trainers sat around the pool and answered questions and told stories, it was really interesting and fun, but I couldn't stay too long, I was super tired from such a fun day!

Saturday morning started with a breakfast of frittata, hash browns, bacon and fruit. Roo & I had an active morning planned so I was not skimpy with my portions! First was Dog Powered Sports with trainers Shari and Pam. At first I wasn't 100% sure I wanted to do this with Roo, but it ended up being great! The idea is you can teach your dog to pull you while running/hiking or on a bike or scooter. At first Roo wasn't so into it. He runs with me a lot and he knows he's supposed to run BESIDE me NOT out in front of me. Shari explained to me that he'll get the idea that when he's wearing a towing harness, he's ALLOWED to pull, and when he's wearing his walking harness he is NOT allowed to pull. Shari decided that since Roo likes to be beside me, it was best to have me run out in front of him at first and let him tow someone else. This was a ton of fun and I think Roo and I both got pretty tired out! Pam took this video:

An interesting note about TCCTB- they really specialize in reactive, aggressive, fearful dogs that people have a tough time training. Jack (the other dog in the video) couldn't get within 20 feet of another dog without freaking out. Jack and his owner are working hard on being calm and confident, and also on getting some energy out (hence dog powered sports) to make being calm easier. Roo doesn't realize that not every dog is friendly. But Roo came running to me after the video stopped, so there was no incident with the dogs.

Next up was a hike including some big hills, Shari was the lead trainer on this too, so Roo & I got to practice our canicross skills (dog out in front helping to "tow" you along). The hike was beautiful and I was really happy to learn about and practice canicross. Jeff and I like to backcountry hike and we plan to take Roo with us. Most backcountry trails are very narrow, so having Roo beside me isn't ideal. But canicross is perfect, and Roo seems to really enjoy it and understand the commands, so we'll definitely be doing more canicross!
great view from the top of the hill!

I decided we needed something a little less athletic after lunch, so we went to Ttouch with Kathy Cascade. Ttouch is really interesting and I knew nothing about it before camp. (I can't really explain Ttouch well, so if you want to learn about it, check out the links). It can help with almost any issue with your dog (fear, aggression, barking, pain, etc). I was hoping to get some methods to help with recovery for athletic dogs. She definitely gave me some touches and methods for that. But there were quite a few nervous dogs in my class so Kathy really focused on how to help dogs gain confidence. She used Roo as an example a couple of times and it was fun to watch how he moved around the confidence course. It was pretty amazing to see some of the very fearful dogs walking around the course with other dogs without freaking out.

Next up was a "break" for about an hour. I decided to take Roo kayaking again. They also had the zip line open and it goes right over the pond, so Roo watched the zip liners intently :) After a little while he actually laid down and fell asleep in the kayak. I wish I had pictures of that, but I do not. Then we went to Intro to Agility class. Roo has been doing agility at the Zoom Room for awhile, and I've been wanting to take him somewhere else to see how he would do in a different environment. Turns out he did really well!
waiting my turn at agility
waiting patiently to jump through the tire
To end Saturday's classes we went to Canine First Aid and CPR. I figured this is stuff I should know, especially for hiking in the backcountry. I now know Roo's normal pulse and respiration rates and other vitals, so I'll know when something is NOT normal. Trainer Shari showed us her dog first aid kit and gave us info on how to tell when something is an absolute emergency versus when you can wait to get to a vet or treat an issue at home. I also learned how to do CPR on a dog...I mean there wasn't a dog mannequin to practice on or anything, but Shari did demonstrate on a big stuffed dog.

Dinner Saturday was outside at the pavilion and it was a lot of fun. The chefs had been smoking meat all day, there was chicken, pork, sausage, potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, beans, cornbread, etc and it was all delicious! I heard a lot of people stayed out late "partying" at the pavilion...I was too tired for that!

I woke up about 5am on Sunday to a huge storm, I checked the radar on my phone and saw this and a tornado warning!

I thought, well at least we had tons of fun Friday and Saturday and learned and did everything we wanted and more. Roo and I sat on the porch and watched the lightening for awhile. I walked down to the dining hall for breakfast to find the power was out! They still managed to have cereal, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, sausage, fruit, and muffins for breakfast, pretty good for no power and we ate by candle and fireplace light!
watching the storm
By the time we finished breakfast the rain had mostly stopped, but it was cold and windy! Roo and I didn't let that stop us. We went to Agility Course Run class (more advanced agility than intro). Roo did much better than I expected! And trainer Julie took a ton of pictures for me :)
coming out of the tunnel!
dog walk!
coming out of the tunnel FAST!
 Then Roo swam again :) I really love watching him swim out after a stick and swim back with it!
I love swimming!!

 I decided we should kayak one more time too. Pam took these pictures from a bridge over the water.
I love kayaking too!
Hi Pam!
We still had a little more time and Shari was doing another Dog Powered Sports class, so I grabbed canicross equipment and asked if we could go hiking on our own to see how Roo would do on the trails without another dog to follow. He did great and we were having so much fun that I was late getting back for lunch!

Sunday lunch was essentially the end of Canine Camp. I had no idea there would be a little closing ceremony with awards! So I was really surprised when Jackie (TCCTB manager) gave Roo and I the "More Fun Than Dirt" award! It's for the most fun/enthusiastic camper/dog team, so cool!!!

We definitely had More Fun Than Dirt!!
Jeff asked this awhile ago and I'm sure others wonder so here's the story behind "more fun than dirt". Lee Mannix was the dog trainer who originally opened TCCTB, he was pretty famous for being an amazing dog trainer especially with aggressive, fearful dogs. From what I understand he was a typical Texas country boy and very much a "tell it like it is" person. Jane told me over the weekend, "Lee Mannix always said (with a very thick accent!) 'if you can't be more fun fer yer dog than sniffin' the dirt, then I just can't help ya'" And we all know, sniffing the dirt can be a whole lot of fun for dogs! Hence, TCCTB's mission is to help dog owners be "more fun than dirt" for their dogs. Roo and I certainly had More Fun Than Dirt at Canine Camp! My concern that my expectations might be too high was completely unfounded, Canine Camp was actually even better than I expected!

Thank you to everyone at TCCTB and Lazy Hills for hosting an amazing Canine Camp! And thank you again to everyone who voted for Roo in the facebook contest!