Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Project Next Steps

Despite the sustained efforts of United Airlines, I am back in Billings. This time we have a team of four NESR volunteers hard at work for the wind-down of Operation New Beginnings and the rollout of Project Next Steps.

One of the first sights that greeted me when I came back to the much-expanded dog campus at the Metrapark was this:

Can anyone guess who this guy is?

Does anyone remember this dog? From this post?

Harry. Harry who had clocked out so far that he wouldn't -- maybe couldn't -- take his head out of the corner. Harry outside, smiling in the Montana sun.

It's time for the Montana English shepherds to be Good Dogs and Go Home.

One high priority is smoothing the way for volunteers who have applied to adopt or foster one of the dogs they've cared for to move through the adoption process, so "their" dogs will become simply their dogs -- no scare quotes indicating the contingency or legal irrelevance of their sense of responsibility and attachment.

Yes, the volunteers have to apply and have their references checked, be interviewed, have home checks and reality checks -- just like any other adopter.

Unlike other adopters, the volunteers have already paid their adoption fees many times over. We agreed seven months ago -- no adoption fee for volunteers.

While two of our team members numb their brains with paperwork and peoplework, I am partnered with Douglas to evaluate the dogs themselves.

We take each dog to a place she has never been before, and ask her to tell us something about herself.

We do this by challenging her with mild stresses, and giving her an opportunity to show us whether she is bothered by them, how much, and whether she thinks looking to a human is a good way of getting through that. And we see how the dog progresses in confidence as she confronts these mild challenges.

Combined with the absolutely crucial written reports from each dogs' handler, the results of these evaluations help us sort dogs into categories depending on how much experience and dog chops a potential adopter or foster volunteer might need, as well as any special talents or qualities that the dog has to offer.

No, this is not "poke it until it bites" temperament testing. We Don't Do That Shit.

One of the most important things we assess is the dog's ability to recover from something it finds stressful. This capacity, while it can be built and developed, is highly intrinsic to each unique temperament. Good bounceback can take a dog far.

Here's young Jersey vanquishing the rather ominous Stairs to Nowhere, with the help of Nice Strange Man Who Has My Leash.

At the end of an exhausting day of evaluations, it's time for some de-stressing exercises.

The puppies born in custody may have had to do without some necessities because of their status as living articles of evidence -- but they are rather well-socialized to people.


  1. Oh geez, you made me cry with that picture of Harry. So glad to hear Operation New Beginnings is going to have some wonderful endings, due in large part to simply wonderful, selfless volunteers. Please tell them thanks for me, if you have a spare moment -- and thanks to you too!

  2. Good news, and here's to more of it for these dogs.

    Kudos to all who committed resources to making this happen.

    Thanks for the update, will stay tuned,


  3. Heather,
    YES! I have thought many times about Harry. So thrilled to see him looking like a happy, normal dog and right at the camera/photographer! The volunteers of ONB are real heroes for all the dogs. Thanks to all you and the other NESR volunteers as well. Please keep posting.

  4. Totally Awesome.

    The picture says it all, and the post is perfect in every single way.

    Love this line >> "No, this is not "poke it until it bites" temperament testing. We Don't Do That Shit."

    Yasuh! Thank you.


  5. I keep coming back to this post to see Harry, because gosh, HE LOOKS SO GOOD!! :-D

    However, it seems time to move past the "Smile at the beautiful, beautiful dog that is going forward into a great life" and into putting one's cash on the barrel to continue the process.

    So, I'm proposing that we amend the "Save Dave" campagin to "Save Dale ('cuase has anyone seen him lately?) -- Celebrate Harry!" Campaign.

    As an added incentive, if Dale and Harry raise $1000 for NESR, then Houlie has to change the name of the blog to:

    "Raised by Wolves, Punk'd by Dale!"

    :-D ;-D :-D

    I continue to be an Evil Woman -- just ask my local Borough Manager:


    Anyway, as a suggested donation, what will it cost NESR to neuter a male dog? Lindsey (cat) is the only male animal I've ever had and he came from the shelter already "fixed."

    Thoughts? Brickbats? Other ideas?


  6. Heather,

    Thank you so much for all the work and effort you have (and still will) put into this effort. I'm so excited for the new starts all these dogs are going to have, and I know that your work in the evaluations will help ensure I get a foster that I can help prepare for his forever home!


  7. You mean you're not going to create an arbitrary list of aggressive dog traits on which to evaluate the dogs?


    I figured you would had that Ovtcharka expert in for consultations.

  8. I think Harry's last name is Potter because some magic has surely been done here.
    Thank YOU for making my day with this post!

  9. That last photo is superb. You could take the pups around to visit anyone depressed and use them as instant happy pills.

  10. So FREAKIN' awesome! And I'm so glad you don't "poke 'till it bites".

    How much does it cost to neuter a male dog? It's a worthy donation plea, dontcha think?


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