Leopard’s Spots

Juliean the Superior CatMy cat Juliean lived at the humane society for two years, and nobody would adopt her. Simply put, she is crabby beyond words. Beautiful … but crabby.

Why did I adopt her?

Because she looked me in the eye and said, “You are my human.”

The same reason I adopted Molly.

After I promised to adopt Juliean, I was thrilled to discover that she’s as much of an outdoors enthusiast as I am. She’s perfectly comfortable in a harness and leash and even tolerates a clumsy human sneaking up on birds with her.

She’s tolerated a few other things, too …

Juliean and Santa Claus

Juliean “crabbing out” on Santa. Photo by Kiel Skager, ‘Ohana Photography.

It was winter when I brought Juliean home to my new apartment–the coldest winter I can ever remember. The furkids and I eventually gave up on any idea of cross country skiing and winter hikes and basically hibernated.

Once the worst of the weather lifted, Juliean was thrilled to get out on her leash again.

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Too thrilled.

I quickly learned that Her Crabbiness and I had a serious difference of opinion. One or two outings a day simply were not enough for her. I could walk with her for an hour, but as soon as I let her back in, she was meowing at the door to go back out.

And we’re not talking sweet, plaintive little mews.


The more I took her outside, and the more the temps warmed up, the worse it got. Her noisy desperation was so much like a cat in heat, I questioned whether she was really spayed. But I knew she had been one of the cats to receive a donated spay surgery while she lived at the shelter.

Her meowing was so loud, I was afraid the neighbors would complain. But I wasn’t keen on kicking her out the door unsupervised. Juliean has two modes: Sleeping and getting into trouble.

Setting up a schedule she could learn to count on didn’t help. Giving her a place to sit in a sunny, open window didn’t help. (She’d wait for somebody to walk by and yell, “Help! Bust me outta here!”)

I Googled “cat won’t quit meowing at the door” and learned that the only way to stop the racket was to cut off her outdoor privileges cold turkey.

It broke my heart. She loved going outdoors, and I loved taking her outdoors.

Two months on restriction went by–but she still hadn’t forgotten her thirst for the World Beyond the Door. A squirt bottle did nothing. Herbal essances and a pheremone diffuser only helped a little. Frequent play sessions with catnip and strings and laser lights were appreciated, but not nearly enough to expend her seemingly endless energy. Night and day, she took up her vigil by the door, depriving me of sleep, writing hours, and sanity.

It got to the point where Molly cringed every time Juliean meowed–knowing that the cat’s meow was a trigger that made me frustrated.

I couldn’t bear to have Molly anxious. Not to mention, the cat pretty much hated me.

My crabby kitty

My crabby kitty

“Fine!” I said after two nights of nothing but Juliean singing and Molly wandering from room to room, trying to find a place to hide. I opened the door and kicked Juliean out of the building. “You win.”

Juliean stood on the front stoop, her eyes wide. Oh my gosh. I’m outside.

I pointed a finger at her. “Whatever you do, don’t annoy the neighbors. You’ll get in trouble with the landlady. Or worse, get us evicted. So don’t screw this up.”

Juliean just stared across the yard. Oh my gosh. I’m outside.

“Yeah. Have fun. I’ll check on you in an hour.”

I went back in.

Forty-five minutes later, someone knocked on my door. One of my neighbors stood there, trying to hang on to a squirming Juliean.

“This your cat?” he asked.

I sighed. Busted already? “Was she getting into trouble?”

“No. I just saw her sitting outside and thought maybe she got out by accident.”

Ha! He had no idea.

“I talked to the landlady,” he went on, “and she said there was a cat in this apartment. So we figured it must be yours.”

I raised an eyebrow at Juliean, who by this time had squirmed out of my neighbor’s hands and was trying to decide which way to run. So you’ve met the landlady? I asked her.

Juliean bolted into my apartment and hid in the bathroom.

I told my neighbor there was no mistake; I had merely lost the war to convert her to an indoor cat. I thanked him, had another talk with Juliean, and put her back outside.

Over the next three days, I met nearly half my neighbors, who either knocked on my door or called the number on Juliean’s ID tag. In each instance, she had been in no trouble. My neighbors were just making sure she wasn’t lost.

In fact, I’m surprised. Miss I-Can’t-Keep-Out-of-Trouble has been a model citizen so far. The two little boys in my building adore her, as do the kids next door. One day I went out to check on her and found a young couple petting and playing with her in the grass. “I miss my cats back home,” the young woman said. Now that everybody knows where she lives, they let her into the building for me, and I now hear Juliean meowing on the outside of my door, asking to be let in.

Her shining behavior isn’t the only surprise. Queen Crabby has recently been observed weaving around my legs, purring for no particular reason, and even head-butting me (while I’m trying to work). She even enjoys a few cuddles now and again–something she used to shun.

Thanks for listening to me, she says.

Then under her breath she adds, Humans are so dense.

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An Interview with Author Donna Winters

by Danielle Hanna

Adventures with Vinnie by Donna Winters

Adventures with Vinnie by Donna Winters

Molly and I are excited to be hosting an interview today with author Donna Winters. She’s recently published a new book, Adventures with Vinnie, the story of her adopted Black Lab/Doberman. As if a good read about a dog weren’t good enough–Donna is also donating 100% of the profits from this book to help animals in shelters. (Snoopy dance!)

Stick around after the interview–Donna is giving away a copy of the book to one reader! Details below, but for now, let’s welcome Donna to our blog.



Donna, I’m so pleased to have you here at Embark on Adventure. Can you tell us a little about your new book, Adventures with Vinnie, and about your writing in general?

Danielle, thanks for having me here! My newest book, Adventures with Vinnie follows the escapades of our black lab mix, Vinnie, a dog we adopted from a shelter in March 2012 and cherished until his demise in March 2013. He was far different from all our other dogs and seemed to demand his own story. Since I am a writer, I couldn’t resist documenting his crazy ways. I think we’d had him for about six weeks when I told my husband, “I’m going to write a book about Vinnie.” And so I did.

Writing a nonfiction book about a shelter dog is quite a departure from the fiction writing I have been doing since 1982. Normally, I write historical romances set in the Great Lakes region, thus my trademark series, Great Lakes Romances ®.

You and your husband Fred have been adopting shelter dogs since 1973. (What a track record!) Why did you decide to try adopting?

My husband grew up with a wonderful English setter mix named Tippy, who was adopted as a puppy from the county dog pound sometime during the early 1950s. Fred had such fond memories of Tippy that when we were ready to add a dog to our family, he insisted on checking out all the available dogs in the Humane Society and dog pound shelters.

We adopted our first shelter dog from the Humane Society and from then on decided to adopt rescues. All but two were mixed breed dogs from shelters. The other two were rescued racing greyhounds, one from a veterinarian rescue shelter and the other from a greyhound rescue group who had placed the dog with a foster family.

When you adopted Vinnie, you said you specifically wanted a senior dog, one that was unlikely to be adopted because of its age. What attracts you to senior dogs? What do you think other adopters are missing out on by passing the seniors by?

Since we are seniors ourselves and not up for the energy of young dogs anymore, the older shelter dogs are a better fit for our lifestyle.

Senior rescue dogs are incredibly grateful to have a new home, possibly more so than younger rescues. Many times the senior dogs have already had a long time with a family and suddenly their lives are in upheaval due to their person’s ill health, death, or a move to a place not tolerant of pets. My heart really goes out to dogs in such circumstances.

Senior dogs are quite good house pets because they already know the ropes. They are often housebroken, eager to go on walks, and ready to chill out on the couch or their dog bed when they get home from their walk. These traits work well for us!

You talk about traveling with Vinnie and your other dog Babe. Why do you like traveling with your dogs?

We would miss our dogs too much if we didn’t take them with us. Besides, we don’t acclimate our dogs to being with pet sitters or living at a kennel. If we were to do either of those things, they would think we had abandoned them, and we just can’t put them through that. I know that if you accustom your dog to being with a dog sitter, or going to a kennel, they learn the routine and know that you are coming back to them. We just haven’t been able to separate ourselves from our dogs that way, with very minor exceptions during our first two adoptions.

When it comes to deciding when to let a pet go, many pet parents will support their pet in every way until it’s clear he or she no longer wants to stay. The decision when to let go is never easy. Can you talk about how you decided when was the appropriate time to let a pet go?

The time to let our dogs go has been specific to the circumstances and health condition of each animal. Our first dog had kidney failure. Our vet tried to clear his system of toxins with a saline IV drip. After two days, when that wasn’t working, I asked him if we should put the dog to sleep, and he said he was just about to suggest that.

Our second dog had a fatty tumor that was cancerous. I went to the vet a couple of times and asked when we should put him to sleep and the vet said, “Soon. You’ll know when it’s time.” We finally did it after the dog kept us awake all night whimpering in pain. In retrospect, we wished we had acted sooner.

A couple of our dogs suffered strokes in their elderly years and could no longer stand up and walk. Fred and I were in agreement that if our dog were so disabled he or she couldn’t go outside to toilet under his/her own power, we would put the dog to sleep. Physically, neither of us is fit for the lifting and hauling of a disabled 70-pound dog, but together, that was exactly what we had to do to get each of those dogs to the vet for the very last time.

With Vinnie, many factors impinged upon our decision to euthanize him when we did. He was already old, and his tumor was almost certainly cancerous. The tumor alone couldn’t be removed successfully because such surgery would leave Vinnie’s wrist too weak to bear his weight.

Even if his tumor had not been malignant, he would have ended up needing an amputation at the elbow. In the case of cancer, the operation would not have cured his disease.

We are well aware that dogs adjust quickly to amputations. In Vinnie’s case, it just seemed pointless for all of us to suffer through that when we had only a five percent chance of curing the problem. In addition, two of our dogs had suffered from cancer (one of them I described above) and in both cases, we felt we had allowed their suffering to continue too long before euthanizing. We had subsequently agreed to act more quickly to euthanize if a cancer diagnosis was made on any of our dogs.

As a writer, I assume your dogs are with you while you work. Do your dogs understand “work hours”? What’s it like having your dogs around while you work?

The dogs are simply not a factor during my work hours which begin between five and six in the morning and end at breakfast time between eight and nine o’clock. Babe usually starts whining for her breakfast at about five AM, so I get up, feed both dogs, and take them outside. (Fred sleeps until eight.) After the dogs come inside, they go back to sleep and I go to work in complete silence and isolation, which is the only way I get any writing done.

Can I ask? How exactly DID you end up with a limousine?

Good question! The limo Vinnie rode home in was actually the second limo we’ve had as a personal vehicle. We chose that vehicle when my mother, who was 91 years old at the time, was living with us. She couldn’t step up into an SUV or any vehicle that rode higher than a luxury sedan.

We’d had a Fleetwood Cadillac prior to the limo, and when we had to take Mom to the hospital on an emergency run, I was stuffed into the back seat with two large dogs. One of them was 70 pounds and was on top of me, pressing against my chest so hard I could barely breathe during the 35-mile trip to the hospital.

We couldn’t leave the dogs home alone because we knew we’d be gone for hours and hours and they would need to go outside and toilet before we could get back home (that’s the way it is with older dogs). After that trip, I asked Fred to look online for something roomier and he found the limo.

We recently traded that vehicle for an antique car. Now that Mom has passed away and we’ve had our motor home for four years, we’ve noticed that we just don’t need the limo anymore.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers before I let you go?

I’d like to thank your readers for their interest in learning about Vinnie and his adventures, and I’d like to thank you for inviting me to appear on your wonderful blog! Your questions have been thought-provoking and well-focused on shelter dogs and the decisions they require of their families.

Author Donna Winters

Author Donna Winters

Where can readers get a copy of Adventures with Vinnie? And where can they learn more about your books?

Find Adventures with Vinnie, on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HK1ZU5C

Learn more about my books at www.GreatLakesRomances.com.

Thank you, Donna, for chatting with us!


*     *     *

And now … the giveaway! Donna will be giving one of you readers a free copy of Adventures with Vinnie. (Don’t forget to tell your friends to drop by and enter the competition.) A paperback copy is available to anyone living in the contiguous 48 states, but anyone can choose a copy in Kindle format. I’ll keep the contest open until Sunday, February 9, 2014, at 11:59 p.m. CST.

All you have to do to enter the drawing for a free copy of Adventures with Vinnie is leave a comment below. Donna wants you to complete this sentence: The best thing about a dog (or cat) is…


No Dog Left Behind

Molly’s First Ski Trip

by Danielle Hanna

Snow scene

It would just make sense, the first time you try cross-country skiing, to maybe leave your new dog at home, right?


When I brought Molly home from the shelter three years ago, I adopted her with the promise that she was going to be my constant companion. We were so much like each other. In our prime, athletic, adventurous, and head-over-paws in love with each other. Plus she gives me THAT look anytime I so much as SUGGEST I’m going somewhere without her.

“But I thought I was your furever dog?” she cries with her head drooping and her eyes sad.

But I had a problem. No, two problems. First, I didn’t know what the dickens I was doing on a pair of skis, and second Molly didn’t know what the dickens she was doing with a human on a pair of skis.

It would have been so easy to let her off the leash. Then she could run and play and I could concentrate on the five-foot boards strapped to my feet. However, at that time Molly was my new dog and we were still perfecting certain niceties like “come” and “stay.” So off-leash really wasn’t an option.

But her leash wasn’t an option, either. At four feet long, I would have choked her with every swing of the ski poles. Under those conditions, Molly would have quickly understood skiing to be a form of punishment–and would never have gone skiing with me again.

There had to be another option. I wasn’t leaving her behind. She was my adventure dog. My furever companion.

I eyed her thirty-foot leash. Great tool for long-distance training. We’d been using it to begin teaching her off-leash walking. She could roam up to thirty feet … but if she didn’t come back when I called, I could reel her in. A literal safety-rope to show her I really meant “come” when I said “come.”

But would I be able to wrangle a thirty-foot line with sticks strapped to both my hands and feet? I saw visions of Molly running circles around me, wrapping me up mummy-style, and giving one final jerk to lay me out in the snow with my ski tips pointing toward the sky.

I didn’t have any faith that the thirty-foot lead would work any better than the other options. But it was the only option. I wasn’t leaving my adventure dog behind.

I put on my ski shoes, grabbed my scarf and mittens, and headed out the door with Molly to our favorite park.

At the head of the trail, I switched Molly from her four-foot leash to the thirty-foot. Played out the line. Shook out the tangles. Took a moment to envision how hopelessly tangled it was about to become around my legs. I stepped into my skis and locked the clamps down over my shoes. Planted my ski poles. Focused my gaze over the horizon. Reviewed my strategy one last time.

Plan A: Roll with the punches. Plan B: Roll with the punches.

“Let’s go!” I said to Molly.

She was off like a shot. Me a little less industriously, trying to find the elusive swing and glide that looked so easy in my head. After ungracefully stepping over my own skis several times, I fell into something resembling a cadence.

In two minutes flat, though still stiff and awkward, I realized I was having fun. I felt the snow rushing beneath my skis. I was gliding over the drifts twice as fast as I could have tromped through them in a pair of boots. The world was white and crisp and energizing.

Suddenly Molly zagged across my path. Like a thirty-foot snake, the leash slithered in front of me. I grit my teeth. My skis slid uncontrollably toward the black line. How did you stop these things? In a matter of seconds, that rope would be across my ankles, and in a brilliant moment of slapstick comedy, I’d be flying head-first into the snow.


My skis glided gracefully over the lead line.

Well THAT was easy.

Molly jogged in front of me again, bringing the line with her.


Another graceful pass. This was beginning to resemble a scientific principle.


I relaxed. I had somehow envisioned the need to stop every time Molly crossed in front of me and adjust the lead. It never occurred to me that I’d be able to ski right over the top of it.

That was a triumphant day. Molly had a blast. I learned to cross-country ski. And we started a tradition we’ve honored ever since. No matter what new thing we’re trying … we’re going to do it together.

So … where can we find a kayak?

Pawnotes from Molly

Molly in the snowWhen my girl and I go walking, we see a lot of dogs sitting in little chain link dog runs, barking at us and everything else that goes by. And I often wonder, Why aren’t they with their humans? Don’t their humans ever take them on adventures?

My girl says most dogs don’t get to go on adventures cuz they don’t have manners and their humans get frustrated with them. So the humans go have their adventures and the dogs end up with something called a “sitter” or a “boarding kennel,” and basically get to go out to pee, then come back inside.

I don’t know how I got so lucky, getting ‘dopted by MY girl!

What I Figured Out by Becoming a Punching Bag for a Dog

by Danielle Hanna

Six o’clock was lights-out at the humane society where I used to work. All the dogs knew that.

Except Jinxie.

The other furkids were turning circles in their beds and snuggling with their favorite blankies and squeakies. Even the puppies were heaped in furry piles, already dreaming.

Not Jinxie.

The black-and-white pointer in the first kennel on the left flopped down on his blanket and threw his head dejectedly across the bottom bar of his door. Then he started into it. Cried loud enough for the old, deaf Cocker Spaniel on the far side of the building to perk an ear.

“Night, Jinxie.”


Hard to walk away from that.

Eventually he did give up crying, much to the relief of my ears. Instead he took up a new hobby, much to the dismay of the rest of my anatomy.

One snowy day, armed with a shovel, I was trying to stay ahead of the drifts in the play yards. In each yard, my canine pals sometimes watched me curiously, sometimes tried to play with me, sometimes decided to give the path of the shovel a wide berth.

Not Jinxie.

He flung himself bodily across the play yard and straight into me. Dancing on two legs, he pommeled me with his paws. Pow-pow-pow, like the spokes of a windmill. Every direction I turned, Jinxie was there.

I knew his type. So absorbed with himself, he had no idea the other party wasn’t having fun. Common in young dogs–until they meet a grouchy senior canine who puts them in their place. Lacking a senior canine close at hand, I fell back on one of my favorite training techniques.

It was a simple matter of showing Jinxie the acceptable way to get my attention. As long as he was jumping on me, I ignored him. But as soon as his paws touched the ground, I suddenly lavished all my affections on him, rubbed his ears, and told him what a superior dog he was. The technique essentially never fails.

Except with Jinxie.

No matter how many times I showed him that keeping his paws on the ground got him the reward, he didn’t get it.

Okay. Time to step things up a notch.

In Doggish (the language of canines, much as Finnish is the language of fish), one dog standing tall over another dog and walking into his space means, “Back off.” So next time Jinxie jumped on me, I made myself tall (well, I can wish) and walked into his space. For emphasis, I made a growl in my throat. This technique never fails.

Except with Jinxie.

He was amazingly good at hop-scotching backwards on two legs while thrashing me with his paws.

So I stepped it up another notch. In Doggish, a toothy snap on the scruff of the neck means, “I’m serious. Quit it NOW!” Lacking the ability to plant my teeth on the back of his neck, I pinched his scruff with my fist, glared him in the eye, and growled. Never fails.

Except with Jinxie.

I had used every trick I knew ten times over, and he simply didn’t get the picture. In fact, he got worse. I couldn’t stand in the same yard with him for two seconds without needing to defend myself.

So I left before I could lose my temper and resort to slamming him with the shovel.

I wasn’t the only one having problems with him. Now and again, I’d see a huffing, panting dog walking volunteer wrestle him down the hall and into his kennel, slamming the door with an oath and a “That dog needs a treadmill!” As they walked away, Jinxie would throw himself against the chain link, crying, “What did I do? What did I do? Awrooo-roooo-roooo!”

I put him outside as often as possible so he could burn off his energy. I also took to avoiding him. If I had to go into his kennel, I’d put him outside. If I had to be outside, I’d put him in his kennel. A dog with a skull that thick would never find a home. He was drifting towards what they’d call, in kill shelters, a problem animal.

One day, all I had to do was grab his empty food dish. Not worth putting him out for that. I peeked through his door. He was stretched out on his blanket on the far end of the kennel. If I was quick …

I grit my teeth and charged in. Grabbed his dish and beat a retreat as quick as I could–but too late.

Jinxie’s head popped up and his ears stood high. “Huuuuuuumaaaaaaan!”

In two bounds, he was on me. He pinned me to the wall and started bouncing and boxing like a kangaroo. “Human! Human! Human! Ohhh, huuuuumaaaaan!”

Part of me wanted to knock him down with the food dish. But I reined myself in. Scolding hadn’t gotten me anywhere. I was missing something. Something about Jinxie I just didn’t understand. What was it? What was he trying to tell me?

I stood right where I was, pinned against the wall, and basically played like a cardboard cut-out. I let Jinxie jump on me. I let him throw his full seventy pounds at me again and again and again. I waited. And waited. I thought about leaving. But I waited.

Suddenly, Jinxie quit. He braced his paws against the wall by my shoulder, pushed his head into my chest, and exhaled the longest, saddest dog sigh I’d ever heard. Then he stood there, quivering like a harp string.

Daylight glimmered. So that was it.

A few seconds earlier, I’d seen my life flash before my eyes. (Okay, I didn’t, but it sets up nicely for my next line:) Now I saw Jinxie’s life flash before my eyes.

I saw Jinxie as a puppy, full of hunting dog energy and ready to run. At first, his humans thought he was cute and fun, and loved his antics.

Then I saw Jinxie as a gangly “teenager.” His energy level had increased to match his longer legs and sleeker muscles. Now his humans found he was getting to be a handful. When he rushed them for his expected puppy love, they pushed him away. He was too big for that. Too strong. They really didn’t enjoy playing with him anymore.

Then I saw Jinxie as a young athlete. Desperate by now, he screamed, “Please, love me!” In Doggish, he tackled his humans. Now they bought him a dog house and put up an outdoor run.

Then I saw Jinxie as I saw him now. Unclaimed stray. Revolving between a kennel and a play yard. Losing hope of finding a home. Leaning hard against me. Shaking uncontrollably. Whimpering.

I massaged my fingers deep into his tight muscles. “I get it now,” I said. “And just so you know … you can jump on me whenever you need.”

And he did. Until he realized I had quit pushing him away. Then he would bury his face in my lap and sigh and shiver, and I would rub the tension out of his muscles. Then one day … he wagged his tail.

I’ve never yet met a bad dog. Just ones that wanted really badly to be understood.

Pawnote from Molly

My girl says sometimes you’ve gotta let a dog misbehave until you understand why they’re doin’ it. I like that about her. Do you have any idea how many years I’ve been getting away with ignoring the “heel” command? She’s still trying to understand my deeper issues. (It’s called, “I wanna walk in front.” Don’t tell her.)

I never met Jinxie myself, but my girl says he went on to find a really good home. She says she made a point of telling his new parents they must snuggle him as much as possible, and they couldn’t wait to start!