Depth Perception

 “We are all animals of this planet. We are all creatures. And nonhuman animals experience pain sensations just like we do. They too are strong, intelligent, industrious, mobile, and evolutional[...]And like us, they are surviving. Like us they also seek their own comfort rather than discomfort. And like us they express degrees of emotion. In short like us, they are alive.” – Joaquin Phoenix

Pic courtesy of The Mandarin Duck

Pic courtesy of The Mandarin Duck

My mom hated cats when I was growing up.  She would never harm one, but she claimed they were creepy and sneaky.  And it totally grossed her out the way they would come slinking up around your legs, like a snake coiling around a tree branch, eyeing its prize. My mom was never raised around cats.  Dogs, sure.  But there was never a cat in her house when she was a child.

One day, when I was 15, my mom accompanied me to the stables where we boarded our horses so I could work on some horsemanship skills.  She usually didn’t come with me, but today she did.  Inside one of the empty stalls was one of the many barn cats.  And in the corner of that stall, was a mewling mess of adorableness – she had given birth to her kittens!  I showed mom, and she mumbled something about them being cute.

The next time she accompanied me to the stables, the kittens were about 6 weeks old and a patchwork quilt of tabby, calico and gray fun.  I watched them and laughed as they scampered about the stall.  My mom stopped to look, too, staying for a few minutes before moving on.  I noticed that one of the kittens hung back under the feed bin, and every once in a while, one of the larger kittens would come and terrorize the little calico, who happened to be a runt.  My protective nature took over.  I rushed inside and seized the tiny little calico and brought her outside to spend time with me while the horses were in paddock.  I showed her to my mom, and mentioned how the other cats were picking on her.  My mom gave her a little rub on the head.  The kitten sat down on the picnic table we were sitting at, and looked up.  With those eyes.  You know the look I’m talking about.

The Look

The Look

“But mom”, I wailed, “If we leave her here she could die!”  The little kitten played along gamely, vogue her best pathetic “If You Leave Me Here I Could Die” look.  My mother caved. I named her Belle, and she lived with me for the next 15 years of her life, until the day I had to let her go. She went with dignity, as she had gone through her life.  My mom sobbed the day I had to had say goodbye to Belle.  For something had happened.  Belle had charmed her.  About a week after I brought her home, Belle started winding herself around my mother’s legs in hope of some canned food, or at least a cuddle.  And my mother would respond!  My mom mentioned she never realized cats could be actual loving, sweet companions.  Who could blame her?  She’d never been around one.

I’m proud of my mother because she was able to open her mind that something could be more than what it was perceived to be.  She entertained the notion that she may be wrong about a preconception she had, and more importantly, was willing to change.  Since I moved out with Belle, she has had 7 cats, all of whom have lived to a ripe old age.  Two are still with her.

So what am I doing writing about cats on a dog post?  Animals are animals.  All are able to feel pain, fear and abandonment.  Those feelings were the reason my mother took Belle in to begin with: not because she liked Belle, or even liked cats.  It was because my mother was capable of understanding an animal’s need for safety, and my mother was able to reach past her distaste to help an animal in need, even one she didn’t particularly care for.  In the process, she found a new trove of love and companionship she didn’t realize existed before:  cats.

This doesn’t happen to cats alone.  In some societies where dogs are considered vermin, people are changing.  My friend, Jocelyn, writes a blog a blog about love, family and relationships in China, including AMWF (Asian male/Western female) love called Speaking of China. 洋媳妇谈中国.  Obviously there are going to be some cultural differences in a marriage such as Jocelyn’s.  Finding common ground and understanding can be difficult.  But “if you open up your mind, maybe I can open up mine” is the only way to go about it.  This includes the concept of what deserves compassion.

Jocelyn recently referenced a story a peer had written:  The Day I Changed my Chinese Parents-in-law. Minds can be changed, even in a small village in China.  A family who once looked at dogs as vermin can accept that maybe they were wrong.  And look at the rewards they get:  love, kisses and the companionship that only a dog can give you.  A true, loyal friend.

Jocelyn herself even mentions a similar situation with her in-laws:

“They weren’t always kind to dogs either, but now that John and I helped raise their newest dog Snoopy (who we’ve socialized to be a very loving and affectionate dog), I think everyone in the house has fallen in love with Snoopy!”



Jocelyn's husband, Jun, and their dog Snoopy.  Where Jocelyn is living in rural China, most people keep dogs to protect their property.  Having a dog as a companion is unusual, but gaining popularity.  Photo courtesy of Speaking of China

Jocelyn’s husband, Jun, and their dog Snoopy. Where Jocelyn is living in rural China, most people keep dogs to protect their property. Having a dog as a companion is unusual, but gaining popularity. Photo courtesy of Speaking of China

I’m not asking you to change your mind about an entire species, as these people all did.  This blog is (supposed) to be about dogs.  If you’re here, you already love dogs.  Spread the word about what humanity means.  Be an example of education, the same way Belle educated my mom about what a cat can really mean to a human. Don’t assume that because you love animals and care about their welfare that everyone does.  Some people have never been around a dog or a cat, and therefore have no commonality with them.  Without shared experiences and memories to draw from, it’s hard to make a connection, and without a connection, there is no empathy.  Help share that empathy.   After all, that’s the greatest gift of all:  finding love and companionship where you never realized it could exist before.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Friends Forever, or Choosing a Shelter Dog

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
- Ben Franklin


So you’ve decided to add a pet to the family.  You’ve determined that adopting is the best way to go. Now what?  Shelter? APL?  What do you do?  First come up with your list of wants vs. needs.   Ever walk into a car dealership to buy a car, but have no idea what you want?  Manual, stick? SUV or sedan?  Nope?  Didn’t think so.  And bear this in mind: most people put more thought into precisely what they want in a car than what they want in a dog, yet they will swap cars every 5-6 years, whereas a dog will last upwards of 13 years!

That's highly illogical
That’s highly illogical

Decide if you want to go through a shelter or a city/county kennel.

Shelters are sometimes able to foster their dogs, meaning you would be able to see the dogs in a normal home environment, or at the very least, not terrified and acting contrary to their nature in a kennel. (Let’s face it, those places can be very scary.) Remember, those aren’t other dogs or pack member in those kennels…those are other predators. They don’t know those other dogs, and haven’t bonded with them.  Think about how you’d be acting on your first day if you were sent to prison. Yeah.

Good times were had by all

Good times were had by all

Understand that dogs currently residing in shelters are only exhibiting a fraction of their true personalities.  Just like humans, some dogs adjust to these situations a little easier than others.  Things to look for:

  • Dogs who come to the front of the cage may be less fearful in general, but again this is a unique situation.  If someone were to judge my disposition based solely on watching me drive across the Valley View Bridge, well….let’s just say it wouldn’t be accurate.
  • Dogs who calmly come up to you in a slightly submissive fashion (ears slightly down, body in a slight letter “S” rather than an ultra-submissive or ultra-hyper fashion.  Dogs with wiggle-butts are great (looking at you pitties!).
  • Dogs who have been there for a amount of time I consider the “sweet spot”.  A dog who just comes into the shelter is going to be traumatized (What is this place? What’s all this noise? Who are these people?!).  Let them have an adjustment period of a day or two.  After a bit, they’ll know that, while the kennel is scary, it’s not mind-blowingly terrifying anymore.  You’re more apt to get a read on their real personality.
  • But remember what being in a cage for a while can do to a dog.  Dogs who have been there a while can get cabin fever.  This is not a natural state for the dogs, but remember, they’ve been isolated and scared for a while now.  It takes a toll on the psyche.  Yes, these dogs can indeed still make great pets, but be realistic: this will be a forever dog, not the dog you adopt because he’s been there so looooong!  Stick to your “shopping list”.
  • Ask the employees, but don’t be persuaded into taking a dog.  A good kennel worker will indeed get attached to the animals.  They can give you great information on which dogs may be best for your situation.  Unfortunately, that attachment may cause them to inadvertently try to talk you into a dog.  If you’re not “feeling” that dog, move on.  Remember, you brought your list of wants and needs.  Share it with the workers and let them know you are indeed sticking to the list.
Here's cage No. 666.  This guy is my favorite.  Don't let him fool you, he'll be fine once you get him home.

Here’s cage No. 666. This guy is my favorite. Don’t let him fool you, he’ll be fine once you get him home.

Unfortunately, there is no magical formula for adopting a dog from a kennel.  If there were, odds are kennel wouldn’t be needed anymore because every dog would fit into their new home perfectly.  Go with your gut.  Make a rational decision, not an impulsive one.  And then take the necessary steps to make the transition from kennel to home as smooth as possible.  Keep them as best friends forever.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


The First Day


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Home is the nicest word there is – Laura Ingalls Wilder

Do you remember your first day of school? Or your first day on the job? Or how about the first day you brought your rescue pup home?

When we first brought Porter home, it was exciting and nerve racking. However, the minute he entered the apartment, he saw the blankets we had bought him and went straight for them. He laid down and looked up at us as if to say “Why did it take you so long to find me?”.

That first day is magical for us. But how about for them? How amazing it must be for them to be in a home and feel love. For some pups, it’s the most kindness and comfort they’ve received so far.

Here are some pictures of a few rescue animal’s first days home. They’re not all dogs, but hey, we don’t discriminate.

What was your pup’s first day home like?

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

The Power of Experience

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything – George Bernard Shaw

Remember those days, where posters of your favorite movie star or boy band covered the walls of your room? It basically looked like a teeny bopper version of a stalker’s basement. Or remember when you would see your favorite movie star or boy band on tv or on a magazine, you would squeal and go on and on about how amazing they were and all their great qualities?

These guys used to cover my walls

These guys used to cover my walls

Well, my poor parents had to go through that stage with me twice. Once, when I was an actual teeny bopper. And once when I was older and found out that pitbulls had stolen my heart. Anytime one was on tv I would stop and stare after letting out a slightly embarrassing sound that I hadn’t used since my ‘NSync days.

If we saw a pitbull on the street, I would come close to drooling. I had pictures of them on my desktop background and I was constantly sharing facts and videos of them.

When this first started my parents didn’t seem to fully understand what was happening. They, like most people, hadn’t had much contact with any pitbulls. In fact, pretty much none. I was the only one that had met and interacted with bully breeds out of my family.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

At first, my parents would ask about certain traits that many people haven’t been around pitbulls or haven’t been able to gain enough information about the breed (I use the term breed loosely, because as we know, they’re just a mix) ask:.

Aren’t they aggressive?

Their jaws lock don’t they?

Don’t you think they’re kind of funny-looking?

Why aren’t they allowed in certain apartment complexes and towns?

This was my opportunity to educate! I would share the knowledge that I had gained about them every time the opportunity came up. My parents would just nod and smile. I never knew what they were thinking really. It was kind of like my teeny bopper days, they accepted it but didn’t fully understand. But that was okay with me. I went on oohing and aahhing over every pitbull I came across.

When Vesta came into my life (she’s the reason that I want BSL to end), I could tell they were hesitant again. But, they were supportive and went with it.

Vest as an adorable little puppy

Vest as an adorable little puppy

Vesta was a lovebug. As they would come to visit, I could see my parents warming up to her more and more. They saw how happy she made me. They also saw how sweet she was. She had an amount of devotion towards me that was extraordinary. She knew what my next move was going to be before I did. She knew how to make me feel comfortable and how to cheer me up. She also knew how to make everyone around her laugh and that endeared her to them. They were able to see the dog she was and not just the breed.

It’s hard to connect or change your mind about something or someone if you’ve never interacted with that individual or animal. You’re only able to go off of facts or stories that other people have told you. It’s not the same thing as experiencing it yourself. And sometimes, those that are able to change others minds can do it without even knowing.

The other day, I was home visiting when a neighbor was talking about a new dog in the neighborhood. It was a pitbull and they relayed concerns and incorrect facts about pitbulls. I took a deep breath to start in on my arguments and all of a sudden my parents piped in:

“They’re very loyal dogs you know”

“They’re not what the media makes them out to be”

“I saw him the other day, just standing there, wagging his tail with a big smile on his face. Looked like a great dog.”

I took a step back and just realized, the individuals that had never understood my pitbull obsession were standing up for my pitbull obsession. They were able to rely on experiences that they had had with the breed and help others appreciate these misunderstood dogs.

Vesta and I playing around

Vesta and I playing around

This is why the Pittie Parade is so important. It’s a chance for individuals to encounter well behaved and gentle dogs that they might not have met in any other circumstance. They get to meet the wiggly butts and goofy smiles that pitties so lovingly posses. That’s what it takes to changing minds. No yelling, no screaming, no yelling out facts over and over. It takes someone to say, “hey, this dog is really sweet” for some changes to start to take place.

If we can change just one mind, we’ve succeeded. If we can change more? Well, that could create some more loving homes and arms for wiggly butts and goofy smiles everywhere.

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH


Flower Power

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them – A.A. Milne

There’s a lot of reasons I like SNL. I love the talent, the laughs and the thought that anything can happen when they’re on stage. But, what I love most is seeing the guest stars show a different side to themselves.

Seeing tough guy Robert DeNiro singing with Kermit the Frog warmed my heart and makes you realize he’s just another person. In fact, he kinda makes you want to hug him without fear.

Live From New York….

Watching the dead pan Christopher Walken ask for more cowbell made you see a side of him that probably made your sides hurt from laughing.

Then there’s the time that Peyton Manning showed us he had a goofy side when he danced like a crazy man in the locker room with Will Forte.

Break it down Peyton…

Sometimes, it takes us seeing someone in a different light for us to truly understand what they’re like. It causes us to reevaluate our current feelings of someone and change them.

That’s exactly what photographer Sophie Gamand is trying to do. She’s a pitbull advocate and is using her skill as a photographer to help people see these dogs in a different light than they’re used to. Sometimes, it takes an artistic and different approach to change minds. Even if it’s just one person’s mind it’s worth it. Check out her take on pitbulls here. The pictures are beautiful, soft and invoke a sense of peace and calm. Just like pitbulls.

Sometimes, the louder you raise your voice, the less people listen. It’s coming up with peaceful and creative approaches to changing others’ minds that is the most efficient way to make a difference.

 Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH


 Stereotypes do exist, but we have to walk through them.
- Forest Whitaker


As you may have heard, here at Darwin Dogs we are starting our Pittie Parade.  This is where we try to get people to look past the stereotypes of this breed and see who they’re really about: love, loyalty, and a whole lotta goofiness.  Maybe we need to do the same for humans as well.

When I was about 20, I was involved in a car crash.  Nobody was injured, but both cars were damaged.  My car’s tire was completely blown.  As usually happens in an accident, a group of people gathered around immediately.  Cops showed up.  While I giving my statement to the police, a very “rough” looking man pulled up to the scene on a bike.  He had the entire ensemble going: from biker boots to the head-to-toe leather…right down to the red bandana on his head.  He calmly walked up to me and asked me for my car keys.  Being very shaken up, I automatically gave them to him without thinking.  He silently walked over to my car, popped the trunk, and proceeded to remove the damaged tire and put the spare tire on my car.  He then handed the keys back to the cop (I was signing documentation) and left.  I never got to thank him.  Not just for changing my tire, but for changing my perception.

No, this is not the gentleman who fixed my tire, but it's a pretty good clone of him!

No, this is not the gentleman who fixed my tire, but it’s a pretty good clone of him!

Take a look at the first picture again.  The one at the top of this post.  That man, what did you think of when you saw him? Gang? Violence? Thugs?  Drugs and alcohol? But what about animal advocacy?  I’ll bet that didn’t pop up in your head immediately.  This is Danny Trejo.   You can read a little about him here.

Pic from the BAAC website's Rodeo.

Pic from the BAAC website’s Rodeo.

This is a picture from Bikers Against Animal Cruelty, a non-profit dedicated to animal advocacy.  Probably not what you expected. Check out their link…it’s a pretty amazing group of people doing a pretty amazing thing.  They certainly look different from me, and probably from you as well (if not, well then you’re cooler than I’ll ever be!).  But different isn’t good nor bad…it’s just, well, different.  Kinda like the message we’re trying to spread about Pitties:  judge deeds, not breeds.

Up until I was 20 years old, I might have been inclined to think that “biker-types” were usually involved in violence.  Were thugs. In general, just unsavory people.  That changed in a moment, when one of these “thugs” helped me out when I really needed some help, with no motive other than to just help.  No, I didn’t get to know him, and never saw him again, but I saw in that moment who he was, not what he was.  And my opinion completely changed about bikers.  When I see one on the highway now, I think of that man all those years ago.  Opinions can change for the better.  That’s what October is all about: education about a breed that is misunderstood and maligned based upon a culture that thinks if something looks big and bad, it must be big and bad.  But we know better.  It’s up to us to change opinions.  Because it feels wonderful to have your stereotype lifted and to find commonality where you were certain there was none.  I can speak from experience.

Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Laws in Lakewood, Ohio (and plenty of other cities) encourage discrimination of pets based upon how they look.  Prejudiced and narrow-minded in application, and downright ridiculous in standing.  And so Darwin Dogs holds a Pittie Parade every year. “Bandannas for Banned Breeds” is our theme.  Wear your green bandanna in support of our cause. I’ll bet your dog would look great in one too!  If you’re in the Cleveland area, show your support by walking with us in the parade.  Help support our cause with a donation (we need all the help we can get!).

Pittie_Parade_0021 (1)

 But most importantly, be an ambassador for kindness, be it in representing a breed of dog or a just as a human.  I truly wish that the gentleman who assisted me on that day 17 years ago is reading this.  I would thank him for changing my tire.  And I would thank him for changing my perspective.


Keep calm and pilot on Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


Off with you! You’re a happy fellow, for you’ll give happiness and joy to many other people. There is nothing better or greater than that!

 - Ludwig van Beethoven

In the words of Beethoven, "huh?"

In the words of Beethoven, “huh?”

I’m a nerd.  Really.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, you really haven’t been reading many of my posts, have you?  Well, this post shouldn’t shock you either.

Too much?

Too much?

Something happened today that made me want to listen to Beethoven (we’ll get to the incident in a moment).  Specifically, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, hailed as perhaps one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed.  I’m sure you know it, or at least how it starts out.  The same five notes, over and over, twisted around new forms, altering their tone, tempo, or sound, but constantly, those same four notes.  It’s very moving in a dark, desperate kind of way.  Almost chaotic. 

Dark and terrible.  That’s what most people think of when the Beethoven’s 5th comes to mind. We’ve seen its resonance as the heroine runs through the dark forest only to trip and fall as Some Dark Figure approaches.  We’ve heard it playing as we do our taxes.  Perhaps we’ve heard it as background on a war documentary.  It feels passionately hopeless.

download (7)


So that’s what imagery is conjured up by Beethoven’s terribly magnificent 5th Symphony.  The first movement.  See, there are four movements.  But we’ll get to those in a moment.  Now, on to what made me think of Beethoven.  Meet Beethoven.

Not what you wanted to see?  Me neither.

Not what you wanted to see? Me neither.

This Beethoven has had a tremendously horrific life thus far.  He was found in Cleveland this week by a good Samaritan who brought him to All Dogs Heaven.  He weighed 36 lbs. His body temperature was 94 degrees (99-102 is considered normal).  I will spare you the visuals of his condition, but suffice it to say his limbs look like hamburger meat.  He can’t walk. If he makes it, it will be a long, difficult journey.

He made me think of those famous first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  This Beethoven has had the same four notes playing his entire life.  Pain. Hunger. Terror.  Loneliness.  Over and over again, swelling and cresting, but constant companions.  Pain. Hunger. Terror. Loneliness.

But did you know about the other 3 movements in Beethoven’s 5th?

The second sounds like what I imagine Beethoven must have felt when someone finally slowed their car down as they passed him huddled in the street, temperatures below zero.  It must have sounded like one little glimmer of hope as a woman, sobbing over his condition, gently cradled him as she placed him tenderly into her warm car.  Just a tiny little sliver, but nevertheless a break in the excruciating four notes that had thus far filled his days.

Huddled in the backseat of the car, he was then transported to a vet, who initially had to leave the room to composer herself before she could start to treat his wretched condition. Tender hands working to console him, care for him, love him. The third movement of Beethoven’s 5th.  Pain, Hunger, Terror, Loneliness is starting to melt away into something else.  Uncertainty? Maybe.  Pain?  Still there.  But so were friends.  Beethoven’s tail started to wag (and 2 days later still hasn’t stopped!).  Food is replacing the hunger.  Certainty is replacing the dreadful unknown.



A scratch behind the ear.  Love. Affection.  Our furry little Beethoven is about to enter into the 4th and final movement, which is the sound of rebirth.  He’s only just started, a few moments into the final movement, and he needs your help!  His medical bills will be quite staggering, and his rescuer is quite burdened with other fosters in her care.

Beethoven needs his final movement played.  At least given the chance to hear his symphony end with triumph instead of those same callous four notes he’s been hearing his entire life!  Please consider making a donation to his cause by clicking here.  All donations go directly to his care.  Let’s help him discover that last movement of the greatest symphony of all time.



Ludwig von Beethoven gave birth to what was the greatest era of music:  Romanticism.  He embodied perfection in composition.  Our little Beethoven?  He embodies every dog. His inability to give up.  His endurance despite desperate circumstances.  But most importantly, the beauty of living here and now, in the moment, and despite all he has survived so far, to have enough hope to start to wag his tail.  I for one would like to hear his triumphant finale rather than an unfinished and discarded masterpiece.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

A Meet Cute


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

The unknown is not what to be afraid of, it’s only when the unknown becomes known that one can decide whether to be afraid or not – Markus Peterson

Often, we’re afraid and skeptical of people and things we don’t know, haven’t met, or don’t understand. It’s in our nature to be skeptical. It’s called survival! However, it becomes a problem when we let those fears hold us back from getting to know someone or trying new adventures. You never know who you might meet or what you might accomplish!

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to understand an individual’s initial fear of pitbulls. I look at them and I see wiggly butts, goofy smiles, and the best cuddle partner you could ask for. But, occasionally I force myself to look at pitties from a point of view of someone who has never had much contact with them.

That pittie smile! Brittany Graham Photography

That pittie smile!
Brittany Graham Photography

The media portrays them as vicious dogs. They’re extremely muscular. And, well, they don’t look like the normal dog we’re used to seeing on TV. They don’t resemble much of Toto, Lassie or Air Bud. I can understand someone’s apprehension at first…. my advice: Just meet one. You won’t be able to not smile at some point.

Here’s a video of individuals meeting pitties for the first time. As much as it’s awesome to see individuals change their minds about them, it’s important for us that are pittie advocates to understand where some of these individuals are coming from. What you don’t know can be scary. So, let’s take a kind and gentle approach (just like the pitties) and create an atmosphere where Pittie Newbies can meet these amazing dogs and not feel intimidated.

And please, join our Pittie Parade on Sunday May 9th in Lakewood, OH! We will be walking to bring awareness to BSL. Check out our page!

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

10 Ways to Help Your Local Shelter

Porter, adopted from Multiple Breed Rescue in Elyria, OH Brittany Graham Photography

Porter, adopted from Multiple Breed Rescue in Elyria, OH
Brittany Graham Photography

 The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’re all animal lovers. Really, why would you be reading this blog if you weren’t? So, I’m guessing we all want to do our part to help. Here’s a list of 10 things you can do to help out your local rescue or shelter. Not all require a lot of time or money. So, take a look, pick a rescue/shelter and get helping!

 1.Volunteer Your Time

So, we’ll start with the obvious ones. You know how it’s a new year and we all made some of those resolution things? Well, maybe one of yours was to volunteer more. So, GO OUT AND DO IT! Visit your local shelter or rescue’s website and see what requirements they have for volunteers. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to foster, it could just mean you get to go in and walk and play with pups and cats. Which, in my book, is pretty fantastic.

2. Adopt!

Another obvious option. If you have thought about adopting and have made your list on what you’re looking for in a new family member and have come to the conclusion that right now is a good time for a new addition, make sure you’re adopting! This doesn’t mean you have to go to the first shelter you find on an internet search. There are a ton of options in the Cleveland area alone as well as some great rescues out there. Take some time to look around and find what feels right for you and your family.

Sadie, adopted from the Cleveland APL

Sadie, adopted from the Cleveland APL

3. Spread the Word

Talk your local shelters and rescues up! If you have a friend that mentions that they’re looking into adding a dog or cat to their family, make sure you mention the adoption option! Talk about all the great best friends that come out of shelters and rescues.

You can also spread the word without ever leaving your house or getting dressed! Seriously! Follow your local shelters and rescues on Facebook and share those dogs that are looking for new homes. You never know who is going to see a dog and fall in love instantly. It could be a friend of a friend of a cousin, or it could be your next door neighbor. But share away! This is so helpful for shelters and gets those dogs’ and cats’ faces out there to be seen by their potential new family.

4. Amazon Wish List

Many times shelters and rescues have Amazon Wish Lists. It’s this great little place on Amazon where local shelters and rescues can add the items that they need to run a great temporary home for these dogs and cats. Items can range from toys and treats, to GPS’s. It’s a great way to have the items sent straight to the shelter and they’re getting exactly what they want. Again, this option is great if you don’t want to leave the house or get dressed. Click here to see The Cuyahoga County’s Amazon Wish List.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Pete and Tank, adopted from the Cleveland APLBrittany Graham Photography 

5. Amazon Smile

This is a great little tool as well and doesn’t cost you any money! Seriously! So, you know how you end up ordering a bunch of things from Amazon? Some needed, some not so much, but all seemed so necessary at the time of purchase? Well, if you join Amazon Smile, 0.5% of your purchase total can go towards a charity of your choice! I’m serious! Next time you sign into Amazon, go ahead and do a search for Amazon Smile. All you have to do is sign up and pick which charity you want to donate to! A lot of local rescues and shelters are on the list. It’s a great way for them to get some extra donations and you to feel better about those impulse buys!

6. WoofTrax

This is a great little App for your phone. Since you’re all giving your dogs the PAW that they need, that means that you’re also going for lots of walks with your dog. Well, this little handy app will actually donate to a rescue or shelter of your choice for every mile you walk with your dog! Just start the app on the beginning of your walk and it will record the distance that you and your pup have covered. Now, the amount they donate changes as the money that they donate comes from sponsors, advertisers and investors, however, anything will help!

Don’t have a dog? Guess what- you can still walk and help your shelter/rescue of choice! There is as Walk for Cassie option which allows you to walk on your own and still counts your mileage towards a donation. It’s a great idea and the more people walking for your shelter/rescue the better. So spread the word!

You can download the app by visiting their site here.

Bowie, adopted from Berea Animal Rescue Friends Brittany Graham Photography

Bowie, adopted from Berea Animal Rescue Friends
Brittany Graham Photography

7. Start a Donation Drive

This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. Set up a box at work or with your friends and ask people to donate some pet items. Treats, toys, collars, leashes, blankets…. Quite honestly the list is endless. Then, take a trip out to your local rescue or shelter and donate all the items you’ve collected. They’ll be beyond grateful and you’ll feel good about the situation as well.

8. Show Your Gratitude

Quite simply – say thank you. If you see a volunteer say thank you. Tell them how much you appreciate the work they do. This can be in person, a letter or a Facebook review. Let them know the community is behind them and what they do touches all of our lives.

Molly, adopted from Muttley Crew Brittany Graham Photography

Molly, adopted from Muttley Crew
Brittany Graham Photography

9. Throw a Benefit Party

This doesn’t have to be as crazy as you might think. Seriously. You know that Super Bowl party you just had? What if you asked everyone to donate $5 when they walked in the door for your favorite local rescue or shelter. So, invite everyone over for a get together and tell your friends you’ll provide some food and that you’re collecting donations and why. At the end of the night, tally the money up and write out a check to the rescue/shelter you’ve chosen. You had a great time, your friends had a great time, and the shelter will be so thankful.

10. Show off your own Rescue Dog

Have a rescue dog? Show him off! Whenever someone says how cute he is or how well behaved she is tell them about where you adopted them from! They can be an ambassador just like you can!

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

What to Expect

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.

- A.A. Milne

Porter_0030Brittany Graham Photography


I have a lot of people ask me about getting a dog.  I try to answer their questions as best I can, but it’s not always easy.

What kind of dog? The canine kind.

Are certain breeds aggressive? Really?

How do I pick out the right dog? You do your research,  and then do your best.

Along the way, however, I realized that there needed to be some kind of “Doggie Code”, or “Doggie Commandments”.  Something. Not quite an instruction manual, but something to cover the blank spots between Piloting your dog and feeding your dog.  I guess more along the lines of What to Expect When You’re Expecting….a dog.

Yeah....dogs.  Definitely should have gotten a dog.

Yeah….dogs. Definitely should have gotten a dog.

So without further ado, here we go.

You’re going to fall in love with every dog at the shelter and feel guilty as hell for not rescuing all of them.

I know.  I’ve been there.  I walked out of a shelter 18 years ago with Darwin almost sobbing because there were other dogs there scheduled to be euthanized later in the week.  But here’s the thing: I saved one.  If we all saved just one, what a difference.  Each according to their ability, and that’s exactly what I did.  Darwin has since crossed that damn Rainbow Bridge, and I’ve added Sparta and Orion.  I did the best I could within my means. The problem is that those flippin’ dogs are like potato chips.  Once you open the bag, you never want to stop.  Keeping the mindset of “within your means” implies both mental and physical.  Remember, those terrible animal hoarding situations all start out somewhere.

New, from Fi-Do-Lay!  Mmmm... goes great with Separation Anxiety brand dip!

New, from Fi-Do-Lay! Mmmm… goes great with Separation Anxiety brand dip!

The honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever.

I wouldn’t have a job if it were all sunshine and lollipops forever.  You really didn’t think it would last….did you?

I guarantee it isn't a candlelit dinner.

I guarantee it isn’t a candlelit dinner.

Your dog is going to do something stupid.  Take up barking. Attempt to digest revolting things, and then void the attempt…right on your pillow. Get sprayed by a skunk.  Just remember, you adopted a dog, not a human.  Dogs don’t do things to get back at you, or to punish you.  They have separation anxiety.  They have boredom.  They have needs for activity.  They will ask questions, and need to be Piloted. Address these situations when they come up, or it’s going to be merry hell for the next 13 years.

You’re going to think of them as human…don’t.

Yeah, Darwin and I would hang out on the couch together and watch tv.  I’d talk to him, offering my opinion about what was on.  Asking him if that dress made my butt look fat.  I’d tell him about my boy troubles, my car troubles or my leaky faucet.  He was my date for many parties, and three weddings. In short, I treated him like a human…until I didn’t.  I was always his Pilot first and foremost. I tell my clients that once you give your dog the Piloting, Activity and Work that your dog requires, you can do whatever you want.  Ignore them (but really, why?).  Talk to them.  Dress them up (Darwin worked a bowtie like a Chippendale).   Do whatever you want.  Give them their needs as a dog, and only then can you treat them like a human.

Treat me like a dog or there'll be hell toupee!

Treat me like a dog or there’ll be hell toupee!

They are not an impulse purchase.

I had a frenemy in my 20′s.  She adopted a dog after her boyfriend broke up with her. She even named the dog “Re-bound”.  Yeah.  It worked out exactly as you thought it would, with my helping her find a new home for the poor dog after she “moved on”.  Your dog isn’t there to take the place of something. Or fill some hole in your heart.  And contrary to popular belief, it won’t enlarge any body parts by their bad-assedness.

Contact your doctor if you try to compensate for more than four hours.

Contact your doctor if your attempt to compensate lasts more than four hours.

They will absolutely break your heart…but only once.

The ultimate paradox is that the only creature who loves you more than they love themselves, who would give their life for you (so long as no vacuum cleaners are involved) will actually destroy your life when they do finally find their end.  If it’s one year or 12 (like I had with my Darwin), it’s always too soon.  Do yourself a favor. Have a plan.  Don’t wait until Fido develops cancer to try to figure out when it’s time to say goodbye.  You will not be logical.  You will be emotional, like I was.  Truthfully, I should have taken Darwin to that Rainbow Bridge months before I actually did.  By trying not to betray him, I absolutely did.  I was emotional.  It took someone who was removed from the situation to show me how sick Darwin actually was.

Whomever painted this is either the most compassionate animal lover or an absolute masochist towards humans.  Crying yet?

Whomever painted this is either the most compassionate animal lover or an absolute masochist towards humans. Crying yet?

I take a lot of pics of Sparta and Orion.  I can easily compare how they are now vs. how they were at this time last year.  Facebook helps with that.  So does Instagram.  Have a hashtag with your dog’s name (for ease of reference), and start taking pics, and then compare them.  If your dog is diagnosed with something wretched, take a pic every week.  Compare them to the previous week. Do right by your dog. Do the heavy lifting so they don’t have to.  You’ll still be traumatized when they go, but you will know you made the best decision you could, with all the information necessary for such an action.


My very first pic of Darwin, circa 1996

And then get ready to do it all again.  Because you will.

Darwin's last pic.

Darwin’s last pic.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio