This sweetie turned out not to be Olivia, but a picture like this with Olivia would be identical.

Sweet, lovey Livvie

Sweet, lovey Livvie
My favorite picture of Olivia

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sad update

We lost Salsa yesterday.  Goodbye, sweet girl.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Tribute to Sam and Salsa

Hello Livvie-lovers,

If you have kept up with the progress of the search for Olivia, you know we would be hopelessly lost - there basically wouldn't be any viable search to follow - if it weren't for Pure Gold Pet Trackers:  Sam Connelly, who is a professional pet tracker, and Salsa, who is, well, also a professional pet tracker, of the canine variety. Salsa can find a scent up to a month old, and her expertise has led her to recover hundreds and hundreds of pets. She and her sisters, Briana and Abby, have recovered over one hundred pets already this year.  I suggested to Sam that she make a collage of pictures of all the pets Salsa has recovered, but she said there were way, way too many for that to be feasible.  (I recognize the effusive character of this praise and, no, I'm not being paid to post this; but it still doesn't adequately express how impressed I have been with their work and how grateful I am for it!)  Salsa's professional credentials range well beyond pet tracking (as do Sam's, for that matter):  before she tracked pets, she did search-and-rescue work, and she's a certified therapy dog as well.

Even apart from her work, though, she is a wonderful girl in her own right:  she's beautiful, super-sweet, affectionate, goofy, graceful, vivacious, etc. (I could go on and on and on and still not capture how great she is, but those of who have met her get it.)  She's eleven years old but, judging by the way she acts, I would guess that she would be about five.  She's an absolute joy to be around. Another aspect of knowing her that I love is getting to know the incredible bond between Salsa and Sam.  They have the usual happy relationship between a dog and her human, but it's intensified because they spend so much time together.  (I have the luxury of spending basically all day every day with my little Leah and I am absolutely, hopelessly addicted to her!)  Adding to this the fact that they collaborate in their work, one can at least begin to imagine the strength of that bond.  They are so devoted to each other - it's really inspiring.  They share a mutual love and respect, but each has her challenges:  Salsa can be what Sam calls "hard of listening;" and Sam is permanently stuck at what she calls "the dumb end of the leash."  Here's a picture that really captures Salsa's personality as well as her beauty.

Beautiful Salsa

Photo: Had the pleasure of photographing Salsa today, a super sweet search dog who has helped over 100 families find lost pets just this year! Sadly, Salsa is also battling cancer but she is still active and happy as ever when she gets to follow a scent. 

An article on Salsa and Pure Gold Pet Trackers:

So that's the good part. Basically everything about Salsa is the good part. The only parts of her that aren't good, that are actually very bad, are the cancerous tumors.  As many of you know, she was diagnosed with lymphoma last year. Trooper that she is, though, she toughed out chemotherapy and beat the cancer!  She was in complete remission when she was unlucky enough to develop melanoma.  Amazingly, she beat that too and went into remission again.  Unfortunately, the cancer recurred.  Even more discouraging, it's the less treatable melanoma, not the lymphoma, that came back.  (Melanoma is more resistant to chemotherapy than lymphoma, so this diagnosis has a worse prognosis.)  She developed many new lesions that basically didn't respond to the treatment.  She kept working for months, but then had to retire when she developed a lesion on a muscle in her shoulder that made wearing her tracking harness painful.  She hates not working! She loves her job and gets really frustrated when she doesn't get to do it.  Fortunately, each time one of her sisters get to do a track and she doesn't, she doesn't know that she's retired - Sam says Salsa just thinks it's not her turn.  Recently, however, she has taken a serious turn for the worse.  She gets thinner and sicker every day and the lesions are now in her lungs.  She does have pain medication, which works but makes her sleep a lot.  We have been trying to enjoy the time she has left and make it as good as it can be for her.

Salsa loves her mama!

Photo: I feel like this image really captures the bond between Sam and Salsa.

I am a proud member of the Salsa Fan Club (that makes it sound more organized than it is, which is not at all).  As such, and out of gratitude to Sam for all of her incomparable work, tireless efforts, and constant help  with the Olivia search, I wanted to get them something.  As a retirement gift for Salsa and sympathy-to-be gift for Sam, Beth (Sassafras's mama) and I arranged for Salsa to have a photo shoot with a professional pet photographer.  Stephen Bobb of FidoJournalism Pet Photography ( met us on a gorgeous day and had a great session with Salsa in which she showed of her beauty, character, and sense of humor.  She let him know how thrilled she was to meet him - typical! - and cooperated, mostly, with the help of some tasty treats.  She's a bit harder to impress now that Sam gives her pretty much everything she wants to keep her happy.  She sat for some of the pictures, but preferred the parts in which she got to play with her mama, swim, and even track a little.  The pictures in this post are from the session (surprise - they're not from my cell phone), which I got from the photographer's facebook page. (

Here's a link to the general website:  and to all of the proofs from Salsa's session:  (password: Salsa12)
I've never had a session with a professional pet photographer before, but it's hard for me to imagine better pictures of this wonderful girl and her mama.  (I highly, highly recommend Stephen and his work!)

As you might guess, pet photography is not cheap, so other fans of Salsa have offered to contribute.  Stephen made the incredibly generous gesture of donating the fee for the session either to the charity of Sam's choice or to Pure Gold itself.  We will still pay this fee to him then Sam can direct it from there.  What we are trying to do now is solicit contributions so that Sam can buy prints once she gets the proofs.  I know there are many, many Sam/Salsa fans out there, grateful clients, rescue organizations they helps, and others who appreciate what wonderful, often life-saving work Sam and Salsa do.  Unfortunately, I do not know who most of them are, much less how to contact them.

All of Livvie's buddies are, of course, welcome to donate; but, whether or not you want to contribute yourself, please pass this information on to anyone else who knows Sam and Salsa and whose contact information you have.  We are going to cover the session fee with the contributions from the people who have already helped, but we would really like to collect more so that Sam can order some prints.  Rather than getting a number of individual gift certificates from FidoJournalism, I think it will be simpler and more efficient for everyone just to send contributions directly to Sam (at via Paypal.  I don't want anyone to feel pressured, but I know there are many others who would want to know about this and this is the best mechanism I have to spread the word.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation in contributing or passing this message along so that we can make this gift a fitting reflection of the strength of our love for Salsa and gratitude to Sam.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mistaken Identity: It's Not Olivia!

I am absolutely shocked to report that "Olivia," the dog Sam and I got out of the shelter is not actually Olivia!  I'm speechless, dumbfounded, almost entirely incredulous!  The dog we met seemed exactly like Olivia in appearance, temperament, and behavior.  She was shy but sweet and curious, and warmed up to me quickly.  Based on her appearance, I was sure it was Olivia:  so few brindle mastiffs have no white markings at all; we compared specific stripes of her brindle coloring; and we even found several scars that matched ones that we know Olivia has.  Even the absence of a microchip seemed to me to indicate that it was more likely to be Olivia.  Since so many dogs, especially so many rescue dogs, have microchips these days, the fact that this dog (like Olivia) didn't have one put her into the subset of dogs (maybe a minority, maybe not) who don't have one, so it was one more point of comparison that matched.

The only factor that weighed against its being Olivia was that the shelter had her listed as "unaltered".  From what I understood from the shelter staff, however, it still seemed consistent with Olivia.  She had been too fearful for them to check her belly for a scar, but they saw that her nipples were distended and presumed that  she had not been spayed.  Though I was cognizant of this inconsistency, the behavioral trait that precipitated it made me even more sure it was Olivia, as did her appearance.  Her nipples were distended, but less so than they had been when she ran away.  Anyway, I bore this in mind since the moment we found out about the dog in the shelter, but it was not enough to convince me it wasn't Olivia.

Sam and I took "Olivia" straight from the shelter to the vet and told them the first orders of business were to check her spay status and give her a microchip!  When, several days later, I had not heard anything to the contrary, I assumed that the vet had confirmed that the dog was actually spayed and the shelter staff had been mistaken.  It was only a week later that I found out (at least third-hand from Sam) that they had confirmed the shelter staff's determination and had spayed her that morning.

In retrospect, I guess much of my certainty that the dog was Olivia was my really, really, really wanting it to be so.  Even now, though, I can hardly believe that it's not Olivia.  Rationally, I know it's not. Apart from the spaying issue, Sam had made a little scent item from the dog at the shelter and asked Salsa to match it to Olivia's scent but Salsa didn't find a match.  Sam thought maybe Salsa's medication was affecting her sense of smell but, in retrospect, we agree that, as usual, Salsa was right.  It also made sense that, when I got home from the vet and told Leah I was with Olivia and let her smell my shirt, she was only as excited as she ever is when I mention Olivia (which surprised me a bit).  Later, when I thought that I didn't need to isolate the scent items anymore, I opened one and let Leah smell it and said Olivia's name, she got much more excited. (Caveat:  for those of you who tend to get confused when reading my anecdotes about Leah, please disregard the last two sentences. Disclaimer: No, Leah is not a trained tracking dog (yet!), and I do not rely on her excitement levels as evidence of the scientific certainty of anything, except maybe of how excited she is.  If this is still too complicated, do let me know and I'll try to explain in greater detail.)

Someone brought up the issue of whether perhaps the one-page medical record I have for Olivia documenting her spay could have been mistaken or that the vet had botched it.  It does seem that the chances of having two shy English Mastiffs, the same size and weight, with quite possibly identical markings, distended nipples, and even scars, lost in this area at once are less than those of the occurrence of a clerical or surgical error regarding the spay procedure.  But Olivia's rescue-mama, who has kept in touch with us throughout the search, was able to confirm that she was in fact (successfully/effectively) spayed.

So there it is.... I'm still shocked writing it even now, but I regret to announce that "Olivia" is not Olivia.  "Ellie", as the shelter named her, is Ellie; and the real Olivia is still out there.  Ugh!  I'll write more when I've processed this at least a little more.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Quick update

Hello everyone,
I don't have much news.  I just wanted to let you all know that Olivia is still at the vet but reportedly doing well.  I'll let you know more when I can.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Preparing for Olivia's Homecoming

I have spent the past two days excitedly getting ready for Olivia's homecoming.  Well, actually, I got everything ready as quickly as I could and have run out of things to prepare to keep my mind occupied so I won't miss her too much.  (Somehow other things like job applications just don't seem to do the trick.)  These preparations certainly aren't the most exciting part of the story, but I thought I'd share them anyway, if for no other reason than to get to do something else related to her to try to keep myself from getting too impatient.

First things first.  She will never again leave this house without proper identification.  She is getting a microchip at the vet, but I have created a complement to that.  When she ran away, she had only been living with me for about 8 days, so the ID tag I had for her had not even come yet.  She had her rabies tag but no tag with contact information.  I saved it all this time, though, and now it's all ready for her - I put it on a cute pumpkin collar for Halloween.

I also want to make her as comfortable as possible.  I got her old crate ready for her again.  When she first moved in with me, she was so scared that she basically didn't leave it for the first three days (except to go outside, and I had to physically drag her out of it even to get her to do that).  She may need a period of re-adjustment, so I got it ready for her, as did Leah, who has been warming it up for her.  I don't have the blanket she used before because Sam still has it as Livvie's scent article. It's so wonderful to think that she won't need it for that anymore and that, instead, Livvie can sleep on it at home in her crate, safe and sound!

Ironically, even back then, once she would venture out of her crate, when she wanted to go back in, she'd squeeze herself into Leah's little (well, large) crate instead of her own big (extra-large) one.  (In this picture, both girls look a bit demonic, but disregard their glowing eyes - they're much more like angels than demons!)

Even after her initial readjustment, she may just like hanging out in her crate (as Leah does).  If she follows her earlier pattern, though, once she's ready to venture forth from the crate, she'll leave it behind and relocate permanently to one corner of my bed.  As far as I'm concerned, she's more than welcome to do that, so I got that ready for her too. (Actually, I just recently switched from a lighter duvet I use in the summer to this one, which I use in the winter.  The top / back pillow you see in the picture was one of my original scent items, though, so I always stored it in a plastic bag, and even now I barely touch it because I still think of it as "hers"!  It'll be really interesting to see if she recognizes her own scent if it's still on it.

I'll just have one nice little change to make.  Along the side by the window, I have a framed picture of her lying in her corner of the bed back in 2010.  Over the past two years, when I've missed her, it's been nice to be able to look over and at least see a picture of her there. Now, happily, I can take the picture away because I'll have something infinitely better:  the real thing!

As I mentioned before, Olivia is severely underweight:  she is only a bit over 80 pounds when she should weigh at least 100.  So yesterday I did a little subtraction, headed to the store, and bought her over 20 pounds of meat.  I got her steak, chicken, pork chops, hamburger, a big pot roast, and liverwurst (the new love of Leah's life) - as she did when Ally was in charge of stocking the feeding stations, Olivia will be eating at least as well as I will!  And if helping Livvie put some meat on her bones also happens to serve as a good excuse for me to spoil her rotten, so be it!

There's one last element of her homecoming about which I can't stop thinking:  Olivia's reunion with Leah.  Leah has never forgotten Olivia. She still perks up her ears and looks around to find her whenever I call out Olivia's name. Until Monday, though, I had no way of knowing whether the memory was reciprocal. Then one of the cutest moments at the shelter came when I went to get Olivia ready to leave.  I had brought Leah's harness to use in addition to a leash. (I'm currently planning to quintuple-leash Olivia for the rest of her life!)  I went to put Leah's harness on Olivia and mellow Livvie started sniffing it intently and got quite animated (by her standards). Sam laughed and said that that was indeed an example of one dog recognizing another's scent.  Also, many of you know that Leah's beloved "big brother" and fearless protector, who was older, bigger, and calmer than she is, who lived across the hall moved away a few months ago.  (Here's my favorite picture of the two of them.)

Not only does she (/do we) miss him, she has been quite a bit more anxious and fearful since then.  Having her big sister (also older, bigger, and calmer than she is) come home might just work out perfectly for both of them!

I'll end this with a little shameless projection.  For the past two years, Leah has been sad because she missed Olivia.

Now, though, she is happy because Livvie has been found and eagerly awaits her homecoming!

Get well soon, Livvie - we can't wait to welcome you home!

Olivia's Situation and Celebrity

Just a quick update: good news, bad news...

the good news is that livvie is to be recognized as the star that she is.  she'll be featured on the local news tonight (well, most likely tonight at 10) on fox 5.  karen grinder and patti stinson of a forever-home gave an interview for an hour and a half (!) today at the vet and said olivia did very well.

and speaking of the vet, just a bit of bad news:  olivia tested positive for lyme disease. fear not, though, they're starting her on antibiotics.

that's it for now,

Finding Olivia (part 2) - Reuniting with Olivia!

Back to the story:

Seeing Olivia again after almost two years was absolutely overwhelming for me - I'm still not over it!

As soon as the shelter staff brought her out of her little "cell" for us to see her, we went about physically confirming that it was Olivia.  We looked for the scars that she had before she ran away and even compared the stripes in her brindle coloring to the pictures we had of her.  Everything matched.  The only possibility that it wasn't Olivia was that the shelter had listed her as unaltered but Olivia was spayed. Still, she shelter staff had based their conclusion on the fact that her nipples were distended, indicating that she had had puppies before, because she was too fearful for them to check for a scar.  This didn't make me any less sure, though.  Only about a week before she had come to live with me, she had had a so-called "pregnant spay" and her nipples were very distended when she came to me. Her nipples are still distended, but much less so than they used to be.  That said, the vet is still going to check to make sure that the dog we brought in is in fact spayed.

She has obviously had a rough time of it.  She is still very skinny:  you can see her rib cage, and she weighs only about 80 pounds; and, with her frame, she should be at least 100.  She also has some new scars, including a new (though healed) tear in her ear.  Finally, she has a bad hot-spot above her tail.  I can't wait to  help her heal and gain weight, and generally restore her to health.

Her temperament seems a bit, though not much, less fearful; but otherwise the same as I remember.  She's still shy but curious, and seems eager but hesitant to trust.  She had formed an attachment to one of the shelter workers, Monica, who had become attached to her. Monica would come and sit with her every day and Olivia would sit next to her and put her chin in Monica's lap or just come and stand her 80-pound self in Monica's lap.  It was wonderful to see, partly because it suggests to me that she has been treated well for at least part of the time she was gone and partly because it means that her shelter experience was not as stressful as it could have been.  Incidentally, it also made me less incredulous that someone (probably a woman) had been able to get her into a car.

What was incredibly gratifying to me was that she seemed to remember me.  I assume she recognized my scent, and may have associated it with a warm bed, a safe, quiet apartment, and plentiful good food. Whatever it was, Livvie warmed up to me right away:  as soon as we got her into a visiting room, she came and hung her head next to me for me to pet her, stood in my lap, and even relaxed enough to sit down (progress for her) next to me.  Within a few minutes, she was following me around, and tried to go with me when I left the room.  It was so heart-warming to learn that my love for her, which had only grown over the two years she had been away, seems to be requited.


Sam filled out the paperwork to claim her and restore her as a ward of A Forever-Home (rather than the shelter), and she was ours again!  Another memorable moment was leading her out of the shelter into the beautiful October afternoon - it had rained on our way to the shelter and it had cleared up and the sun had come out!  We helped her into the car, and, adorably, she clearly still has the odd but cute habit of staying in however she lands, no matter the position of her long limbs.  Despite the nicely padded back seat of Sam's car (what I affectionately call the "track-mobile"), Livvie had slipped in between the front and back seats with one of her back legs up in the air, and it didn't seem to bother her one bit. On our way to the vet, we stopped at Chik-fil-A and bought her a big order of chicken nuggets.  Until then, she had been too over-stimulated to take any treats (or simply they didn't like them), but she loved that chicken!  She was clearly hungry and it the way she accepted the nuggets was adorable.

What was most endearing, though, was the way she just soaked up the love we showered on her.  On the drive to the vet, she put her big ol' head on the center console between Sam and me and leaned into it whenever we petted her face or the top of her head or scratched her ears.  When her head wasn't up front with us, I would reach back and pet her - I can't get enough!  If I took my hand away for more than about two seconds, her head popped right back up in the front for more lovin'. So sweet!

When we arrived at the vet, she showed more curiosity.  She was most excited about the Great Dane puppy across from her in the waiting room.  She was clearly disappointed that, because she hasn't been vaccinated in two years, we couldn't allow her to interact with him. She even made a super-cute whine, which I hadn't heard before, to appeal the decision!  It seemed that everyone there enjoyed meeting her.  Another heartening moment was meeting another AFH affiliate in the waiting room.  When we introduced her to Olivia, she was amazed and told Livvie, "We have been think of you and praying for you for a long time!"

I noticed that Livvie still seems more scared of men than women, though.  When the male vet tech came out to get her, her tail, which had been wagging at the Dane, tucked up between her legs as high as it would go.  I was again touched to see that, when she would go to the back (out of the waiting room where Sam and I had been sitting), she willingly followed me back when he led me there, even insisted on doing so.  To get her into her little space in the back, I walked into it first. She followed me there and, when I sat down in the entrance to keep her from trying to go back out of it, she put her head into my lap again.

Olivia needed to stay there for a full evaluation, including vaccination, heartworm testing, and treatment of her hot-spot.  We are not sure how long she will have remain there: at least until the tests come back.  She'll be fine, though. With a nice soft blanket, her little space was much more comfy than was her one at the shelter, and she'll get much more attention.  Hard as it was for me to let her out of my sight, I was quite confident that they would take good care of her and that she is in good hands.

I still can't believe that we've found her!  I cannot overstate my gratitude to Sam Connelly - pet tracker extraordinaire whose track record (so to speak) in recovering lost dogs for A Forever-Home is now 100% - and to A Forever-Home.  For those of you who do not already know, AFH did not take Olivia on until after she was already lost.  I had drained my savings paying for search expenses and tracks and could not continue to fund the search adequately.  AFH stepped in and offered to pay for the search no matter how much and how long it would take.  They have devoted copious amounts of resources to finding Olivia.  I have never encountered and can hardly imagine a more generous, committed rescue.  (A little shameless plug:  if you want to contribute to Olivia's vet bills or help AFH save other dogs, they are always accepting contributions.

Thank you all so much for your help and encouragement throughout the search.  Through our combined efforts - Sam, AFH, the volunteers, the sight-ers, people watching out and spreading the word, and even just those hoping, praying, and rooting for Olivia - and some last-minute luck, we achieved this amazing, triumphant, miraculous result!

Long live Livvie!