Feeling safe with Tourette’s.
Zoe has Tourette’s syndrome, her brother has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Both have been bullied and traumatized in their public school experience. They are now home-schooled and their mother, Shauna Rowley, describes them as “PTSD survivors.” Both of her children have been assaulted, she says, which drove them into isolation.
“My son went into a very dark place, he stopped communicating with human beings, stopped hanging out with friends … and turned to drugs. Zoe, she couldn’t sleep alone for close to a year.”
A conventional intervention for so much childhood trauma might be years of talk therapy, psychotropic drugs, maybe institutional care. But what the Rowleys decided they really needed was a dog.
“My son was sort of looking for a dog,” says Shauna. “It was kind of a rough year with social relationships, and life in general, and he really wanted that companionship. We weren’t exactly looking for a dog, we were just seeing what was out there. And then we saw her.”
“Her” is Ladybird, an incongruous name for a 56-pound pit bull-boxer mix, and not the first dog they looked at. They’d gone out of town, seen a few other prospects, mostly what Zoe calls “little rat-faced Chihuahua things.”
And then, right before closing time, the Rowleys walked into Pets Lifeline in Sonoma, and saw Ladybird.
“She came up to us immediately,” says Shauna. “She put her little nose right up against the fence and leaned against it to get as close as possible. I told my husband, ‘We have to get this dog.’”
Another family had expressed an interest, but when they didn’t show up, Ladybird became a Rowley. “It was absolutely meant to be,” says Shauna.
You’d never know it today, watching her race wildly around the cul de sac outside their home, but Ladybird was a damaged dog. A former owner reportedly abused her and tossed her off the Verano Avenue bridge over Sonoma Creek. “She had some pretty serious hip issues,” says Shauna, “and they asked if we wanted to take a dog that might have medical issues. But I just let my intuition take the wheel and I’m like, ‘We’ll take her.’”
It was the beginning of a family transformation.
“I call her my “little fur angel,” because I just see how she brings such light into our house, and I’ve seen such a huge healing with her presence with both of my kids.”
Ladybird started out as a primary companion for Shauna’s son and became, she says, “a huge part of his sobriety.” In time, Ladybird grew closer to Zoe and the results of their relationship have been magical.
Tics—defined as sudden, intermittent movements or sounds—are the hallmark of Tourette’s syndrome and a frequent object of derision and bullying from children who don’t understand the disorder.
“With Ladybird, it’s really special,” says Zoe. “I never thought anyone wanted to be my friend because I was, like, weird for my tics and stuff. But she doesn’t care, and, actually, she tips her head when I do my weird squeak. She’s made my life a lot happier. I’m not depressed anymore. It’s nice to have a friend. And I can finally sleep at night because, before, I was just too scared. She’s like my secret keeper. I can tell her things I don’t want other people to know, and she understands them. Sometimes she even responds back with this weird little whine.”
Ladybird is now 3½, still a puppy at heart, likes to snuggle under the covers but, says Zoe, “when we’re sleeping sometimes she kicks me out of bed with her feet.” She also climbs trees, likes to climb into Shauna’s lap, and has learned to talk—sort of.
“She does this weird growly-talkie thing,” says Shauna, “so we decided to try to teach her to say, ‘I love being a Rowley.’ So she went, ‘Aaooooh ooouuuleyyy.’ It sounded just like what I said. It was crazy. She’s really, really smart. She understands English, she understands emotions. She’s incredibly sensitive. And Ladybird makes Zoe feel safe,”
Axel has his own T-shirt.
If Dave Allen hired a six-figure marketing firm to come up with a promotional plan for driving public attention to his Artefact Design & Salvage, he’d never find a better idea than the 50-pound English bulldog who regularly greets visitors with a five-gallon plastic bucket gripped in his teeth and challenges them to a tug-of-war.
The dog’s name is Axel (deliberately misspelled, as is the business name), he’s “a very good example of the breed,” says Allen, and he’s fixated on 5-gallon buckets. “First he was dragging around a 55-gallon drum, but he soon settled on the 5-gallon bucket. At home, he wakes me up in the morning and has to go out and play with his bucket. He’ll go four hours if I don’t make him come in for breakfast.”
Artefact is the biggest and oldest tenant at Cornerstone Sonoma, with enough outdoor space to store giant statues, enormous stone basins, industrial remnants, a line of massive, Allen-designed tables and unique collectibles from his periodic travels around the world. Axel, now eight years old, tours the display yard like a living gargoyle. There are, of course, T-shirts on sale with Axel’s wrinkled visage. Allen has sold hundreds, and, he says, “Throngs of people come into the store just for Axel.”
Allen is partial to English bulldogs (he’s had three) and for Axel he found an Oregon breeder he gave him the pick of the litter.
“I lay on the floor and I said, ‘OK, let ‘em out,’ and they swarmed all over me, but Axel stayed with me, he kept coming back, licking my face. He basically picked me.”
Allen didn’t know what to call the dog until he was watching the Eddie Murphy film, “Beverly Hills Cop” on TV and seized on the name of Murphy’s character, “Axel Foley.” It is, he explains, “a very satisfying name to shout when you’re mad; it’s only two syllables.”
Axel Allen is on site at Artefact Design & Salvage at various times most days of the week.
And has a taste for fishhooks.
Koa is a chocolate Lab from Glen Ellen, sharing a house with Tom and Meg Sokoloski and—very importantly—a swimming pool.
Koa is also the largest native tree in the Hawaiian Islands, its wood a deep vivid reddish brown, and the word means, “strong, bold and fearless.” Which fits neatly with the heritage of a Labrador retriever, a breed developed in England with genetic roots in Newfoundland and well adapted to water.
As Labradors became a popular breed, black Labs were overwhelmingly preferred, second in preference were yellow Labs, but brown (or chocolate) Labs—sometimes referred to as liver-colored—were devalued and frequently culled. No more.
Chocolate Labs have come into their own, especially in the U.S. where, in the personification of Koa, they reveal a more nuanced color palette that suggests a deeply soulful interior.
The water thing didn’t exactly fit Koa when Tom brought him home as a young pup and set him loose in the backyard.
“He ran around and around and around,” remembers Tom, “and I didn’t even think about the pool. All of a sudden he goes, boop, right into the pool and straight to the bottom.”
Their son Paul was standing nearby and jumped in to make a rescue the Sokoloskis feared would give Koa a phobia for pools. Not to worry. A day rarely goes by now when Koa is not in the pool, and he has mentored the swimming careers of various neighborhood dogs. Says Meg, “My friend has a dog that would not go into the pool. Never. He came over here, stood and watched Koa swim around, he was like ‘hmmm,’ and then he’d put a couple of feet in, then a little bit more, and now they can’t keep him out of their pool.”
Another of Koa’s useful skills is newspaper retrieval from the end of their long driveway. “When he was about three months old,” explains Meg, “Koa walked out with me to get the paper, and then I started handing it to him and he would carry it up, and I’d give him a little treat. Pretty soon it got to the point where I just told him, ‘Go get the paper,’ and he would go down, pick it up and bring it right back. These days he stops to visit with a neighbor, and once he brought back the Wall Street Journal, which we don’t get.”
Koa has a privileged seat by the kitchen window (literally his own chair) where he sits, sometimes for an hour, waiting for Meg or Tom to come home.
And he is the beneficiary of a medical miracle, after eating a sardine-baited fishhook while Tom was angling in the Sonoma Slough. “He sat there looking for some more,” says Tom. “I started pulling on it a little bit and it’s not coming out. So, I was kind of freaked out.”
Tom rushed Koa to an emergency vet with the line still sticking out of his mouth. The vet couldn’t get the hook out and was talking about serious surgery when Tom suggested trying a section of breathing tube used for pumping stomachs. They slid the tube down the line into Koa’s stomach, managing to dislodge the hook and pull it out. “Even though I told them how to do it, they still charged me $400.”
While the price stung, Meg and Tom are very clear—Koa Sokoloski was worth every dime.
Story & Photos David Bolling
In my 20s the Universe had not yet prepared me for parenthood, so instead I was delivered a dog.
He was a German Shepherd, a creature I hadn’t fully realized I wanted or needed, but one week into a life-changing leap off the edge of everything that was familiar and at least relatively secure, a week after landing in California to test the wisdom of an entrepreneurial adventure that I thought would finally define me or destroy me, I met Pablo.
He was part of a litter of five pups being offered for free by a young couple whose looks and apparent lifestyle embodied every cliché of the California hippy era. It was 1973, and they were drifting, it seemed, wherever the New Age energy drove them. Their beautiful female shepherd had deposited them briefly in Santa Rosa just long enough to wean her brood and let them go.
I first needed a place to keep a dog while I searched for a place to live, and when I later went to the West County farm where the couple were camping, I was told that the male dog I had subconsciously coveted for its classic, black and tan shepherd coloration, was already taken. My dog, I was told, was the sable-colored pup, possibly a runt.
When I picked him up I was frozen with uncertainty. This wasn’t the dog I had imagined taking home. He wasn’t, I suppose, Rin Tin Tin, the star of 27 Hollywood films, or any of his black and tan successors. His coat was golden, only his ears and snout were black.
“Do you want him,” someone asked me impatiently, “or not?” There were people lined up for a dog.
I took him, he crawled under the seat of my Volkswagen, and whined all the way home.
His name took a while to float up into view, like the answer in a Magic 8 Ball, but almost immediately after Pablo Casals died on October 22, thus cementing the legend of the Three Pablos, I knew that had to be his name. Pablo Neruda, my favorite poet, had died a month earlier, and Picasso had died in April. It was an auspicious year for heroic passage.
I bought a book and built a pen and within a few months he was adequately obedient in every way but one. He wouldn’t stay in the wire and wood enclosure. I kept raising the walls and he kept going over, leaving telltale stomach hairs to mark his point of escape. Day after day for weeks I would come home to find him outside the fence wagging his tail expectantly. Night after night I raised the walls while he studied my work with flagrant interest. I finally realized he was using the limbs of an adjacent redwood tree to flail his way over a 12-foot-high, sheer plywood face. So I gave up and took him with me to the office each day, a routine that lasted most of his long life. My architectural defeat brought us closer somehow, not just for the time we spent together but because it made me give more attention to who he was and what he knew, which was, I discovered, a lot. Early in his escape-prone adolescence he was either hit by a car or kicked by a horse. I never found out what caused his injuries, which included the smashed tip of his elegant tail. The vet said he needed to remove at least two or three vertebrae from Pablo’s tail to get enough skin the cover the wound. Otherwise he said, the wound would stay open, he would chew on it, infection would enter and he might lose his whole tail. I refused the verdict, concocted instead a tubular sheath with a screw cap on the end, through which I repeatedly daubed antiseptic ointment, and while he constantly chewed at it, each section of tube lasted two or three days. It took a few months, but each application of ointment and replacement tube became an intimate exchange to which he seemed to submit gratefully. In time the tail healed and it now felt like a shared appendage.
Pablo intuited and understood my moods and adapted his behavior to match, like few humans I’ve ever known. He was ready for a run at the drop of a shoe, and seemed to know when we were going before I did. When I became a whitewater river guide, I bought him a lifejacket and he loved the thrill of big rapids, anticipating each approaching drop by spreading his feet in a fierce crouch.
We traveled all over the west together and frequently into Baja, where he once sprawled out in a desert pool that turned out to be tar, not water. The hours it took me to clean him formed another, memorably intimate experience of trust and surrender—he to me and me to him.
Acupuncture and massage slowed the inevitable deterioration of his hips, but in the summer of his 14th year I knew we were running out of time. He became incontinent, had to sleep outside where the yellow jackets tormented him and I finally understood I was keeping him alive for me, not for him. I dug a backyard grave beside Sonoma Creek, tears flooding my face. The vet came and, with silent grace, shaved a small patch on Pablo’s leg, made the injection and left. I felt his life ebb away in my arms and he was gone. I’ve been around death enough to know how it feels, but I’ve never experienced a passing as simple and pure as Pablo’s.
One of the greatest gifts is to share the full life of a dog.
Soft in the head but a demon on the dance floor.v
His name is Bob, he’s a classic Chihuahua mix, a pretty good dancer (prefers salsa and cha cha) and a friendly personality, with one small but significant defect. There’s a soft spot in the top of Bob’s head where the skull never fully closed. It’s called a “molera” and is not uncommon in Chihuahuas.
Which means extra care must be taken that Bob doesn’t bash his head into hard objects, or that other dogs (and people) don’t bash him.
Bob’s owner, Mary Ann McCullough, an adoption specialist at Pets Lifeline, tried to find or adapt a helmet for Bob but his canine cranium was just too small. So she came up with the next best thing, a bubble backpack with a protective, clear plastic window, giving Bob a spaceship view of the world. Now, when Bob’s not doing the two-foot two-step, he’s looking out on the world through his own private bubble.