Back Roads: Animal fixer upper? Dog whisperer?
KELLOGG — Michelle Loechler's business card says she's an "animal foster care provider & consultant."
It's true, but it's bland, it gives no hint at her passion, her drive. Personally, she doesn't give herself any title.
But listening to how she describes herself tells a lot about her: "I'm 33 years old, a woman who grew up in Cook's Valley with horses and dogs, any animal I could get my mitts on. I have always had a passion for animals … My mom and dad were constantly saying you can't have this, you can't take in every stray that comes in." She would spend babysitting money on animal vaccinations.
She found ways of getting around their no-more-pets dictum. "I was the fixer-upper of the animal kingdom."
"Fixer-upper." That sounds a lot better.
And then there's the more common description of the Kellogg woman: "dog whisperer." It means she has a way with dogs, which are her main passion in animals. Loechler can diagnose what's bothering a dog, why it snaps at people or other dogs, why it guards its food so zealously. When the Hiawatha Animal Humane Society needs someone to be a dog psychiatrist, it calls on her.
She enjoys that so much that she wants to be certified to do a safety test for animals that might be placed for adoption. She would work with the animal to make sure it won't bite children or guard its food. Dogs are like people, she said — how they grow up depends on how they were treated.
Recently, a mixed rottweiler/retriever named Brom came to her house along the Zumbro River because it had issues with protecting food.
At first, she used a glove on a stick to pet him on the back moving it toward the head as he was eating. His body stiffened. "It's a big red flag," she said. When she tried to take away its food, he snapped at her.
She began feeding Brom by hand, holding back food if he jumped, rewarding him when he was good. She was going to be the alpha, the leader.
Eventually, she will take away its food bowl to see if Brom reacts. If he behaves, he gets a treat and a "good boy Brom," from her. He seemed to like that.
The hardest part for Loechler will come when her job is done. Then she has to let him go and that will hurt. The woman who was once a girl with a penchant for picking up any strays, has to say good-bye.
"They're like my kids, I love them so much," she said.