Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shameless maternal plug

My good friend Kim Campbell Thornton's monthly MSNBC column, "Creature Comforts," currently highlights a growing trend: college students who take their pets with them -- and those who would like to, but realize they shouldn't. In the latter category is my daughter, Julie Chappell, who Kim interviewed for this article -- which is here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pooch politicking

In today's Washington Post, Western Carolina University psychology professor Hal Herzog attempts to make a case for geographical balance in Presidential appointments, and argues that such a balancing effort should include the Obamas' ongoing search for a new dog.

To be sure, Herzog falls prey to the mainstream media's ongoing temptation to cutesy-poo the new First Family's acquisition of a canine family member, not to mention most matters pet-related. That said, he illuminates two not-so-well known issues: that spay-neuter campaigns have worked a lot better than is generally realized in the northern half of the United States, but that plenty of adoptable pets languish in animal shelters across the southern half.

Because of this imbalance, says Herzog, "the animal rescue group in my rural North Carolina county ships 200 dogs a year up to shelters in Connecticut, where they find loving homes with
dog-craving suburbanites. And that's small potatoes. Since 2004, the Rescue Waggin' program operated by PetSmart, the national chain of pet product superstores, has transported 20,000 abandoned dogs from states such as Tennessee and Kentucky to places where they are snapped up by grateful owners. "

The rest of the essay is here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

One solution to separation anxiety

Today's Washington Post featured a great piece about Kelly Reichardt, director of the film "Wendy and Lucy." The film, which stars Michelle Williams and Reichardt's own dog, Lucy, details what happens when someone loses her already precarious grip on economic viability and "she finds herself in a sudden free fall."

The article notes that Reichardt cast Lucy not only in this movie, but also in her previous effort, "Old Joy." Why? According to Reichardt, "she's a great dog but she can never be left alone."

Here is the entire article, which admittedly is much less about Lucy than about, as Reichardt asks, what happens if "you have no safety net, you have a nothing education, you don't have family support and certainly there's no trust fund."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Requiem for a dog lover

American artist/icon Andrew Wyeth died early this morning at the age of 91.

Although he was best known for his paintings of human beings like Helga Testorf, Christina Olson, Anna Kuerner and Karl Kuerner, Wyeth also painted a significant number of dogs. Some of those dogs were his own: for example, a yellow Lab named Rattler appears in Wyeth's 1960's famous painting "Master Bedroom" (a print of which hangs here in my office) as well as "Distant Thunder," "The Ides of March," and "After the Chase." Another dog, Nell Gwyn, appears in several paintings Wyeth created in the 1970's.

But among Wyeth's canine muses, the most haunting may be Jack, the dog portrayed in Wyeth's late 1950's painting, "Raccoon." In that painting, a stoic-looking dog sits quietly while chained to a wall. To create the painting, Wyeth approached Jack the way he approached other subjects: he befriended the dog (with the owner's permission) and spent as much time with him as possible. Eventually, Wyeth bought the dog before he and his family left for their annual summer stay in Maine. The now-former owner agreed to keep Jack for the summer, with the understanding that Wyeth would pick up the dog in the fall when the family returned to their Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, homestead.

Unfortunately, Wyeth never got the chance to do that. The former owner killed Jack while the Wyeths were in Maine.

Years ago, I wanted to write an article about Wyeth and his canine muses. Alas, that was not to be: the Wyeths did not wish to participate in the project and would not give permission for any paintings to be reproduced in the article --and without the paintings, it wouldn't be much of a story (perhaps the same could be said for this blog post, but as the Blogger-in-Chief here, I don't much care).

If there is a place called Heaven, I hope Jack was there to greet Wyeth this morning.

Here is the Washington Post's obituary for Wyeth.

Cesar Millan, Part Gazillion

Two big paws up to Seattle, Washington, TV reporter Joel Moreno for his report on Cesar Millan's recent visit to that city. As Dr. Jim Ha, animal behaviorist, notes, Millan's so-called training methods produce "learned helplessness" and redirected aggression in dogs -- hardly the stuff of a trusting, loving relationship. Indeed, as Ha continues, Millan's methods turn the dog into "a ticking time bomb."

The full report is here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Never turn your back on rambunctious puppies, or why I have a fat ring finger

That title got your attention, didn't it?

The story is this: I took Allie to Dunn Loring Park today for some much needed exercise, and we encountered a very mannerly guy with two gorgeous young male Boxers. The Boxers wanted to play with Allie, who wanted to play only with me and her ball, thank you very much. Nevertheless, all was going well: owner and I were talking dogs, all three dogs were interacting nicely, when suddenly I felt myself hit from behind in the backs of my legs and went flying. Backwards. Onto my head. Onto the ground.

I lay there for a minute while the guy was manfully trying not to hyperventilate. Yes, I said, I think I'm okay -- give me a minute. I took the minute, sat up slowly, took Allie's leash, walked with her from the park and then drove us home. At home, I got into bed and submitted to the attentions of my concerned husband, who is home this week recovering from hernia repair surgery. I spent the rest of the afternoon napping.

The whole time -- from my flip to the ground to the time I woke up from nap -- Allie never left me.

The finger? Apparently I sprained it when I put my arm out to cushion my fall. It's a little bruised and a tad swollen but still somewhat mobile. If I were making an obscene gesture with that finger instead of my middle finger, said gesture would be most impressive.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Good reads

Clearly a lot of people, clueless and otherwise, are seeing the movie Marley and Me; the flick was box-office champ for the second consecutive weekend. I only wish that the clueless members of the audience would read this press release from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

And I wish that a lot of other well-meaning individuals would read this great piece about the realities of rescue by a veteran, Phyllis DeGioia, on Pet Connection's blog.

And finally, check out this thought-provoking report by Rebecca Skloot in yesterday's New York Times magazine on how today's assistance animals aren't necessarily dogs.