Thursday, February 25, 2010

What my friend sent me

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a link to a website for a person who sells, ahem, miniature Golden Retrievers. Upon viewing the site, "I thought of your blog," she said.

Oh, how well she knows me.

She knows, for example, that I will be wanting to tear out my admittedly very short locks over not only the fact that this individual appears to have at least five different litters of Golden Retriever mixes available now, but also takes deposits before any "matings" even occur. As for training advice, this individual not only highly recommends that buyers acquaint themselves with the videos of this trainer, but also goes out of their way to differentiate that trainer from this trainer, who is probably far more knowledgeable.

But, in the interest of maintaining my coiffure, I'm going to keep my hands off my head. Instead I would pose the following questions to this individual -- and, in fact, to any individual who engages in similar enterprises:

1. What steps have you taken to guarantee the health of your puppies? Have the parents' hips and elbows been certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals? Have their eyes been checked by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation? Since Goldens are involved in your breedings, have you had a veterinary cardiologist evaluate the parents' hearts? (Goldens are subject to an often deadly condition called subaortic stenosis.)

2. Have you stopped to consider whether a trainer who specializes in what appear (at least on TV) to be abusive dog handling techniques -- is suitable for any dog, much less a fragile, impressionable puppy? Have you also considered whether a trainer whose techniques are opposed by many in the scientific community is the best choice for those who purchase your dogs?

3) Have you actually investigated the work of the trainer whom you seek to differentiate your preferred trainer from?

4) Although you say that some of your dogs are registered with the American Kennel Club, would you perhaps care to elaborate on why you are now using this registry instead? (I can guess, but your explanation would be interesting.)

Just wonderin' ....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dialogue? Maybe. Transparency? Absolutely!

I'm all for establishing a dialogue between disagreeing parties, if such a dialogue can be truly constructive. Living in the Washington DC area, I haven't seen too much of that lately. Sometimes I wonder if civility, bipartisanship, and commonality are concepts that will sooned be labeled "archaic" by most dictionaries.

Which is why I sat up and took notice when I got an email from my good friend and colleague, Steve Dale, about an upcoming symposium between American Humane and "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan. The idea of such a symposium is surprising, given the brouhaha that resulted when Millan incorrectly stated last December that American Humane representatives had visited the set of NatGeo's The Dog Whisperer and, consequently, had endorsed his methods. (Later, a spokesman for Millan amended that assertion to say that the ASPCA, not American Humane, had visited the set.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm no fan of Cesar Millan. I don't doubt that he's sincere in his desire to help dogs. But, with the exception of his oft-stated belief that dogs don't get enough exercise, I find his pronouncements and methods to be anachronistic and potentially dangerous. I'm certainly not alone in that assessment; here is just one trainer's eloquent explanation of why she believes his methods don't work.

So, is a true dialogue possible? I honestly don't know. I would, however, urge American Humane to be as transparent as possible regarding the preparations for the symposium and to open that symposium to the press and public. Let journos and dog lovers alike know where and when the symposium will be and who will be speaking, in addition to Millan. Let anyone who wishes to attend hear for themselves what all the speakers have to say. And, above all, let those who attend serve as a reality check if, for some reason, any speaker later attempts to spin the proceedings in a manner that doesn't accurately reflect what actually occurred.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pleasure amid predictability

To nobody's surprise, Sadie the Scottish Terrier won Best in Show at the 134th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last night. But while Sadie's victory seemed pretty much a foregone conclusion -- despite the valiant efforts of David Frei and his colleague to inject some suspense into the proceedings -- I found plenty of pleasure amid the predictability.

For one thing, I did get a real charge out of finding out that my Allie and the Golden Retriever BOS winner, a dog named Chaos, share a grand-sire. Speaking of which, similarly star-struck Golden and Lab owners should check out a great website called Just type in the name of the dog you're interested in and voila! if the dog's been entered into the site's database, you can see a pedigree that extends back five generations. You can even search the database by call name instead of registered name. That said, using a common call name may bring you more results than you care to deal with. For example, when I typed in "Allie," I got 77 hits. Some of the AKC registered names for all these Allies are unforgettable, though. There's:

-- Ducat's Tin Pan Allie;
-- Malagold's Tornado Allie;
-- Summit Heritage C U Later Alligator; and
-- Sweet Allie Oop

to name just a few. I can only imagine how these dogs' owners arrived at some of these names (is there an article here?).

Not so surprising but still incredibly enjoyable was watching Westminster BIS judge Elliott Weiss do his thing last night. I first saw Weiss about 10 years ago, when I was covering Westminster for a couple of publications. He was serving as the judge for a preliminary Junior Showmanship competition. I was impressed with how very patient he was with the kids, some of whom were visibly and understandably nervous, and how gentle he was in pointing out their mistakes.

Later, when I wrote a profile of English Setters for the AKC Gazette, I had the good fortune to encounter Weiss via email. He not only is a devotee of English Setters, but has also judged them in the show ring. Here's how he described to me his experience with a legendary English Setter named Hadji:

"He possessed attributes not worded in the breed standard. Not only was he a wonderful example of the breed, but he had a persona no words could capture. He would carry himself into a show ring and defy you not to look at him. He was one of those rare creatures that indeed seemed to command the world around him. He was above all else a great statesman for the breed of English Setters."

When someone speaks of a dog who's not his own with that kind of eloquence and affection, those who are listening can't help but take pleasure in the person's description. And in Weiss's case, one can not only forgive him making a predictable judgment (I really did like this dog better, but what do I know?); one can even concede that maybe, just maybe, he made the right call.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Thanks to Rochelle Lesser of Land of Pure Gold Foundation for finding this highly appropriate video:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

To re-cap ...

On this extremely snowy day (three feet of the white stuff, to be exact --in northern Virginia!), I want to talk about something that has everything to do with writing but nothing to do with dogs: the art of writing re-caps of television episodes.

A good television re-cap should inspire you to forward it to your friends with a spew alert warning -- as in if you read this while drinking anything you will spew out the beverage and short out your computer keyboard. A re-cap should elicit loud, guffawing laughter from the reader. And if it's really good, it'll make the reader think -- or at least see the episode in question in a whole new way.

Good re-caps come from independent sources: we're not talking here about the episode summaries you see on the networks' websites for their own shows. One can, for example, learn what's happened on last night's episode of "24" by reading the recounting of said episode on Fox's website. But such recaps don't cause you to chortle, nor are they thought-provoking. They play it completely straight and, as such, lack two elements that are crucial togreat TV episode re-capping: snarkiness and good comic riffing.

Snarkiness is especially important. Take, for example, Jeff Jensen's discussion on Entertainment Weekly of how the character of Kate on Lost has grown on him:

"Now, to be clear, I've grown to appreciate Kate over the years. In the beginning, I couldn't quite reconcile the young ingĂ©nue with the shampoo commercial hair with the scrappy fugitive/jungle cat tomboy Lost wanted her to be ... . But over time, as the character gained detail and damage, and as the actress grew in confidence and experience, Kate has become credible and compelling. ''What Kate Does'' — evenly divided between its Sideways vision of an early Kate that struggled to capture my imagination and the Island Kate I've grown to respect — only reminded me of my ambivalence for her. Especially when she was in shampoo commercial mode."

Jensen's sniping about Kate's hair not only is wonderfully catty/snarky but also is a sideways reference to the fact that the actress who portrays her, Evangeline Lilly, has moved from starring on a hit TV series to shucking for drugstore cosmetics mainstay L'Oreal. (and no, I'm not knocking L'Oreal. It just seems a step downward from Lilly's been doing.)

Then, there's comic riffing. Such writing in re-caps looks easy; the reader feels as though she's having a good gab-fest with a very funny friend. But in truth, such writing is difficult, because you can't always count on your inner humor machine to supply you with funny stuff, particularly when you need it the most. Good re-capping somehow always comes up with perfect comic riffs and tangents or at least humorous one-sentence asides, such as in this Television Without Pity re-cap of a recent episode of Shear Genius:

"Time for the rulings: Kim's bottom three are Adee's dated look, April's no real change, and Brian's nearly blinded client. His top three are Jon, Matthew, and Janine. Kim needs to get better at giving some positive feedback so that we could predict these things, but those three girls do all look good. The winner turns out to be Matthew, and while I'm not a big Brig fan, I will give her credit for smiling and totally admitting that her plan backfired completely. "

In short, good re-capping is snarky, laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes even thought-provoking. Here are some recapping sites that consistently meet those standards:

Television Without Pity
Entertainment Weekly
Celebritology (for Jen Cheney and Liz Kelly's great dueling analyses of Lost)
What Alan's Watching (recaps from Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Ledger)
The TV Column (for recaps of American Idol by Washington Post TV columnist Lisa deMoraes. No one, but no one does snark as well as she does.)

We now return to our regularly scheduled dog-related programming.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A credibility problem

I'm always happy to see a company at least try to be responsive to the needs of those of us who love and live with dogs, cats, and other pets. So I applaud Bissell, a manufacturer of floor and carpet cleaning products, for attempting to spread the word about its wares to those of us who want not only to live with animals, but to do so in reasonably clean surroundings.

That said, I think the company needs to have a conversation with its ad agency about establishing credibility within its target demographic. Specifically, the company might want to gently explain that a doggie day care is waaaay different from an in-home day care for human infants and toddlers.

Take a look at this commercial:

I rest my case.

And either way, I can't imagine either a human day care or a doggie day care located in a single room with light beige carpets. I don't care how good a carpet cleaning product the operator has -- those carpets will be the color of mud in a matter of months. Trust me.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Making a list, checking it twice

  • Full gas tanks in all cars: check.
  • Nine days worth of groceries stashed away: check.
  • Husband safely at home and not on the roads: check.
  • Plentiful supply of beverages: check.
  • Netflix movie delivered: check.
  • Stack of new books on my nightstand: check.
  • Roaring fire in the fireplace: check.
  • Golden Retriever curled up at my feet: check.

I can deal with snow now -- even 30 inches. Maybe yesterday's Snowmageddon forecast induced this reaction in some Washingtonians, but today we're hunkered down, calm and cozy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Snow days

About this time seven years ago (give or take a week or so), northern Virginia and the rest of the DC metro area got hammered by a monster snowstorm that shut the schools down for approximately a week. Snow plows were no-shows, and the NoVA 'burbs were in a state of not-so-splendid snowed-in isolation. This was the environment in which I was raising and attempting to housetrain Allie, who was then about 3 months old.

We went on walks -- long, long walks in which we clambered over snow piles, scrambled up snow-covered embankments, and played a little fetch on a deserted tennis court from which at least some snow had melted, thanks to a daily dose of morning sunlight. I was desperate to get my active puppy some consistent exercise, if only to calm her down enough to be receptive to my teaching her some basic good manners. Housetraining was also slow going, because neither Allie nor I was all that keen on going outside to do her business. Even though I knew better, there were times when I was sure that neither that winter nor her puppyhood would ever end.

Now, Allie is a relatively dignified seven-year-old -- a fact for which I've been particularly grateful this winter. That's because we've had one pre-Christmas blizzard, two moderate snowstorms, and are forecast to get another whopper this coming weekend. The snow and accompanying cold have kept Allie and me from our usual outdoor haunts and strenuous activity. But unlike seven years ago or even a year or two ago, Allie's not going crazy over the lack of such exercise and outdoor adventures, and her bathroom manners have long been impeccable. My puppy-girl has grown up.

That doesn't mean Allie's content to snooze away these snow days, or any other days. But instead of trekking around outdoors as we did when she was a puppy, she's happy when we play indoors. Our indoor shenanigans include fetch-the-treat games that require her to run up and down the stairs, tug-of-war and ladylike wrestling. And lately, I've been teaching Allie to "say her prayers." (Those of you who know my religious views--or, more accurately, my lack thereof -- have my permission to laugh or at least appreciate the irony of this effort.) This maneuver consists of Allie sitting on the floor and placing her front legs atop the seat of a chair. We're coming along well with this, and I love how she instantly materializes at my side when I pick up the clicker.

Every snowy foot we trudged, every snow pile we negotiated, every undignified spill I took ... they were all worth it to get to this point: of everyday enjoyment, of two-way communication, of love and appreciation and laughter. And yes, I'll still think that when we take a walk tomorrow or the next day and she reverts to puppy-like behavior, such as trying to play tug-of-war with her leash. These days I don't fight her on that; I laugh. Because not only has Allie grown up -- I have, too.