Monday, May 31, 2010

A sign of peace

I was raised as a Catholic, but am no longer practicing. Nevertheless, when I visit my mom--as Stan, Allie and I did this past weekend--I occasionally attend Mass with her. Masses at my mom's church actually can be somewhat enjoyable, even to me, because one of the frequent attendees is a visually impaired woman with her service dog, a male Golden Retriever who looks a lot like Allie.

The woman and her dog were there yesterday, and a gesture she made actually brought tears to my eyes. There is a point in the Mass where the priest directs the members of the congregation to offer "a sign of peace" to each other. Generally this consists of shaking the hands of the people of surrounding you in your pew and saying something like "peace be with you." The woman, however, chose to take that moment to bend down, give her dog some strokes and whisper something in his ear. I have no idea what she actually said, of course, but I'd like to think that she was thanking him for his service to her.

And speaking of thanks and service and peace: today is Memorial Day, so it's a good time to thank those who serve our country overseas--be they servicemen, service women, or military service dogs.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost and found, or the morning after

Until recently, Allie hasn't been much of a literal couch potato. When I watch TV, she's usually nearby on the floor at my feet or on a little fleece rug next to the fireplace. But lately, she's been hopping up onto the couch where I'm sitting, with my permission. Once she's on the couch, she'll generally curl up in one of the corners and snooze awhile--unless she needs a potty break or thinks it's time for her dinner, in which case she'll paw me and/or stare at me.

But last night was different.

Last night, I gave myself over to the finale of that sci-fi/spirituality mash-up known as Lost, which certainly lived up to the hype that had preceded it (rare for a series finale. Case in point: The Sopranos.) Not everything about Lost's denouement was perfect, but at a number of intervals, I certainly cried. The whole thing was very emotional--and, on an emotional level, was wholly satisfying. And part of that emotional satisfaction was that during a good chunk of the two-and-a-half finale, Allie was not only on the couch but was stretched out next to me with her head in my lap.

I've always loved the Jungian idea of animals serving as spiritual guides--and while I'm not ready to say that watching Lost last night was a spiritual experience, it was really good to have Allie there with me while I was undergoing my various stages of emotional catharsis.

By the time the episode was over, Allie had gone upstairs to bed. But I was still very happy from having had her there with me like that for awhile. That happiness doubled when I saw the final scenes of the episode: our hero Jack finally letting go, finally able to cross over to the other side, looking skyward to see the plane carry his friends away--and with Vincent the dog by his side. That's the image staying with me now, the morning after.

Pictured above: Madison, the dog who portrayed Vincent on Lost.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The $1,600 dog

Today's "44" blog on the The Washington Post's website contains an interesting bit of information from President Obama's financial disclosure forms: that the value of Bo, the Portuguese Water Dog given to the Obama family by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his wife, was $1,600.

My first reaction was that Bo's reported monetary value makes an interesting parallel to his current street address. My second reaction was, "Oh God, people are gonna be bellyaching about this." The comments to the article have borne out my prediction, although the range of idiocy in the comments is breathtaking. Some examples:

-- "This is a white man's dog. It's a Kennedy dog ... Obama thinks he's white."

-- "Remember how the Washington Post dutifully reported that Obama was getting a "rescue dog ? Yeah, right. This is just standard operating procedure for Obama."

-- "Obama didn't really need a dog. He already had a lap dog in the White House press corps."

-- "I wonder why O would claim 1600 for the dog when it was a gift? Why would the taxpayers pay for the dogs food, if in fact that is where the 1600 comes from? "

-- "Obama couldn't find an animal shelter with a map, much less adopt an animal in need of a home. Instead his buddies went to a breeder for one of their 'genetically pure' dogs. "

You get the idea. That said, I was also pleasantly surprised by the intelligence of some of the other comments:

-- "There's nothing wrong with adopting a purebred dog, people ... I have no problem with people who adopt from shelters. I think that's great. But simply put, a lot of people aren't comfortable adopting a dog when they have no idea what kind of personality or temperament it will have. Never mind all of the different kinds of psychological or emotional baggage the dog might have as a result of previous owners/living in a shelter."

-- "The Obamas' daughters are allergic. Portugese Water Dogs are virtually hypoallergenic. They don't shed. A rescue dog really wasn't an option. "

I don't know which is worse: the unbelievable degree of ignorance among the naysayers, or the fact that I'm surprised that not all of the comments reflect such ignorance.

And for the record, my family and I paid $1,000 for Allie back in 2002. An inflation calculator would put that amount at about $1,185 today. For that amount, we got a healthy puppy with a sound temperament whose parents had passed screenings for genetic diseases, and who'd had the very best of care during those crucial first eight weeks of her life. She was (and even more so today is) worth every penny. But the best defense of buying a dog from a reputable breeder I've ever seen is here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Time passages

(Apologies to Al Stewart)

Lately I've been feeling my age. I can't run on a treadmill anymore without my knees hurting like hell, so I walk very fast and gulp down my Osteo-BiFlex every morning. Running up and down stairs is a thing of the past. And staying up late on Saturday nights to watch SNL is out of the question, even when someone as awesome as Betty White is hosting. (Thank God for Hulu.) How on earth she caroused till 3 a.m. at the afterparty is beyond me.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that Allie, who in dog years is about the same age I am, is slowing up a little bit, too. Just as I take my anti-achey meds, so does she also take hers. A couple of years ago, when I took her for a run, she'd be good for at least 10 or 15 strenuous retrievals of her beloved tennies or Orbee balls. Now, she's more apt to run that hard for 4 or 5 tosses, after which she insists on resting and gumming the ball for awhile before going for a couple more high-speed fetches. Plus, she has far fewer zoomie attacks and, consequently, has become much better at walking on leash. I've longed for the latter ever since she was a puppy -- but now that she's mature enough to actually be a good walking companion, I find myself feeling a little sad.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Garbage can wars

For almost as long as Allie's been with us, she's been an accomplished, not to mention enthusiastic, garbage-can raider.

Our kitchen doesn't have any doors that we can shut to keep her out of that room and away from the garbage can, which is a flip-top. Therefore the only way to keep her out of the garbage can was to put it a corner and turn the front of the can to the wall. That worked for awhile, but then she figured out how wedge her nose into the corner and push the can out from the wall. So we took two barstools and placed them in front of the garbage can, which we then returned to the corner. Soon, thereafter, we saw her easing her head between the legs of the barstool and edging the garbage can out from the corner. Plus, Stan really hated having to remember to position the garbage can and haul out the barstools.

So I came up with what I thought was a genius solution: find something to hold the garbage can lid shut. A month or two ago, I drove to a local toy store and found this nifty device. It's designed to keep refrigerator doors shut and the contents therein out of the reach of curious toddlers, but I figured it would hold a garbage can shut, too.

For awhile I was right. But twice today, I caught Allie wedging her nose underneath the area where the strap goes from the vertical side of the can up and on to the horizontal lid of the can, and then pushing the strap loose. She didn't totally dislodge the strap, but she came close. So at least for now I have:
-- reattached the strap
-- put the garbage can back in the corner and turned it to the wall
-- blocked it off with barstools

On a certain level I admire Allie's ingenuity, not to mention her determination. On the other hand, though, this is getting really old.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Enough, already!

This week, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have featured articles about dealing with canine cancers, and possible ways to prevent their occurrence. The articles center on the WSJ reporter's late, great Golden Retriever, who died of cancer recently. She (the reporter) noted, as did I a few posts back, that Goldens are especially susceptible to cancer, but also points out that other breeds have health issues, too. Examples include Dachshunds, who are vulnerable to back problems; Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, who are at risk for mitral valve disease; and short-nosed breeds like Bulldogs, who may have breathing problems. The authors go on to share suggestions for at least partially counteracting some of the environmental factors that can increase a dog's risk for becoming a cancer statistic.

Not surprisingly, both articles drew a lot of reader comments. Unfortunately, more than a few commenters suggested that people eschew purebred dogs in favor of adopting mixed breeds from animal shelters. These commenters seem to think that by adopting a mixed breed dog, an adopter will dodge the canine cancer bullet.

Don't get me wrong: I think adopting a shelter dog can be wonderful. I've done so myself: my first dog as an adult was a wonderful mixed Poodle named Molly, who lived with me for over 16 years. I have dearly loved every dog I've ever had the privilege of living with, but I speak of Molly as the dog of my soul.

And she died of cancer: specifically, mast cell cancer, one of the most common canine malignancies.

Aside from the fact that mixed breed dogs are certainly vulnerable to cancer and at least some of the other canine ills that beset purebred dogs, I am getting so tired of the contention that opening one's heart and home to a purebred dog denies a home to a shelter dog. I'm sick of the assertion that this is an either/or proposition. I'm as weary of these "dog wars" as I was of the so-called "mommy wars" that raged when my daughter was little.

A woman can be a good mother whether she works outside the home, devotes herself to full-time at-home parenting, or -- as I did -- split the difference by running a home-based business. Similarly, a person can be a committed dog guardian no matter where she acquired her dog: from a reputable breeder, from a rescue group, from a shelter or -- as I did -- split the difference by acquiring a dog from more than one of these sources. (No, I'm not saying that people who buy dogs in pet stores are bad owners -- but, for the purposes of this post, I just don't want to go there).

Rather than focus on the differences in how we got our dogs, can't we simply agree that we want our dogs -- no matter what their breed or mixes -- to live longer, healthier lives? Can't we agree that a discovery regarding cancer in Golden Retrievers holds promise not only for Goldens but for all dogs? Can't we please call a cease-fire to this purebred-vs-mutt conflict and focus more on how we can work together?


Sunday, May 2, 2010

The return of the reader

A paradox of my life as a writer is that I go through periods where I don't want to read any books at all. These periods usually occur when I'm writing a book. Apparently the act of creating a book renders me too spazzed, tired, and/or drained to read, much less appreciate anyone else's literary creation. Instead I turn to Facebook or Twitter or whatever I'm currently obsessed with on television (my current obsession is this show).

So for the next couple of months, when it turns out I'll be writing not one but two books simultaenously, I would have expected to be unable to read more than a short magazine or newspaper article, much less a book. And, in fact, reading's been tough for me over the past several weeks, ever since I started writing my book about Dachshunds. But strangely enough, even though I've agreed to do this second book project even while I'm immersed in all things Doxie, I'm actually emerging from my latest can't-read-a-book phase.

The vehicle for that emergence is a newly compiled collection of short stories by Charlaine Harris that focus on that intrepid barmaid from Bon Temps, Louisiana, Sookie Stackhouse. I love HBO's True Blood, the TV show that's based upon the full-length Sookie novels, and had pretty much devoured (please excuse the poor verb choice here. The books deal with vampires) those novels while I was recovering from surgery last year. But the short stories are a special treat. Harris is an easy writer to read, and short stories, by their very nature, are much more easily digestible to the reading-averse than a full-length novel, much less a work of non-fiction.

Hence, this May-masquerading-as-August Sunday found me in a happy place: ensconced on our living room sofa reading about Sookie's initial encounter with the Queen of Louisiana. Allie lay at my feet, sitting up occasionally to collect some ear scritches and back-of-the-neck strokes. Meanwhile, the chicken I'd put in the oven to roast an hour earlier was starting to smell very good. Contentment abounded.

I know now that I'll be ready to dive into the next novel-length installment of Sookie's adventures, which should arrive here in a couple of days. And the pile of books on my night stand doesn't look so intimidating anymore, which makes me feel very happy. That's not to say, though, that I'm swearing off TV. Not by a long shot.