Lee Harrington is the author of the best-selling memoir, Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog (Random House, 2006), and of the forthcoming novel, Nothing Keeps a Frenchman from His Lunch.
News: Guest Posts
Book-signing/sales will benefit canine victims
August 21 2010
A few weeks ago, I posted a short notice about a local animal hoarder named Marie Castaldo, who was finally arrested on a variety of charges including animal cruelty. She awaits trial in Riker’s Island and faces seven years in prison. Her trial begins next week.
News: Guest Posts
August 15 2010
I’ve been to many a dog funeral (including a Buddhist sukhavati for my own beloved dog Wallace … and I do plan to write about this someday), but never before have I brought my own dog to a funeral. Not until this week, that is.It wasn’t like Chloe (the dog) was invited. Nor had I planned to bring her, but circumstances were such that I had to rush back to Massachusetts to make it to the service on time, and I had to bring Chloe, because I did not have time to find a sitter. I thought I would be able to leave her in the car during the service, or at least tie her up outside the church, with a dish of water, a marrow bone and a copy of Cat Fancy magazine. But the church had no trees. And it was ninety degrees in the shade. So I really had no choice, right? I must confess I was nervous about this decision. Risk A: The funeral service had already begun by the time I arrived, which meant I risked walking in the wrong door and finding myself at the front of the church instead of the back, thereby revealing to all the mourners my possible lapse in tact, propriety and judgment. Churches are always confusing like that—especially old New England churches, which seem to have dozens of entrances and no signs. Risk B: The funeral was being held at a Catholic church, and, if I recall correctly, Catholics don’t believe that animals have souls, right? So would they allow a being without a soul into their chapels? Would they allow me, a Buddhist who sings Hindu and Sikh chants, and practices Native American ceremonies and believes in One God/dess Many Paths? And who believes that not only do dogs have souls, but that some of them are more advanced than we humans? (I was raised Catholic, by the way, which by Law allows me to poke fun at this institution.) Well, there was only one way to find out. I put Chloe on a close “heel” and entered through the hallowed doors. If lightning stuck, I’d know dogs weren’t allowed at St. Joseph’s. If lightning did not strike, and no clouds parted (revealing a hand pointing its finger of judgment at me a la Michelangelo), well, groovy. Chloe is an exceptionally well-trained, well-behaved dog, by the way. I knew that would work in our favor. Plus, the woman whose funeral mass we were celebrating was a life-long dog lover. As was her husband, who had passed seven months prior. We entered, and found ourselves at the back of the church. Excellent. No one noticed our entrance; the second reading had already begun and people were lost in their own thoughts—of Jane and all the goodness and kindness she had spread through the world. I thought how Chloe was a good and kind being too. I thought of my best high school friend, sitting way up front, mourning the sudden loss of her mother. And of her father. And of her beloved, beloved dog Lydia, who had died in April. My friend had endured a lot of loss in the past seven months. And yet she sat up there with her shoulders straight and her spine erect and poised. She has always been a graceful woman. So was her mother. I said my silent goodbyes to Jane and Bill, and said a few prayers for my friend. I even said a few prayers for my long-departed dog Wallace, and asked him to keep an eye out for Lydia, who still might not be used to life beyond the beyond. As I had this thought, my dog Chloe wagged her tail. And the lightning did not strike. This is when I finally cried—and how good and sweet life can be, and yet so sad at the same time. I guess you can’t have one without the other. Until you leave this world. Death didn’t seem so bad. Neither did life. Not with a dog by your side. Anyway, I am starting to go off on mystical tangents when I am supposed to be writing about my dog. After the service ended, we all stood, and the family filed out of the church, preceded by the priests. The first one swung an urn of incense back and forth, filling the aisles with the scent of frankincense. The second one walked piously, with his hands folded around his Bible. This second priest made a point to make eye contact with all the mourners and because I was at the very back of the church I knew I would be one of the last. My dog stood at my side, partially hidden from view. I worried again what the priest would think—if I had committed some grave cardinal sin. (I would have known this, perhaps, if I had paid attention in Sunday School, but who does that?) I backed up a bit, as if to shield the dog from view. But then she sneezed. Incense does that to her. The second priest looked over, to find the source of the ground-level sneeze, and thereby saw my dog. She wagged her tail at him and moved forward to say hello. He smiled in a kind and loving way. All God’s creatures, I thought. My friend’s entire family smiled too as they passed. And I like to think that my dog brought them some sort of comfort on this day of mourning. That the dog reminded them of their own family dogs, of the dogs their parents had raised and loved. Of love itself. For that is what dogs are: love. On four legs. So in the end, no one complained about the presence of my large furry spaniel. She was even welcomed to come to the post-funeral reception. There, the young grandchildren clambered about her, bringing her water and pieces of fried chicken, rubbing her belly, laughing at the way she squirmed and smiled when she wagged her tail. It was heartwarming, to say the least. Especially when Clara, my friend’s six-year old daughter, said to my friend: “Mommy, Grandma is with Grandpa in heaven now, right?” My friend answered, yes. “And Lydia is there, too?” “Yes, Lydia is there, too.” “Good,” Clara said. And it was good. Clara went over and hugged my dog.
News: Guest Posts
How sound healing can help calm your dog
June 29 2010
For the past few years, I’ve been moonlighting as a sound healer and also a kirtan walla. (Kirtan is a lively form of call-and-response chanting that originated in India thousands of years ago). Because this is a dog-related blog, I won’t go into too much detail about the human benefits of sacred sound and sound healing; suffice to say your dog can benefit too.Back in 1998, before I had even begun to study sacred sound, I happen to notice that certain music had an unusually calming effect on my dog Wallace. (Wallace is my former beloved Spaniel, known to many Bark readers as the star of Rex and the City.) There we were, the dog and I, sitting in our cramped Lower East Side apartment on a swelteringly hot summer night, wishing we were on another planet--one with air conditioning and more reasonable rents--and listening, as a consolation prize, to “New Sounds,” excellent hour-long music program on WNYC radio. The feature CD of that evening was Canticles of Ecstasy by Hildegard Von Bingen, sung by the ensemble Sequentia. Hildegard was a twelfth-century German mystic who began receiving ecstatic visions at age three and was sent to a convent at age eight. There, she began composing angelic canticles, said to have been channeled directly from the Divine. Listen here:
I noticed Hildegard’s magic immediately--not only in the way it seemed to pulse through my body with a pure white light, but in the way my dog reacted. He was a Setter as well as a Spaniel mix, which basically meant that he never stayed still--not even in sleep. He was constantly pacing, sniffing, snuffling, hunting, flushing, pointing, galloping, grunting or, at the very least, panting--in a way that could get annoying in a hot NYC apartment. In his sleep he would woof, flex his paws, twitch his nostrils, and sometimes even groan in frustration--at not ever being able to catch that rabbit, perhaps. But once Hildegard started playing, Wallace actually lay down--he rarely did that. Then he placed his head between his paws and let out a huge, pre-nap sigh. He stretched, one leg at a time, and positioned his body in perfect repose. He knew I was watching him. I often did, because he was so beautiful. And I could tell he was trying to keep his eyes open in that way dogs do, when they want to take a nap but also want to make sure they don’t miss out on anything exciting I might do at any second. But by the third canticle his eyes had lolled back into his head and he was out. An ecstatic trance, perhaps? Would he re-emerge from this slumber speaking in tongues Meanwhile, Sequentia sang Spiritus Sanctus Vivificans Vite, the high soprano notes of ecstasy soaring up to the ceiling. My dog slept an entire hour. His breathing was so deep and slow I could barely see his rib cage moving. He didn’t once twitch or woof. And his muscles were completely relaxed. By the time the program was over, I knew I was on to something. I called my then-husband immediately and suggested he pick up a copy of the CD on his way home from work. Our lives changed after that. We had more freedom to actually leave the apartment once in a while, without having to worry about our overly-anxious dog. Our neighbors got so used to the sound of Quia Ergo Femina Mortem Instruxit drifting sweetly into the hallways that they began to get worried if it wasn’t playing. Wallace’s entire temperament seemed to change--slowly but surely--in the same way my temperament would change, years later, when I myself starting singing and composing my own ecstatic chants. Funny where life leads us. Funny that sometimes we don’t even realize we’re being led. We’re too busy trying to find new ways to improve the lives of our dogs. And in the process, we improve ours. Years later, in 2004, after Wallace had passed and my marriage had disintegrated and I found myself adopting a new dog, Chloe, I brought out the CD again. Chloe had extreme separation anxiety when I first adopted her. In fact, she’d already had five homes in the first six months of her life, because her anxiety was so bad. Inexperienced dog owners simply couldn’t handle her whining, barking, drooling, chewing, escaping, etc... But I knew I could handle her. Because I had experience. And marrow bones. And Hildegard. Within two weeks her separation anxiety had completely vanished. Fast-forward to the present, and here I am with the Calmest Dog on the Planet. Pretty impressive for a Border Collie mix, I’d say. People always ask me: How do you do it? And I give three answers: clicker training, holistic nutrition and sound healing. I’d say, on average, I play sacred music about eight hours each day. I believe this music purifies the space, and creates healing vibrations that re-align both me and my dog on a daily basis. Sound is vibration, and our physical bodies respond to vibration--whether you believe it or not. Fast-paced, frenetic noise will increase our heartbeats and make us feel, well, frenetic. Erratic music will make us feel erratic. But soft, slow, rhythmic music will calm us. Drums beat at certain cycles can lower the blood pressure and induce theta states of mind. You might be saying, “Well, duh, this isn’t rocket science,” but actually it is. Science has now proven that certain sounds have healing effects on certain parts of the body. The yogis and sages have known this for millennia, of course, but it takes these Western doctors a while to catch up with things. Now these Western doctors are witnessing cancerous tumors going into remission from treatments with Tibetan Singing Bowls, and bi-polar patients reaching a point of equilibrium by listening to a sacred gong. So why couldn’t a dog with separation anxiety benefit from soothing music? Why not give it a try? It’s easy and your dog benefits greatly. I swear even my house plants look healthier from the nonstop sacred music. My recommended picks of soothing songs for doggy snoozing are: Canticles of Ecstasy by Sequentia Gong and Singing Bowl Meditation by Scott Kennedy Ultimate Om by Jonathan Goldman Lalitha Ashtrotram by Craig Pruess Atlantean Crystal Temple by Steve Halpern My dog would second these opinions, but she’s currently asleep.
News: Guest Posts
New Yorkers need to take poisoning threat seriously
February 11 2010
New York City dog guardians and their umbrella group NYCdog recently received an URGENT ALERT from Terese Flores, the district manager for New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Apparently someone posted a post on Craiglist, in which he/she which threatened to place poison in all the city’s dog runs. (There are dozens of runs, plus acres of park land on which dogs may run and romp).
Of course, this Craiglist post could be a hoax. But it could be real. Sick, but real. I remember once a man in my childhood neighborhood poisoned our favorite neighborhood dog because the dog kept getting into his trash. So much cruelty, so much rage.
Anyway, the Parks Department has issued a list of precautions:
1. When entering the dog run, please study it carefully BEFORE unleashing your dog.
Those of us with expert-scarfer dogs must be particularly vigilant, because, as we know, these little rascals can scarf up sidewalk food in the blink of an eye.
The link to the threatening Craiglist post itself is not being disclosed, so that officials may investigate properly.
News: Guest Posts
Rule #1: You can’t fake dog love.
March 31 2009
This story comes from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous on the off chance her former blind date reads this. (We are hoping enough time has passed that said Blind Date will no longer be Googling my friend). They didn’t hit it off, you see, because Blind Date committed the unpardonable act of pretending to be a dog person. He knew my friend loved dogs, and he knew my friend was gorgeous, and single, so he lied—all in the name of trying to get into her pants. We are not impressed.
The setting of the story: a holiday party, last December. My friend loves holiday parties, so she readily accepted an invitation from a man she barely knew. She had just moved to a certain rural town near a certain hip city, and had not, to date, made any new friends. She thought this party would be a grand and fun entry into her new life. Plus, the man claimed that he loved dogs.
The evening included bluegrass Christmas music, nutmeggy eggnog spiced with cognac, and cool hippy-types who wore their grey hair long. But let us fast-forward to the moment when Date invited Friend to sit next to him on a sofa near the fire. He patted a cushion, which prompted the host’s dog—a shaggy, little Wheaton-mix—to run over and leap onto the vacant spot. Friend said: “How cute!” Date? He pushed the dog to the floor. Roughly.
As you can imagine, Friend made a decision right then and there never to see Date again. He tried to snuggle with her on the couch, but Friend snuggled with the dog instead. Date repositioned his body on the sofa so that his legs and arms touched Friend’s, but she kept moving further and further away, to the point where she was almost sitting on some fiddle player’s lap.
It was a long night for Friend. She’s typically not a grudge-holder, except when someone roughs up a puppy.
On the drive home, Date—perhaps sensing Friend’s disappointment—tried to regale her with what he thought were amusing dog stories: the time he tried to put his own dog to sleep and it took three days for the poison to kick in; the time a farmer shot his daughter’s dog and how he and the farmer ended up becoming good friends. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but my friend found none of this funny. (Date concluded the evening by telling Friend she had no sense of humor and that she needed to ‘loosen up,’ but that she was still a hot babe and he’d be interested in sleeping with her. I love the ‘but’ part. As if being hot somehow made up for all her perceived character flaws.)
Anyway, quite a few novels and movies have been written about such scenarios—about men who pretend to be dog people just to get into a woman’s pants. But in those fictional accounts, the men usually end up falling in love with the dogs and everyone lives happily ever after. In this case, a true fraud was exposed. But my friend was at least grateful her date had exposed his true self before the relationship progressed any further. Dog love is not something you can fake. So fellas, don’t even try.
News: Guest Posts
How I learned to pack wire-cutters in my pet-care toolbox
January 9 2009
For the New Year, I have resolved to get pet insurance for my dog Chloe, who doesn’t look like a troublemaker or act like a troublemaker, but who has—in the four short years I’ve had her—racked up several thousand dollars in veterinary bills.
I love this dog. But sometimes, in the dead of the night, when I am feeling financially challenged, I ask myself: Can I afford her?
Of course! I’ll always find a way. I am hoping pet insurance will be that way. I have hoped that for some time. It’s just that, for the past few years, I haven’t even been able to afford pet insurance. It’s a cat-and-mouse game for sure—trying to save up enough money for pet insurance, only to blow all that saved money on lacerated paw pads or a swallowed river rock. This is a long topic for another day—one that I am sure millions can relate to—but today I am writing about The Bone.
For, yesterday we had to make another trip to the vet—this time because Chloe had an inch-long marrow bone stuck around her lower jaw.
Yes, yes, it’s my fault for letting her have the bone in the first place. But what dog doesn’t love a good marrow bone? Especially on a blustery Northeast Atlantic day, when the winds are gusting at 60 MPH and the rain sounds like machine-gun fire? What dog doesn’t love a bone when she has been condemned to strictly-limited exercise, meaning three short pee-walks per day, because of a recent rabbit-chasing incident that resulted in a torn ACL and two $250 trips to the vet? My dog Chloe, that’s who.
Yesterday, however, while I was in the kitchen making ginger tea, I heard a yelp, and a helpless little whine, and I rushed into the living room to see what was wrong. There, I found Chloe with the bone-ring lodged around her lower jaw. It was hard not to laugh. She had stopped whining and was looking at me with a completely perplexed expression on her face, with the bone shaping her mouth into a goofy smile. And don’t be mad at me for laughing because everyone who has experienced this tells me they laugh too. And take pictures. And videos. And post them online. I did not do that. Instead, I knelt before the dog, and stroked her head, and told her I would help her get the bone off.
But the bone was wedged behind her canine teeth, and I could see no way to slip it back over them, and off. This is why Chloe yelped, I surmised: One hard crunch had forced the bone behind her teeth. Poor baby. As I inspected her mouth, and turned her jaw this way and that, she kept her head still and wagged her tail. She even tried to kiss me but her tongue was, um, obstructed.
I’m not a mathematician. I have problems with spatial thinking, too. But still, I kept analyzing the bone, and its position, to see if there was any possible way it would slip off without causing her pain. To the best of my limited knowledge, it looked as though Chloe’s teeth were a quarter of an inch too long to make this possible.
Still, I spent an hour twisting and turning the bone this way and that. Every few minutes I would conclude that I needed to take her to the vet, and then I would consider the costs of such a visit (I had just paid rent, so I was a bit strapped), and then I would resolve once again to try to solve this myself, at home.
So, back and forth it went—to vet or not to vet? I spent another twenty minutes trying to calculate—geometrically—if/how I could wedge bone off my now-patiently-drooling dog. I tried to lubricate the bone with extra-virgin olive oil. Nope. Arnica gel. Nope. It wouldn’t budge. I looked at my checkbook, to see if I could afford another trip to the vet. Nope. I prayed to St. Francis. I searched the internet, where I found all those pictures of all those other silly dogs with bones ringed around their lower jaws. Each of these dogs, in the end, had to be taken to the vet. Back to the olive oil. Nope. It finally got the point where poor Chloe had had enough, and she crawled off into the closet with her tail between her legs. At that point I had a small meltdown (How had my life come to this? Why am I so pathetic?), and then called the vet.
Now, I am in South Carolina for the winter, and can tell all sorts of stories about how the vets and the dog people ‘down here’ differ from the ones ‘up there’ where I am from. But that would make me sound like a New York City snob, which I guess I am. It’s in the blood.....
We ended up at a veterinary practice with a waiting room littered with advertisements for pharmaceutical products. There were pamphlets for anti-anxiety pills, anti-depressants, anti-shedding, and anti-bark sprays on every table and windowsill. There was a slick mobile hanging overhead, dangling cardboard images of large fleas and ticks, interspersed with packets of toxic flea and tick preventatives. There was even a TV mounted in the corner, showing, again and again, some kind of pumping animal organ—I don’t know what—crawling with worms. The screen intermittently flashed to an image of the pill that was going to prevent this. Next to a long row of bagged dog kibble was a poster advertising the latest anti-itch pill. That to me was a great irony, because in my mind, it’s the crapola commercial dog food that causes the skin allergies in the first place.
Practices like this, I am told, tend to try to jack up your vet bill with pharmaceuticals, so I prepared myself. Plus, I now considered myself an expert on marrow-bone removal, given that I had spent 40 minutes on the internet reading about it. I told them that I needed to have the bone sawed off, that I refused to have my dog anesthetized, and that I wanted to be in the room with the dog and the vet while the vet sawed. The vet resisted, saying that he wanted to take the dog “into a back room” so that he could shoot her up with pain killer, but I insisted. I am a New Yorker after all, and we must uphold our reputation of being pushy, obnoxious Yankees. I’m also a crazy dog lady. Why not let it all hang out?
“I want to be with her,” I said. “I am going to apply acupressure to one of her calming points so that she’ll stay still.”
“Acu-what?” the vet said.
Confused, he and the vet tech stepped out of the room to discuss my proposal (and perhaps my damn-Yankee insanity). In the meantime, I started to think about this pain-killer thing. Chloe would not need a pain-killer—I knew this instinctively. What else might these vets try to sell me?
When the vet returned, I told them I needed to see an estimate before they did anything. Sure enough, there was an extra $150 worth of painkillers, penicillin, antibiotics, and some other pills I’ve never even heard of but I knew were not necessary. I pared the bill down to two things: Office Visit; Removal of Foreign Object. I felt proud. I had also vowed this year to stand up for myself.
“Ready?” the vet said.
Ready. I had already dosed Chloe with Rescue Remedy, and had been acupressuring her Governing Vessel for the past half hour. So she was ready, too. Patient, trusting, and mellow as you please.
I had expected the vet to come equipped with saws, drills, rubber gloves, and a headlamp, the way a dental surgeon might. Instead, he came forth with a pair of wire-cutters. I held the dog, pressed her calming points, and was about to whisper “it will be all right” when—clip! The vet clipped, the bone snapped, and it was all over. Chloe did not even yelp.
“That was brilliant!” I said, truly impressed. “What kind of tool did you use?”
“Just your basic pliers,” he said.
I can’t tell you how excited I was about that tool. I finally understand why men get so excited about such things.
“That acupressure thing you did really works,” the vet said.
We parted as friends.
Let it be known: I am single, and I live in New York, which means I do not own a wrench. Or a screwdriver, or a hammer. But I do have an entire storage bin full of ‘dog supplies’ (flea combs, thinning shears, toe nail clippers, herbal conditioners, first aid supplies, travel bowls, etc). And now I will add a pair of marrow-bone-clippers to this collection. It will be a nice assurance to have them. But I hope I never have to use them again.
An extended version of the essay appears at www.emharrington.com.
News: Guest Posts
December 14 2008
Because I am living in Charleston, S.C. for the season (I could not take another blizzardy winter in NYC), I am meeting many new dogs. Southern dogs. This past week I had to take my spaniel Chloe to the vet (ruptured cruciate ligament and meniscus?) and was amused to learn that many of the dogs were named Savannah, Rhett, Ashley and even General Lee (the latter, a Schnauzer, even resembled the general with his generous grey beard). I had never thought of the concept of place-specific dog names before, but this week I realized it’s quite common. In New York City, our dog friends had such names as Madison, Brooklyn and Hudson. In Woodstock, there was Marley (after Bob), Cassidy (after Jack Kerouac’s muse) and Dylan (the other Bob). Even I named my dog Chlothilde, because she is part French spaniel, and I wanted to give her a French old-lady name. After a few days I shortened that to Chloe (because it’s an easier name to call across fields, and because she looked more like a Chloe than a French old lady).
What does this mean, I wonder, to name a dog based on place? Are we trying to ground them to a particular setting? One more bit of proof that we are providing our dogs a home?
It might be interesting to note that more often rescue dogs have these “place names.” Those show dogs have names like Champion Sea Breeze – Covered Bridge de Pillowcase Oswageon. (If that’s not enough to confuse a dog I don’t know what is!)
This is a rambling blog, but I like to believe that Chloe takes comfort in the fact that she is Chloe. That her place is with me. What are the stories behind your dogs’ names?
News: Guest Posts
December 6 2008
Lisa's post about treadmills reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago--in New York City--concerning two pit bulls who dropped dead from heart attacks (or heat exhaustion? I can't remember) because they were being forced to run on treadmills. These were fighting-ring dogs, of course. They were tethered (chained!) to treadmills and forced to run in order to make them 'tough." Ack!
One of the "owners" of the dogs was actually quoted as saying something to the effect of: "Well, if he died, that means he wouldn't have been a good fighter."
This is an extreme example, of course, of why it might be better to exercise your dog in the great outdoors rather than on a treadmill. But, my humble opinion is that these treadmill manufacturers are trying to convince dog guardians that it’s okay--even desirable--to substitute a treadmill session for an honest to goodness walk. (I might go so far as to say, "...to cut corners, and be lazy.") Next, they’ll be equipping their machines with built-in iPod docks and televisions, and selling us videos of squirrels, and iTune tracks of birds chirping or perhaps the theme from Rocky. "Your dog will be inspired to run for miles!"
Here’s what the people at www.jogadog.com promise use of their product will achieve:
They conclude their sales pitch with: Designed with the input of veterinarians, physical therapists and engineers, JOG A DOG is truly the best exercise system available for the most discriminating consumer.
Hmmm......if you were sitting on your butt late at night watching television, and this commerical came on, and you were too tired to get up and turn it off, and you knew nothing about the needs of dogs, would you be tempted? I wonder...
I am lucky that I live near the ocean, and that my dog gets to gallop along its shores every day. But even when I lived in the city, and it was 800 degrees below zero, my dog went outside for his exercise: off-leash, free, fluid, and blissful. That, to me, is 'truly the best exercise' a dog (or a human) can enjoy. Does that mean I am not a 'discriminating owner'?
Okay, I'll get off the bandwagon now. And I’m not trying to say that the people who exercise their Basset Hounds on treadmills are wrong or evil. "To each his own" is the motto I try to live by. But maybe our treadmill users are just a bit, well, misinformed. It’s likely they were informed by advertisers.
It’s our job, as dog lovers and Bark readers, to inform them otherwise. :)
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Send in the clowns, the flowers, the Pug spiders, the Nacho Libres...
Looking for ways to raise money for your local dog run or animal shelter? Why not sponsor a Halloween parade? To find out how to do it, we spoke to two pros: Garrett Rosso, volunteer manager at Tompkins Square Dog Run (also known as “First Run” because it was the city’s first) in New York City’s East Village, and Justin Rudd, coordinator of the annual Haute Dog Howl’oween Parade in Long Beach, Calif.
The Haute (pronounced hot) Dog bills itself as the largest dog parade in the world, with 600 dog participants and about 4,500 human spectators; a pet adoption fair is run in conjunction with the parade. All the money raised from the event’s $10 registration fee goes to Rudd’s nonprofit Community Action Team (C.A.T.). Now in its 10th year, the Halloween event raised a whopping $13,000 in 2008.
The annual Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade also bills itself as the largest dog Halloween parade in the world, with up to 500 dogs and 2,000 spectators. When it debuted, it was a relatively low-key event. “It was popular in an underground sort of way,” says Garrett Rosso, lead coordinator. After all, any time you hold an event that involves costumes in New York, people come in droves—they need to do something with all that creative energy. “But back in 2003,” Rosso says, “we needed to raise money to renovate the dog run, and knew that [our Halloween event] was the way to do it. It was our 13th parade and we wanted to make it lucky. We decided to go all out.”
And go all out they did. They sold raffle tickets and charged a $10 entry fee (which included a raffle ticket). They also hunted for sponsors and prize donors and brought in volunteers with such valuable talents as graphic design, marketing, fundraising and publicity. Now, the Tompkins parade is incredibly well-known, incredibly successful and—with prizes such as iPods being handed out—extremely competitive.
People come from all over the tri-state area now,” Rosso says. “I’d say 70 percent are not even from the East Village. And they’re playing to win. People have come to expect that folks are going to go over the top with our parade. They start thinking about their costumes by the 4th of July. One dog-park regular says that if you haven’t figured out a costume by Labor Day, then you’re behind the eight ball.Plus we get a lot of celebrities—the press always eats up this event because they’ll get pictures. We’ve had rock stars such as Moby and Pink. Broadway stars such as Alan Cummings and Spencer Kayden. And movie and television stars such as Edie Falco, Lauren Graham, Molly Ringwald, Scarlett Johansson, Michelle Williams, Parker Posey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Josh Hartnett and Mo Rocca.”
We don’t want to get into an East Coast/West Coast thing, so let’s just say that both events are spectacular, and both serve as model examples of what a dog parade can be.
How can you make your Halloween fundraiser as successful as Haute Dog’s or First Run’s? To start at the beginning, if you plan to hold your event in a public space, get permission. Your local town hall or parks administrator will be able to tell you what kind of permits you might need. Once your permissions are set, get creative.
Garrett Rosso’s first bit of advice is to sell raffle tickets. “Sell them in advance and make sure you have a great non-dog-related prize to attract non-dog owners.” He also recommends selling sponsorships to the parade. “There’s often a new pet store or corporation eager to help out and promote the event.” These new entrepreneurs recognize the value of sponsoring such a well-attended event. Rudd, who coordinates the Haute Dog parade by himself, also works with local retailers to solicit prizes and sponsorships.
Bring vendors to the site (dog run, fairground or wherever you’re holding your event), Rosso says. Designate an area where vendors can set up tables—the best place is along the registration line—and charge them a fee. “These [paying vendors] often bring in as much money as the parade itself,” Rosso says. “But start planning early. Many of these sponsors will need four to five weeks’ advance notice (or more) in order to coordinate.” Scores of vendors set up booths at the Haute Dog event; among 2008’s most popular was the “Bulldog Kissing Booth,” which raised several hundred dollars for Operation Santa Paws, one of the C.A.T. charities.
Another excellent idea put into practice at First Run is to print up playbill brochures to thank to all those who have donated. It’s likely you won’t even have to spend a dime on them, especially if you can find vendors and suppliers who are dog lovers. Everyone loves Halloween, and everyone wants to be part of the fun.
Take advantage of your group’s unique talents, and don’t limit your vision to those who can design posters, t-shirts and promotional materials, Rosso says. “Each year, we're amazed at how the most ‘certifiable’ folks who drive us nuts at the run all year turn out to be the best at selling raffle tickets!”
Yet more advice from Rosso (this man could run the city, I swear): If you find over time that your event is growing and more and more dogs are entering the contests, plan for the greater amount of time it’s going to take to register the dogs, parade them, judge them, offer prizes and so forth. “Not everyone is going to hang around until the very end to see if they won,” Rosso says. “So at First Run, the organizers started to award prizes every half hour or so.” Their system is to break up the contestants into groups and offer first, second and third prizes to that group. In 2008, there were about 400 dogs and they had four rounds. “This not only builds excitement, but it will save you the headache of having to register all the participants with their contact information in order to contact them later to [send them] their prize.”
Speaking of prizes, Rosso recommends giving lots of prizes and lots of runners-up. “We have categories such as Best Large Breed, Best Small Breed, Best Dog with Child, Best Dog Team, Best Owner/Dog Combo. And it’s also fun to invent categories on the fly. At election year, we invented a category ‘Best Dog for a Democratic Regime’ because so many made political statements with their costumes.” (After Katrina, the best Owner/Dog prize went to a woman dressed in a FEMA uniform, accompanied by a group of dogs with life preservers and flotation vests.) Haute Dog also offers multiple prizes, including Best Float—which is something tiny Tompkins Square cannot accommodate.
The First Run judges also award separate prizes for “Best Store-bought” as well as “Best Original” costume. At any doggie Halloween parade across the country, you’re always going to find little dogs dressed as flowers and herds of black-and-white dogs dressed as cows. You’ll see the Superman costumes, the cowboy, the bride-and-groom—and the dogs always look irresistibly cute in them. Since store-bought costumes are so readily available, however, the hip and jaded New York City judges lean more toward the homemade costumes. Try to picture a Harlequin Great Dane dressed up as a giant sunflower. Or a matted grey Shih Tzu dressed as a mop and accompanied by a short guy dressed as a frumpy housewife. At Tompkins, you’ll see a Shepherd mix in a curly black wig, Gene Simmons makeup and a leather jacket embossed with the Kiss logo. Or a couple dressed like farmers and carrying a basket of produce with a tiny Chihuahua in a pea-pod costume tucked amidst the vegetables. Or six Dachshunds transformed into a bunch of yellow bananas, accompanied by a large man in a gorilla suit.
All of the contestants at Tompkins are vying for the top prize (an iPod), while at Haute Dog, the first-place winner receives a year’s supply of dog food. No matter what the prize (the simplest prize offered last year was a Kong), they are rapturously received.
Both Rosso and Rudd strongly recommend inviting “important people” to judge. Rosso has invited politicians, local council members, Parks Department employees, best-selling authors of dog memoirs and members of the community board. Plus, bringing on VIPs is a great way to gain attention for and local support of your cause, whether that be a new dog run or a new animal shelter. “And of course, invite the press to be judges,” Rosso says. “We’ve had editors from both Vogue and Time.”
Rudd agrees that is it wise to invite celebrity judges (such as beauty queens, of which California has no shortage). But if you can’t find celebrities in your town, don’t worry, he says. People come for the dogs. Rudd agrees that journalists make great judges. “The more press you can get, the better.” Rudd advises getting the local paper involved from the get-go. Let them know as early as you can that you are planning this event, and then, as plans solidify, keep them up to date. “Photographs are key,” Rudd says. “Print photos from the previous year if you have them.” People who have never seen a dog dressed up as Lucille Ball are going to want to see such a spectacle, once they see a picture. “YouTube,” he says, “is an excellent advertising tool.”
As a former contest judge, and as a rabid spectator at dog parades, I’d have to say that a good Master of Ceremonies is also key. At Tompkins, they hire drag queens and resident performance artists. “They’ll do a better job than any celebrity host you can find,” Rosso says, “and can be counted on to plow through the day if it turns cold or rainy.”
Speaking of rain, Rosso strongly recommends planning a rain date. The Tompkins event is always scheduled on the Saturday before Halloween, with a rain date of Sunday. (Inevitably it rains.) Rudd didn’t mention rain dates – he lives in SoCal, after all—but he does recommend having some sort of “safety plan.” At Haute Dog, Rudd keeps a vet on call for any pet-related emergencies (heat stroke or a costumed dog fight).
The final words of advice from both coordinators were to have fun. And how could you not? Everyone loves a parade, and everyone really loves a dog parade. These events make thousands of people smile. And that’s priceless.
If you find you don’t have time to organize an event for this Halloween, there’s always an Easter Parade. Or a Dog Prom. Rosso organized one of those too, but that’s another story.
Dog's Life: Humane
A committed vet tackles NYC’s pet overpopulation
We’ve all heard that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; well, the saving of thousands of New York’s dog lives may begin with a single vet.
In 2007, according to statistics provided by New York City’s Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC), approximately 40 percent of the 44,000 dogs and cats housed in city shelters were euthanized simply because there were not enough homes for them. That’s a staggering number—about 44 animals per day—and a New York City vet, Dr. Andrew J. Kaplan, wants to put a stop to that.
“This intolerable problem exists because the city’s uncontrolled stray population reproduces naturally,” Kaplan says, “and too many pet owners allow their dogs and cats to breed without contemplating the consequences.”
To address this problem, Kaplan has founded the Toby Project, named after his beloved Wolfhound-mix, Toby. The mission of the Toby Project is quite simple, and quite ambitious: to end the killing of thousands of adoptable dogs and cats each year in New York City’s animal shelters. How? Through a well-organized, well-funded spay/neuter program.
Naysayers claim that this is impossible—that New York City simply has too many people, and too many animals. But if anyone could tackle such a problem single-handedly, Kaplan probably could. Twice voted New York City’s best vet by New York magazine, Kaplan is compassionate and magnetic, with the sort of confidence and boundless enthusiasm that inspires people to have faith in him. And to want to help him.
The concrete goal of the Toby Project is to ultimately fund the operation of five mobile surgical vans that will take education and free spay/neuter services to NYC residents who need them most— specifically, those communities that supply or surrender the most animals to municipal shelters. “By reaching out to targeted communities,” Kaplan says,“we can help prevent the breeding of the very dogs and cats whose offspring account for most of the animals relinquished to our municipal shelters, where they are often killed.”
Kaplan is absolutely certain the Toby Project can make a difference, primarily because it is being modeled after the famous STOP program (Solutions to Overpopulation Of Pets) of New Hampshire. STOP—headed by Peter Marsh, another mover and shaker— also provides educational outreach and free spay/neuter services to local communities.
“Adequately funded spay/neuter programs that focus on low-income communities have led to great success in reducing shelter populations and subsequent high death rates in cities in New Hampshire, Utah and California,” Kaplan says. “In the past six years, the STOP program has managed to reduce the shelter population in New Hampshire by 65 percent. The success of STOP proves that if you work with low-income city residents, you will decrease shelter populations.”
The project is currently in the midst of its crucial fundraising stage. One van alone costs $240,000. Kaplan estimates that it will cost another $325,000 per year to operate the van, “in terms of salaries [for the on-board vets, nurses, drivers, handlers], supplies, gas, licensing, insurance and so forth. That means for the first year, we need to raise about $565,000.”
But these numbers are not daunting to Kaplan. He speaks with the certainty of a man who knows his goals will be met. “Kathryn Beason of Animal Friendly NYC did a study in New York City and found that if the city spayed/neutered 49,000 dogs, the problem [of overpopulation and euthanasia] would be solved within five years. We can make New York a truly ‘no-kill’ city. The Toby Project wants to perform 30,000 operations in the first year.” So far, the project has received funding through private donations and grants. A team of 12 volunteers handles everything— including the marketing and the fundraising—and people are coming out of the woodwork to offer help.“Our group has a fantastic chemistry,” Kaplan says. “We are the only organization in NYC whose sole mission is to address pet overpopulation at its inception by preventing the births of unwanted dogs and cats.”
Kaplan is an ideal spokesperson—and president—for the project. Calling himself a “humaniac,” he’s the type of vet who will give out his private cell phone number to clients, and who once carried a woozy, post-treatment, 50-pound dog home from the office. He doesn’t confine himself to companion animals, though; recently, he treated an injured buck he found suffering on the side of a highway.
As a dog named Maddie inspired the multimillion-dollar Maddie’s Fund, a dog named Toby was the inspiration for this project. Kaplan wasn’t looking for another dog when he met Toby. He already had one—an assertive female who wouldn’t tolerate a second canine in the household. But fate led Kaplan to Toby, who was three months old at the time, and just happened to be inside a spay/ neuter van into which Kaplan just happened to step because his friend just happened to be working there that day. There was Toby, in a cage, with signs labeling him as “unadoptable” and “aggressive.” Kaplan knew he could help find this dog a home. “He was perfectly sweet to me, but when I tried to adopt him from the CACC, they told me he was aggressive and that they needed to put him to sleep—that very day.” After a well-reasoned conversation with the staff behaviorist, Kaplan was finally given the dog. He figured he could find a home for him using his veterinary connections. “Within a week, he was under my skin. He is the most special dog I will ever have. There’s a person inside of him. My other dog loves him. He has a magical dog-leader quality. He is the most soulful dog I have ever met.”
Toby is almost seven now, and Kaplan sees him as a “symbol of hope” for other dogs like him. “This is a passionate, pro-animal project that will succeed,” Kaplan says.
For more information and/or to make a donation or volunteer, please visit tobyproject.org.
Editor's Note: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: attribution for the New York City spay/neuter study to Kathryn Beason/Animal Friendly NYC in Dr. Kaplan's quote (9th paragraph).
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