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Susan Tasaki

Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Weekends with Daisy
Published by Gallery Books/S&S

Suffering from canine deficit disorder, Sharron Luttrell signed up to be a NEADS/ Prison Pup Partnership co-caretaker, the person who familiarizes an assistance-dog-in-training with daily life on the “outside.” In doing so, she learns to let go and to plumb the depths of her own compassion for the benefit of others.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Following Atticus
Published by William Morrow

We review Tom Ryan's Following Atticus. Start with New Hampshire’s White Mountains, add a small dog and an overweight and out-of-shape reporter on a mission, and what do you get? A truly uplifting account of the adventure of a lifetime and a partnership built on mutual trust. A book of “life, growth and redemption.”

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Short Leash
Published by Michigan State U Press
Short Leash Book Review

In Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance, Pema Chodron has said that the best way to deal with fear is to lean into it, diffusing its effect by letting it inform you and staying present. Suffering the aftereffects of traumatizing attacks, Gary and her dog Barney leaned into their fears and in doing so, freed themselves from them. An inspiring and uncompromisingly honest story.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Ask Bob
Published by Henry Holt
Ask Bob

Before there were dog “love” stories, there was the irresistible The Cat Who Went to Paris. Peter Gethers is back with a charming novel about Bob, the type of vet we’d all love to have. There is also a cast of lovable and amusing characters, including a romantic interest who was a little too unyielding for my liking. The animals, both patients and those who are part of Bob’s family, are well drawn, and observations such as “Pet weight is one of the most delicious feelings in the whole world … it is like an extraordinary security blanket,” make Ask Bob a gem of a book.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Looking Good: Tips for a well-groomed dog
We talk to groomer extraordinaire Robyn Michaels

It seems so simple. A few passes with a brush, an occasional suds-up in the tub or back yard, and there you have it: a well-groomed dog. If only. But help is here. We asked professional groomer Robyn Michaels for insights into keeping our dogs looking and smelling good with a minimal amount of fuss — and without the kind of mishaps that lead to a starring role on America’s Funniest Home Videos!

Q: What’s the best way to help a dog enjoy being brushed?
A: If you’re working with a puppy, start the first day, even if he doesn’t need to be brushed. It’s best to have the pup lie down, as that allows you to do a more thorough job and not break the coat — meaning that the coat could actually “break” and get split ends, causing matting — (this is very important for Tibetan Terriers, Afghan Hounds and Shih Tzus, for example). But let’s say you got the dog as an older dog, and he’s not used to being groomed. He may think he is being restrained and panic. The main thing is to be patient and work with the dog.

A grooming table makes all the difference. The floor is the dog’s territory. Being even a foot off the floor puts your dog in a different dimension and a different place psychologically. You can buy a used portable dog-grooming table or make your own; in either event, be sure the table is absolutely steady. Fear of falling affects dogs even more than physical pain.

Without a table, grooming is often a two-person job: one person to hold the dog still and the other person to brush. The person holding should have the dog on a very short leash and keep one hand on the dog’s withers (shoulders). The dog will not be as apt to struggle if he’s not being strong-armed and wrestled with.

This is where I make my pitch for doing basic obedience exercises, which helps your dog understand that you really are in charge, really are a leader and won’t hurt him.

Q: No matter how often we brush our dogs, they still don’t look well groomed, and dog-hair tumbleweeds are still rolling across the floor. Why?
A: You’re probably using the wrong brush. The best-selling dog brush in America has bristles on one side and pins on the other. Unfortunately, this is the wrong brush for more than 95 percent of pet dogs. Or maybe 100 percent — I have yet to find a groomer who can tell me the breed or coat type for which they use this type of brush. The only thing I can figure out is that when people go to their local pet store and ask for help, they’re told, “Well, this [the bristle/pin number] is our best-selling brush!” and that’s what they wind up with. These brushes always seem to be at eye level in pet stores (better brushes are often displayed either overhead or close to the floor). Both the pins and the bristles bounce off the top of the dog’s coat and do very little to remove loose hair.

Q: What kind of brush should we be using?
A: For just about any breed, a slicker brush is the best choice, and just about any will do. I use two curved slickers: one called a “stiff” slicker and one with finer-gauge wire; you may find others easier to use. Personally, I don’t like flat slicker brushes because if you flick your wrist as you brush, you eventually wind up straightening out the top layer of wires. When the wires become straight (or are bent in the wrong direction), the brush is useless.

Rakes come with various numbers of teeth in a row. You will have to experiment, but to begin with, I suggest that you get one with the widest separation/ fewest teeth. The blades on the underside of the curved teeth act like seam rippers. It is almost impossible to cut your dog with this type of rake, and you will pull out a lot of hair that a slicker brush won’t get. A metal comb is also handy to have, to tease out mats, get into small areas (under armpits, behind and under ears, between toes) and clean the brush.

Q: What’s the best way to brush? And how often should we do it?
A: The technique is simple: start at the same place on your dog every time — it’s best to begin at the bottom of the back legs — and work your way up, first one side, then the other. It’s important to brush the dog from the skin out. If you don’t get down to the skin, you will not be doing a thorough job. Plus (especially if the dog gets wet), the hair may mat, which happens when open hair cuticles lock together.

Matting starts in a dog’s moving parts: around the tail, behind the ears, in the armpits, and on the hocks and pasterns (ankles), and spreads from there. Also, if your dog has a double coat (long guard hairs and a shorter, softer undercoat), you need to get down to the skin to remove that loose undercoat hair. As to how often: you may have to do this every other day if your dog has a dry, cottony coat (like a Coton de Tulear), but, for most dogs, if you brush too often, you will cause more static, which will cause more matting and also affect the coat’s shed cycle.

I recommend brushing at least the mat-prone areas every week, and a long-haired, double-coated dog usually needs to be brushed more often when he’s actively “blowing coat” — the big twice-a-year seasonal shed.

One more thing: dressing up your dog may be fun, but if you have a single-coated dog, every time you take off his coat or sweater, you create static and cause matting.

Q: Speaking of matting — a friend’s Golden Retriever had lots of mats and tangles, so she shaved him. Is this a good idea?
A: Shaving double-coated dogs changes their coats. The hair grows back very slowly and is likely to be shorter and softer, and possibly a different color. Or, the dog may develop clipper alopecia, in which the hair does not grow back at all. Here’s the deal: for most dogs, brushing with the proper brush will take less than 15 minutes once a week. In many cases, it will take less than five minutes. Yet, those few minutes will make so much difference in both your life and your dog’s.

Q: How about bathing — what do we need to get our dogs clean?
A: You’ve probably seen television commercials in which the family dog is sitting in a tub of bubble bath in the back yard, and the family is making an afternoon of bathing him. This is not what dog groomers do and there’s no need for you to do it either.

There are many kinds of dog shampoo, so you should be able to find one that works well for your particular dog’s coat, but know this: suds do not clean the dog. The shampoo’s active ingredients agitated against your dog’s hair are what do the cleaning. If your dog’s skin is irritated by a shampoo, it’s usually sodium laureth sulfate (or chloride, the sudsing agent) that’s causing the problem; a few manufacturers make sodium-free shampoo.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t dilute the shampoo, you’ll never get it completely rinsed out. The industry-average dilution rate is 16 to one, but you can just eyeball it.

Dispense the diluted shampoo using an old dishwashing liquid or shampoo bottle. You want just enough suds to tell you when you’ve covered the whole dog. If you want to really get the dog clean, brush the shampoo through his coat. This covers every hair, gets out some of the smaller tangles you might have missed and removes the loose stuff. After the dog’s dry, brush him again, and then float a comb through his coat to finish up and clear out any remaining tangles (don’t forget: armpits, behind the ears, under the chin, and around the tail and ankles).

People often ask about conditioners. I rarely use them. A conditioner works by coating the dog’s hair with a humectant, which attracts moisture. This can be helpful for long-haired dogs in the winter, to counter static, but conditioner is difficult to rinse out, often leaves a film on the dog’s hair, will attract dirt and may even cause matting. I suggest avoiding conditioners unless you are using them for a specific reason.

Q. Finally, a little background. How did you get started, and what do you see as the most common grooming challenge?
A: I began collecting dog-care books when I was a child and have been grooming dogs since I was a teenager. I found a hobby breeder to apprentice with and gradually learned what worked and what didn’t. I also started networking with other dog lovers. I went to a dog-grooming school — at the time (the 1960s), unless your parents showed dogs, it was difficult to apprentice with a show-dog handler — and I learned a lot about how to handle pet dogs, what kind of tools to use and how to use them.

It surprises me that people acquire dogs and don’t give grooming a second thought until the dog smells bad or is shedding to the point that it affects their quality of life. Why does this happen? It happens because a lot of people who work in the pet industry have more contact and credibility with customers than hobbyists and fanciers do. On the other hand, when it comes to the rare breeds, pet owners often return to the breeder to have their dogs groomed rather than take them to a school- or shop-trained groomer, who may not know the breed. If a person adopts from an animal shelter, the employees or volunteers are unlikely to know anything about grooming, and will probably not even mention it. All in all, it’s important that when you select a dog, you understand what his grooming needs are so you can address them rather than ignore them until the dog’s uncomfortable and you’re frustrated.

Culture: DogPatch
The Dog Matchmaker
thedogmatchmaker.org

Find a soul mate is never easy, but Brooklyn based Sarah Oren Brasky, aka the “Dog Matchmaker,” is an expert at improving the odds. Brasky’s passion for dogs began in childhood and has continued into her adult life, where, in addition to her work with dogs—she also founded and edits the rescue blog Foster Dogs NYC —she teaches elementary school.

Motivated by the conviction that adopting dogs rather than purchasing them from breeders or pet stores saves many innocent lives, Brasky has made it her mission to help people connect with compatible canine counterparts. Using a questionnaire to establish the type of dog an individual has in mind as well as the conditions under which the two will cohabit, she then casts a wide net, searching her contacts for the best possible pairing. Thanks to Brasky, Harry, Biscuit, Shiloh, Kain, Koko and many others now have homes and people who love them. Dog rescue is in her bones, she says, and in providing this service, the matchmaker herself is perfectly matched.
thedogmatchmaker.org

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Swarm Home Delights
Paintings meet furniture
Unique, leather-handled carry bags

In the hands of Leslie Oschmann, everything old really does become new again. Oschmann is the creative force behind Swarm, an eclectic collection of useful objects crafted from vintage oil paintings that she tracks down in antique shops and flea markets across Europe.

When Oschmann, a former visual director at Anthropologie, moved from the U.S. to the Netherlands and set up a studio in Amsterdam, she satisfied two lifelong desires: to give new life to beautiful objects and to acquire a dog. McDuff, a Wire Fox Terrier, is her constant companion, accompanying her on buying excursions and keeping an eye on her progress in the studio. And, since Amsterdam is such a dog-friendly place, he also goes with her to stores and cafés, often riding in her bicycle basket.

Oschmann has a gift for imaginative juxtapositions of subject, color and texture (linen on wood, stitching on canvas) that give the forgotten paintings new lives as handbags, shoulder bags, totes and even art-covered furniture. But it’s not all flowers and landscapes.

In her wanderings, Oschmann occasionally comes across paintings of dogs … not many and not often, but enough to pique her interest. An avowed “dog nut,” she now deliberately looks for dog-themed paintings, and the fact that they’re harder to find makes them even more special to her. In addition to using these paintings on individual items, she also arranges them in collage-like ways, sometimes including a piece’s unfinished edges, fringe or corners, then has the assemblage reproduced on sturdy canvas fabric, from which she makes pillow and, of course, dog-bed covers.

Each Swarm piece, a deconstructed/reconstructed work of art, incorporates subtle visual surprises, evidence of Oschmann’s artistic inventiveness. As a bonus, they’ve all been approved by McDuff.

Wellness: Health Care
Swabbing the Dog

Dog? Check. Buccal swab? Check. Apply the latter to the former, inside of cheek. Rub for 10 seconds. Voilà. DNA collected.

Until fairly recently, the garden-variety dog owner could only wonder if potential problems lurked in her dog’s DNA. Now, however, it’s possible to know—maybe not everything, but at least the possibilities. Which can be kind of comforting, since it allows you to focus your anxiety where it might be more useful.

As dogs age, they display a number of signs similar to those experienced by aging humans, among them, loss of muscle tone and strength. And, like humans, those symptoms can be chalked up to simple aging. For the  prone-to-worry among us, they can also be signs of something more dire, such as degenerative myelopathy, or DM (see Nick Trout’s column in the Spring 2013 issue for more on that).

For answers, we turn to our vets, and increasingly, to science. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals offers much, much more than insights into a dog’s predilection for, say, dysplasia or subluxations. This nonprofit, which was incorporated in 1966 and began with the mission of evaluating and genetic counseling for those whose dogs were at risk of hip dysplasia, has evolved its objective: “To improve the health and well being of companion animals through a reduction in the incidence of genetic disease.” (They’re also including other companion animals these days, cats, for instance.)

So, when I started noticing hesitations and missteps in my large-breed, 14-year-old dog’s gait, I wasted no time. Going to the OFA website, I was able to request the DNA test for DM, pay for it online and have the kit sent to me. Once I received it, it was comparatively easy to do the cheek swab required (it would’ve been easier with just the tiniest bit more cooperation from the dog in question, but then, that would’ve been out of character). Some DNA tests require a blood draw, which needs to be done at a vet clinic, but many are equally reliable via cheek swab, which pretty much anyone can do at home.

The instructions were simple, as was the return. Within in days, I had a response from the University of Missouri’s Animal Molecular Genetics Lab, where the DNA was evaluated. I was glad to see that the test came back N/N, or no genetic markers for DM. But even if the results had been different, I would have at least known, and knowing is always better. Having this test done also meant I could provide my vet with one more piece of information that he could factor in to his diagnostic consideration.

Another benefit is that by having this sort of evaluation done, you—via your dog—are contributing to the larger body of knowledge on genetic diseases. The samples and associated information about the dog become part of a DNA repository, which may in the future provide answers to some of dogs’ more vexing health issues.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Oregon Garden Welcomes Dogs
Make a day of it and get great take-away ideas

How many public botanical gardens welcome both you and your dog? Not many, we’d wager. But the Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical sanctuary located about 45 miles south of Portland, takes another point of view. Among their more than 20 specialty assemblages is the appealingly named “Pet Friendly Garden.” Horticultural manager Jill Martini says that the purpose is to show visitors how to turn their home gardens into safe playgrounds for their pets. “With a little strategy, your plants and your pets can live in harmony,” she notes.

In the Pet Friendly Garden, plants are edible, water is plentiful and flowers are undisturbed. Pathways direct pets through and around the garden, and shade is in ample supply. In other words, dogs can dig the garden without digging up the garden. The Pet Friendly Garden also offers information on edible plants, including catnip, catmint, wheat and oat grass for cats, and dwarf apples, blueberries and gooseberries for dogs. A take-home brochure lists plants that can be harmful to pets.

“The Pet Friendly Garden is part of our larger mission to provide a unique and entertaining garden experience while offering practical ideas for your own garden,” Martini says. “We invite you to bring your pet and make a day of it.”
 

Oregon Garden
879 W. Main Street
Silverton, OR
877.674.2733
 

Dog's Life: Travel
Dog Friendly Marfa, TX and Asheville, NC
Pack up and head for a Winter Escape
Chimney Rock State Park

Asheville, North Carolina
A progressive southern Appalachian city, Asheville’s just the right size: big enough to offer lots of variety and accessible enough to feel welcoming. Plus, it’s full of dog-friendly places. For indoor fun, don’t miss the Battery Park Book Exchange, where it’s “books by the thousands, wine by the glass.” At the Espresso Dog Bar, dogs eat and drink for free (people, however, pay). Walk off all that fun on the city’s Urban Trail, or, a little farther afield, visit Chimney Rock State Park and hike some of North Carolina’s best trails, or the Carl Sandburg Home, a national historic site, where admission to the grounds is free and your on-leash dog is welcome on the trails that wind through the forested grounds or climb to the top of Big Glassy Mountain. And don’t forget the dog parks: Azalea Dog Park, which has big dog/small dog fenced areas, and the Asheville Dog Park (also fenced), part of French Broad River Park, get good reviews from locals.

When it’s time to settle down for the night, there’s a raft of options, starting with Barkwells’ fabulous cabins, acres of fenced meadows and dog-loving amenities. For a historical venue, check out Applewood Manor Inn B&B, the Reynolds Mansion or the Biltmore Village Inn, which is closest to the Biltmore Estate. There, don’t miss Cedric’s Tavern (named after one of George Vanderbilt’s beloved dogs), or the Creamery, both of which have outdoor seating your dog can share with you.


Marfa, Texas
You might be able to get a little bit deeper in the heart of Texas than Marfa, but why would you? Here, it’s all about the long West Texas horizon (think Giant, the classic movie filmed here in the ’50s), gorgeous winter skies and the bohemian community that has sprung up around the Chinati Foundation, a mecca for modern art and a destination for its connoisseurs. Chinati is the creation of minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, who moved here in the late 1970s and converted an old army barracks into galleries in which to display his work as well as that of John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin.

Marfa may be small, but it has a dog-friendly eatery. Squeeze, across from the Presidio County Courthouse, serves up a mean breakfast and lunch as well as an astounding list of healthy drinks and smoothies; enjoy them on the patio with your pal. The Thunderbird, a retro 1950s, locally run hotel, offers a pool and unpretentious, dog-friendly hospitality. However, the go-to spot for intrepid travelers and their dogs has to be El Cosmico, 18 acres of funky coolness dotted with refurbished vintage trailers, modern yurts, safari tents and teepees. Liz Lambert, who opened El Cosmico in 2009, calls it “part … campground, part creative lab.” An open-air bathhouse and cooking area are among its charms. (Not quite so charming are the goatheads, spiny seeds that can play rough with dogs’ paws; if your dogs will wear them, bring booties.)

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