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Susan Tasaki

Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.

Culture: Reviews
Dog On It
Atria Books, 306 pp., 2009; $25

Look sharp, dog-loving mystery fans. There’s a new PI (private investigator to the uninitiated) team in town: Bernie Little and his sidekick Chet. Bernie’s personal life is in shambles—a bitter ex-wife, more bills than money, an aging car—and his background is hinted at rather than explained; he was once a policeman, it seems. Bernie plays the ukulele; loves Hawaiian shirt prints; misses his son, whom he only sees on assigned weekends; and still has friends on the force who drop over with beer and ribs. Likewise, the geographical setting is left vague, though the Southwest is suggested.

The story is told by Chet, whose background is equally sketchy; he was once in training as a police dog, but was knocked off this career path by an unfortunate incident, which Chet never quite describes. Narration from the dog’s point of view is hard to do without slipping into preciousness, but Quinn avoids this pitfall. In fact, Chet’s perspective is the highlight of the story. That may be because his dialogue sounds like what we imagine our own dog’s to be: “She took another tissue, blew her nose. Her nose was tiny, useless, so different from mine, but I couldn’t help wondering: What would that be like, blowing it? All of a sudden, my own nose got twitchy. Cynthia and Bernie went on for a while ...but I wasn’t really listening, caught up in all these strange feelings in my nose.”

Part of Chet’s charm is that, indeed, his attention is so easily (and frequently) diverted. In this debut, the duo is on the trail of a missing teenager whose divorced parents take very different positions on what needs to be done to find her, and even as Chet is being abducted by the bad guys, his thoughts stray: “My mind wandered over to Bernie. Did I mention his smell? The very nicest of any human I’d ever come across—actually, a bit doglike in some ways. Yes, that good. Nothing like mine, of course. Mine is the best…a mix of old leather, salt and pepper, mink coats…”

The stage is set for more Bernie & Chet mysteries, and this one ends with a cliffhanger: Chet’s groomer discovers an ominous lump on his back, and leaves Bernie a note about it when she drops Chet off at home; in a melee, the note is knocked loose and slips behind the recycling bin. Will Bernie find it? Is the lump serious? We definitely hope not.
 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Artful Gardens
Distinctive gardens put visitors in the frame

Columbus, Ohio, is the home of two unusual and beautiful gardens, each of which takes well-known art from flat to three-dimensional in unique ways. At the Topiary Park on the grounds of the former Ohio School for the Deaf, sculptor James T. Mason designed, created and installed the metal frames and yew trees that are trimmed into a living representation of Georges Seurat’s famous Post-Impressionist painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. The only topiary garden in existence based on a work of art, it includes 54 people, boats, dogs, a monkey, a cat and a pond reminiscent of the River Seine; the largest figure is 12 feet tall.

Less than two miles away from the Topiary Park is Thurber House, former residence of hometown favorite and New Yorker humorist James Thurber. Today, the house is a literary center and museum of Thurber materials. Thanks to a garden-loving benefactor, men, women, children and dogs can enjoy the Thurber Centennial Reading Garden, with its dogwoods, bayberries, vibernum and flowers—and larger-than-life-size Thurber dogs, created by sculptor Dale Johnston. Four of the dogs frolic amidst the greenery, while in the center of the garden, a fifth dog perches on top of a fountain .

Note: Both of these garden destinations are for people only.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How to Clean Like a Man
Tom McNulty, the author of "Clean Like a Man," shares the joy of living the spotless life

“Carry your supplies with you; say no to knickknacks; and for food spills, nothing beats a hungry dog.” Author Tom McNulty cuts to the chase in his recently released, no-nonsense book, Clean Like a Man. His experience in creating advertising and motivational campaigns for high-profile companies comes through in this readable and entertaining “how-to” look at the world of domestic hygiene. Tom, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife and his dog Coco, recently took time to be interviewed by Bark.

Bark: Your book is so inspiring that after reading it, we turned two mattresses and vacuumed about a pound of dog hair from under our refrigerator. What provoked you to write it?

Tom McNulty: Men are trained to change tires, not sheets. Housecleaning intimidates us because it’s an unknown; either we don’t know where to start or we clean with the wrong tools and chimp-like methods. There was no basic-training manual on housekeeping for guys, just cleaning books that went off on tangents like feng shui, silverware polishing, and flower-arranging. CLAM tells males what they need to know—no more and no less—spelling out the fundamentals in guy-friendly language, with lots of time-saving tips.

B: One of the things we particularly liked about the book is that you include pet-specific cleaning problems and solutions, and you’re pretty matter-of-fact about them. Does this come from long experience in living with dogs?

TM: I’ve loved and lived with dogs for many years. They’re biological creatures—they shed, go to the bathroom, and get sick. Unfortunately, they sometimes do this stuff indoors. So knowing how to get fur off a white sofa or treat a urine stain in the carpet come with the territory of living with a canine. I’ve done it all, because, hey … what are friends for?

B: We understand that your dog Coco has an “irrational fear of vacuum cleaners.” How do the two of you deal with that?

TM: Coco copes, mostly by just “leaving the area.” My theory is that vacuum motors create a sound that only canines can hear, similar to a “silent” dog whistle. She’s also afraid of cameras, lighters, and loud noises. I think this goes back to her puppy days. I got her when she was four months old, and who knows what she went through. She was from a bad neighborhood—I’m sure she was in a gang, the kind that doesn’t let Poodles join.

B: Since dogs—in theory, at least—spend most of their time closer to the floor and fixtures than we do, we’re always on the lookout for less-toxic cleaning products. You mention a couple in the book (white vinegar and baking soda); could you recommend others?

TM: I recently received an e-mail claiming that certain cleaning solutions with formulas similar to antifreeze can be harmful to dogs, but I’ve never heard anything else about it. It may be an urban legend; they’d probably have to drink them to do any damage to themselves. But if the label says a product can be harmful to you, you know it can hurt your dog, too. Use common sense. If you’re really serious about this, there’s a product line called Method that claims to be less toxic and more environmentally friendly, both of which are great!

B: We loved your evolutionary evaluation of the vacuum cleaner, ranking it with the wheel and the printing press. Is one type (upright, canister, or one of the more exotic models) better than another for those pesky dog-hair problems? How about other hair-removal strategies?

TM: For dog hair on carpets, it’s a toss-up: both uprights and canisters will do the job. On stairs and upholstery, the canister’s “power nozzle”—the extendable hose with the twirling brush on the end—is better because it’s lighter, and a hand-held vacuum like the Dirt Devil works well too. To get dog hair off furniture and stairway carpeting, I’ve also used a terrycloth towel to rub it all to one spot, and then I just pick up the resulting furball.

B: Since we seem to be focusing on dog hair, may we enquire about Coco’s? Long? Short? Double-coated?

TM: Coco has mid-length fur and tends to shed, especially in warm weather. Brushing her frequently helps prevent major vacuuming.

B: Do you find that living with a dog gives you more opportunities to practice your cleaning techniques? If so, are there any stories you’d like to share?

TM: I’ll try to be tasteful. Several months ago, I think Coco either had a major case of dog-flu or ate several pounds of laxatives. It required me to call in professional carpet cleaners, and even they failed to remove the stains. The best general advice is to get to any stain on carpeting as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the tougher it’ll be to remove.

B: Finally, how did you get started on this road to pragmatic tidiness?

TM: When I was 10, my mother required me to make my bed every morning. That triggered my MacGyver gene—the trait that drives guys to built better mousetraps, or, in my case, find ways to clean the house faster. Shortcuts rule. Tips and tricks rock. Thanks, Mom!

Culture: DogPatch
An NPR Happy Ending
North Carolina student takes inspiration from A Dog’s Life

Last Christmas, 11-year-old Mark Federman received A Dog’s Life: Autobiography of a Stray, by Ann M. Martin, as a gift. His foster mother, Cristina Skillin-Federman, thought he’d like it because “he really loves animals.”

Fast forward to this year, when, as part of NPR’s “In Character” series, fifth-graders at his school (Isaac Dickson Elementary in Ashville, N.C.) wrote about imaginary characters they most admired, and recorded their essays at the local public radio station. When it came time for Mark to select his imaginary character, he knew exactly who to chose: Squirrel, the narrator of A Dog’s Life. www.scholastic.com/dogslife/ As a puppy, Squirrel had been separated from her mother and brother; over the years, she had known longing and abandonment as well as comfort and kindness, and in the book, she tells how she found her way.

Mark entered the North Carolina social service system four years ago, and in that time, had been in nine foster homes. And, like Squirrel’s, Mark’s story has a happy ending. The Federmans have adopted both Mark and his younger brother, and are in the process of adopting his older brother as well.

Read more about it and listen to Mark read his essay.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Prefab Dog House
New look for traditional digs

Prefab houses that blend high-end design and affordability are all the rage, and soon, dogs will be able to enjoy chic digs as well, thanks to Seattle designer and user-experience expert Jason Valalik, who’s developing a line of stylish prefab doghouses. Initially, he anticipates selling the finished designs as DIY plans, though at some point, he may also provide kits (think Ikea).

Combining his love of modern design and his professional user-friendly mentality, Valalik is working on prototype that would fit comfortably on the pages of Dwell. The framing is made from Oriented Strand Board, and the exterior is covered with painted cement board and IPÊ (eePay), an environmentally responsible wood that naturally resists rot, decay, insects and mold without the use of toxic chemicals. The corrugated metal roof’s lengthy overhang helps prevent rain and snow from blowing inside as well as providing shade. The house is being designed to be suitable for all climates.

User-centric to the core, Valalik is eager to hear other ideas as he refines his design. Get in on the action—visit jasonvalalik.com and leave a comment or make a suggestion. Who knows? It may make its way into the final product.

 

 

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