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Taxidermy on TV

Meter maids. Storage-unit foragers. Turtle trackers. And now, taxidermists.

Reality television has already poked into the far corners of Americans’ working lives, but this might be near the limit for some of us: American Stuffers, a show about pet taxidermists, premiering on Animal Planet Jan. 5.

The name is a bit crass, to be sure, especially since the show focuses on bereaved pet owners who come to Xtreme Taxidermy in Romance, Ark., to have their beloved animals preserved for posterity. One clip shows a couple arriving to pick up the taxidermied version of their Chihuahua, Toot Toot: No matter how you feel about the practice, it’s easy to sympathize with them as they tearfully examine and pet the mounted Toot Toot.

American Stuffers also introduces viewers to the people behind Xtreme Taxidermy, turning them into “characters” of their own: Daniel Ross and his bookkeeping wife LaDawn run the shop with help from staffers Fred (a country character), Dixie (squeamish veterinary student), and Joseph (bold younger guy). Daniel and LaDawn’s three young sons get an eyeful of the family business, too.

The show’s press release promises that audiences will “laugh, cry, and squirm”—not the most appealing description, but probably an apt one considering the subject. Indeed, a warning pops up that “this program contains material that may be disturbing to some viewers.”

It’s hard not to think about your own pets when watching the show. How do you feel about taxidermy-- is it a touching tribute or a ghoulish anachronism? Would you consider having your dog taxidermied? Do you know someone who’s done it?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How Long to Wait for the Next Dog
Everybody’s answer is different

The loss of our dogs is nearly inevitable since their life spans are not as long as ours, but that never lessens the pain. The logic of predictability rarely helps a grieving heart. For many people, part of what does help is welcoming a new dog into their lives as soon as they can find the right one. For many others, it takes a long time before they are ready for that, and some never are.

It’s common to feel that the house is just not a home without a dog and that this absence must be remedied quickly before arriving home one more time without the sound of four-legged footsteps running to the door. If a new dog will ease the sadness and bring joy, then there’s no doubt that adopting a new dog is the right course of action.

For people who need to grieve longer before they feel prepared to love another dog, then waiting makes sense. If working through the pain without the complication of a new relationship feels right, then it’s only sensible to hold off on getting a new dog. Among the reasons that some people wait before sharing their lives with a new dog is the feeling that loving a new dog would be disloyal to the dog who recently died.

I deeply respect this view, though I don’t personally share it, in large part because of a comment my mother-in-law made years ago. She is an exceptionally kind and tolerant person whose view on her dad marrying again soon after her mom’s death was that it just showed he really enjoyed being married. She took it as an indication that being married to her mom made him happy and that he naturally wanted to be married—and happy—again. It’s a perspective that’s unusual, but one that prevented many bad feelings from developing.

Though some people want a new dog right away and others want to wait quite a long time, still others have no time frame in mind. They simply wait until the right dog comes along, whenever that may be.

If you’ve lost a dog, how long did you wait until a new dog joined your family, and why?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Walking Bliss
Joy comes even after a rough beginning

The new season has officially arrived for those of us who live in cold weather zones. It’s the time of year in which many of us require extra motivation to walk our dogs—at least some of the time.

Many motivational options exist: encouraging quotes, using the walk as a way to procrastinate, caving to guilt and walking with a human friend so you both commit to the walk. As for me, I take inspiration from my college roommate.

One night during our senior year at about 11:00, we were contemplating going out. I was uncharacteristically leaning towards staying in, as I was feeling a bit tired and just a bit disinterested in making the effort to go anywhere. My roommate posed this life-changing question to me, “Have you ever, even once, in your whole life regretted going out, even when you didn’t really feel like it at first?” The answer was no, and I replied, “Give me five minutes to get ready!” The night turned out to be a great one, and I’m still glad I didn’t miss out on it by my inaction.

Dog walking is much the same. Usually, it’s not a chore, but something to look forward to and enjoy. Yet, there are times when it’s an effort to head out, and that’s when I consider my roommate’s take on the situation: Have I ever regretted taking a dog on a walk, even when I didn’t feel like it at first? Of course not. Even when the weather is foul, the house is cozy and I have a million things to do, the walk is a source of joy and peace.

No matter how rough the start of a walk, it tends to turn into a good experience. Some great moments with our dogs come while we are out on a walk enjoying the air, the sights and the break from the rest of the day, and it doesn’t really matter what our mood was at the outset.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Step by Step Training Guide for "Leave It"
A complete training guide
Stella

Leave-it, a cue that asks your dog to leave something alone, is up there among the most useful things you can teach your dog. Think of it this way: your dog might not stop chasing that deer into traffic on her own, but with an airtight leave-it cue you can stop her in her tracks and save her life. So whether it’s another dog, that slice of pizza on the edge of the counter, a squirrel, the person uninterested in your dog’s attention, or the baby’s toys, anything can be protected from unwanted attention with a well-practiced leave-it. Here’s a short drill you can practice with your dog every day to master this essential technique.

What You’ll Need

  • A hungry dog
  • Two kinds of treats (one far more delicious than the other)

What To Do

Begin with one of the ordinary treats in an open palm. Lower it to where your dog can see it (pictured above).
 

When your dog tries to take the treat, close your hand around it. She will likely nudge at the treat. Ignore this behavior. Ignore any behavior attempting to pry the treat out of your hand. What you’re waiting for is even the slightest hesitation in interest.
 

The moment your dog shows even a fleeting second of hesitation in trying to wrest that treat from your hand, you bring one of the better treats out in your other open palm.
 

The dog gets this treat as a reward for that moment’s hesitation.

In repeating this drill over the course of days or weeks, you are building up your dog’s skills by waiting for incrementally longer hesitations until it becomes clear she is beginning to understand.
 

Here, Stella is showing more restraint than she did the first time she was shown the treat.
 

Still more restraint is being shown here. At this point, you can begin to integrate the verbal cue, saying “leave it” when the dog makes the move for the first treat. If she listens the first time, she gets the better treat in the other hand. If she doesn’t, the fist closes, you wait, and you try again together.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Coffee Shop Dog Talk
What are people saying?

I love listening to people talk, and I justify my tendency to eavesdrop in public places by reminding myself that I am a writer, and this is what writers do. I try to be discreet, and usually succeed, with the exception of one occasion years ago. I leaned back so far in my chair to make sure I did not miss the end of a thrilling story that I fell backwards, crashing onto the floor and badly blowing my cover.

Recently, I was having coffee and enjoying the conversations of the people around me. Within the span of less than an hour, I heard these six dog-related comments:

“I have to take my dog to the vet on Thursday, but I could meet before 7:45 or after 8:30.”

“I was at Jessica’s, and she has the most amazing gardens in her yard, and she had a flourishing mint patch so I took a little sprig and ate it. So then Jessica gasps and says, ‘Oh, no! Don’t eat that! My dog pees all over that!’”

“Did you see that picture of the dog by the coffin? Man, I hate this war.”

“My kids really want a puppy but I cannot take on one more thing for the next few months. Maybe after the holidays I could begin to think about it.”

“My uncle steps in dog poop all the time. I have no idea why it’s always him, but he always seems to find it. It makes my aunt super mad.”

“There’s been a stray dog by our house for days. He’s skinny, there’s no collar and I can’t catch him.”

I might have heard more, but one nearby table was filled with quiet talkers—not very considerate of them, really. What have you heard lately about dogs from the people around you, whether they were talking directly to you or not?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Thefts Up This Year
AKC reports 32 percent increase in stolen dogs

Last year, I wrote about a piece of legislation aimed at making pet theft a felony in New York State. The bill hasn't been passed yet and, unfortunately, it looks like pet theft is on the rise.

This year, the American Kennel Club reports a 32 percent increase in stolen dogs. The data are taken from media reports of pet theft and customers who call the Companion Animal Recovery service, so the statistic may not be totally representative of the whole pet population. However, many believe that all types of crime have increased as a result of the economy, so the report could hold some truth.

I always thought that small, trendy breeds were the most attractive to thieves, but interestingly the AKC says that Pit Bulls and other large breeds are most common.

Typically, pets are stolen for monetary gain, but I wonder if the large dogs are being stolen for dog fighting. People used to worry about pets being stolen for laboratories, but today most dogs and cats are bred specifically for research purposes.

Although the number of stolen dogs has gone up, the AKC stresses that the number is small compared to those who are lost or abandoned.

For tips on preventing pet theft, visit Petfinder's web page on the topic.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Paws to Read
Literacy improves when kids read to dogs

When kids read to dogs, the dogs don’t judge kids who are still learning how to read or those who may feel hesitant about their skills. Dogs don’t laugh or tease, either. That makes the experience of reading to dogs very different than reading when other kids, or even adults, are around. Kids become more confident and are willing to spend time reading when the listener is a dog. Practice results in improved literacy and increased confidence.

Last week, my oldest son Brian had the opportunity to read to a dog at our local library through Paws to Read, a program in which kids read to dogs. The dogs are all Delta-registered therapy dogs who listen to kids read, along with their handlers. In Flagstaff, Ariz., Paws to Read teams are in public school classrooms as well as at the library during the summer. It creates a positive, non-threatening situation in which kids WANT to read and have fun doing it.

I had not heard of Paws to Read until I saw the library’s list of kids’ summer activities, and I signed up immediately. Like most parents, I appreciate any way to keep my kids engaged academically during the summer. As a canine behaviorist, I love that kids get an opportunity to see dogs with good manners contributing to society.

News: Guest Posts
We’ve Reopened Submissions
Not yet for essays, but yes for reporting and journalistic pieces

We love hearing from you—from comments on the blog, Facebook and Twitter to your thoughtful, researched story submissions for the magazine and website. So we’re very happy to be lifting a moratorium—partially—on the latter. Once again, we invite you to submit your stories or pitches for dog-related reportage.

Keep in mind, we stay up-to-date (mostly) on dog news and hear from quite a few PR folks—so pitches about products and destinations or widely covered issues are probably already on our radar. Instead, we’re looking for stories that either provide a fresh, illuminating perspective at something we already know about or, even better, that SURPRISE us. For more information, please review our submission guidelines.

Two final notes.

One, we still have a serious backlog of personal essays, so we’re not opening the gates to more submissions in that area. If you have a tribute you’d like to see posted on our website, please submit it to Lisa Wogan at webeditor@thebark.com.

Two, remember, we’re a small staff here at Bark, and we like to give your ideas the time and attention they deserve, so it can take up to a year for us to get back to you. Not always. But sometimes.

News: Guest Posts
“Wilfred”—If Dogs Could Talk

Over the years I’ve imagined up a full and complex human life for my dog. There is something about his personality that screams socially awkward 45-year-old still living at home with Mom. I can’t help it and it cracks me up, so needless to say, I was pretty excited when a friend told me about FX’s newest series, Wilfred.

Wilfred is about a troubled young man, Ryan (played by Elijah Wood of The Lord of the Rings fame) who forms a friendship with his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred. Sounds like the makings of a nice little show, right? Wrong. You see, while everyone else sees Wilfred as just a normal dog, Ryan sees a marijuana-smoking, Matt Damon-loving, tell-it-like-it-is Australian man dressed up in a dingy dog suit.

Wilfred, played by the hilarious Jason Gann, waltzes into Ryan’s life the morning after Ryan hits rock bottom, and immediately Wilfred begins pushing Ryan to step outside of himself with that special brand of in-your-face honesty that dogs have. Wilfred challenges Ryan to change, and Ryan does.

The humor is lowbrow (think The Hangover), so if that is not your cup of tea then Wilfred may not be the show for you. But, if you can see through the pot smoke and beyond the crass jokes, then you’ll catch a glimpse of something that all dog owners can relate to – dogs make people better.

I guarantee, after the episode is over, you’ll look over to your own best friend in a dog suit, give him a hug and wonder what he has to say about all of this.

Wilfred premiers tonight at 10 pm on FX.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
California’s First Dog Decreasing Deficit
Sutter the Corgi an asset to his state

California Governor Jerry Brown’s Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Sutter, is so popular that his fans are buying products from his line of merchandise. His Twitter name @Sutter Brown is on T-shirts, tote bags, tank tops, hoodies, infant onesies and caps. For every sale made, $3 goes to paying down the state of California’s budget deficit. Despite the whopping $700 that has already been made, California’s deficit remains a top priority for politicians and citizens.

  Sutter is a bit of a celebrity in Sacramento. In a recent interview with the press, he speaks out about his new position and his own take on bipartisan politics.

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