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Culture: DogPatch
Muse: Robin and Linda Williams Song To Their Dog
Bluegrass Tribute
Robin and Linda Williams, and Tessie Mae.

Robin and Linda Williams have been making music together for almost 40 years. Their new CD, These Dark Old Hills (Red House Records), is a vibrant collection of original folk and bluegrass tunes, one of which especially caught our fancy. The couple praises the charms of their rescue dog, Tessie Mae, in a song.

What surprised the couple most about this sweet stray, whom they adopted from the Charlottesville, Va., SPCA, was her independent streak. As they told us, “We couldn’t leave any door open or else she would take off, and no amount of calling would make her stop. Just like we say in the fi rst verse of the song. ‘You’re an angel and a little sneak/A sweetheart with a stubborn streak/Good at following your nose/Out any door that wasn’t closed.’”

While we found this song to be a real toe-tapping, paw-thumping delight, Tessie has another idea about what the couple should be doing. “She doesn’t particularly seem interested in our music other than in the fact that it takes our attention away from her. When we’re rehearsing, she’ll come in the room wagging her tail and look at us as if to say, ‘Okay, it’s time for you guys to focus on me.’” Hard to not to do that with a chorus that goes, “Hey, Hey your straying days/Are over Tessie Mae/ Hey, Hey sit and stay/Don’t turn your head away …”

Listen to it on YouTube.

Dog's Life: Humane
No More Homeless Pets
No More Homeless Pets Conf. Two Dogs

We talk with organizers of the Best Friend’s Society 2012 No More Homeless Pets conference to be held in Las Vegas, Oct. 25 to 28. Learn how to part of the solution— attend this important and informative conference.

Q. How did the No More Homeless Pets Conference come about?

A. The No More Homeless Pets Conference is legendary in its ability to bring together like-minded people who want to make a proactive, sustainable change for companion animals. Its sponsor, Best Friends Animal Society was founded on this premise. In the beginning, their origins were as grassroots as they could get. They saw the problem—stray, abandoned, neglected and abused animals—and created a sanctuary. They provided the local animal care and control around Kanab, including Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. When we say they built the Sanctuary, they did everything from creating the blueprints for the specialized buildings to physically constructing the buildings.

While building the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary, they also started sharing the information on how they were able to work better and smarter for the animals People from different countries, socioeconomic and education backgrounds came together and dove headfirst into working to realize a time of No More Homeless Pets. The conference was a next logical step in bringing these like-minded people together. The conference started more than 10 years ago with about 250 attendees. Last year’s had more than 1,300 attendees.

Q. How important is sharing success stories at the conference? Does it help to build a sense of community?

A. Sharing success stories is very important. From the very beginning the emphasis on hope and solutions is what attracted supporters to Best Friends and shaped the editorial content of its magazine and website.

From its start, No More Homeless Pets Conference has carried the message that ending the killing of adoptable, treatable animals is absolutely a goal that can be achieved. The sharing of the successes and innovations from across the U.S., Canada and other countries is one of the hallmarks of the conference and what keeps people coming back.

Q. Is there a long-term strategy or a multi-tiered plan to solving the problem—addressing key links in the process, such as, transportation, fostering, training—to reduce the number of pets who enter shelters?

A. All of these are important components. Each community has its own unique needs list so community-based solutions that look at the local needs and how to devise strategies that address those needs are best.

For instance consider the success of the city of Calgary in Alberta. Bill Bruce, director of Animal Services there, has approached ending the killing of shelter animals with a top-down, integrated community-policy approach. The department is funded entirely by pet-licensing fees and animal-regulation enforcement fines. A pet license is $30 for a fixed dog and $52 for an unaltered canine, and registration can be done online, in person and even at the bank. To encourage compliance, a fine for not licensing a dog is $250.They focus on public education about responsible pet ownership, pet-licensing compliance and addressing as many animal issues as possible out in the community before the animals become shelter problems. Bill has turned the “dog catcher” into a genuinely helpful community animal care resource.

The return-to-owner rate for cats in the U.S. is a miserable 2 percent. In Calgary, 49 percent of cats are returned to their owners and 29 percent are adopted. That’s a 78 percent save rate. An amazing 90 percent of dogs are returned to their owners in Calgary, 9 percent of impounded dogs are adopted and only 5 percent are put down.

More impressive still is the fact that Calgary accomplishes this with no taxpayer dollars at all, which protects animal services and the animals from political wrangling over budget cuts and economic trends.

Q. What changes have you seen in public awareness of adoption and rescue, spaying and neutering and are you seeing an impact?

A. When the No-Kill Movement first started about 17 million animals were being killed in the nation's shelters. That number is still about 4 million, a number that is not acceptable.

Best Friends started the first statewide coalition of rescue groups and shelters in Utah in 2000. Over 46,000 animals were euthanized in shelters throughout the state (1999 baseline). Today, that number has decreased by 49%. This year twelve communities achieved a 90% or higher “save rate” for the first 6 months of 2012. And slightly more than ten other communities were in the 80-89% range for the same period. In New Hampshire, Peter Marsh was a founder of Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets, the group that spearheaded the establishment of publicly funded pet-sterilization programs in that state. During the first six years after the programs were established, shelter euthanasia rates dropped by 75 percent and have been maintained at that level since that time. For more than 15 years, Peter has helped animal care and control agencies, humane organizations and advocacy groups establish effective shelter overpopulation programs in their communities. Marsh’s analysis of the impact of targeted spay/neuter services states that spaying or neutering five animals per 1,000 people in low-income areas will reduce shelter intake by as much as 33 percent over a five-year period. Jacksonville, Florida, reduced shelter intake by 23 percent in four years, and New Hampshire reduced shelter intake by 33.6 percent in six years. In Los Angeles the NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles) imitative is a coalition close to 50 local rescue groups Through the first five months of 2012, there has been a 15.7 percent reduction in the number of animals euthanized at LA city animal shelters—that’s 1,080 less in the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2011. On top of that, the Coalition partners alone (separate of Best Friends or Los Angele Animal Services) placed 426 more animals than last year so far from January through June

Q. What are some of the success stories and evolutions of no-kill communities?

A. Here are four success stories, among the very many, that we are proud of.

1. Cheryl Wicks, founder of Sammie's Friends in Grass Valley, California, in 2000, Cheryl moved to the foothill area after living for decades in the fast-paced corporate world. She went to her local animal shelter to begin volunteering and found that not only were they killing 68 percent of the animals, she was also their only volunteer. In ’02, she attended the No More Homeless Pets Conference and received important information to help take her work to the next level. So she set about putting together a volunteer program and then things started going in the right direction. With the help of social networking, she was able to rally 100 people who wanted to end the killing of healthy pets in her community.

To help raise money for the sick and injured animals, Cheryl started a 501(c)(3). She was looking to change the overriding mentality toward animals from being “killable” to being “adoptable.” The organization she named Sammie’s Friends, after her very special Shar-Pei, Sammie, was on a roll. In ’07, she approached the city to run the shelter. It took two years, but in ’09, Sammie’s Friends officially took over the animal control contract.

Sammie’s Friends, now running the municipal animal control shelter, euthanizes less than one percent of the animals.

Cheryl explains, "After I attended my first No More Homeless Pets Conference, it made me start thinking, ‘What can I do to get animals out of the shelter?’ It made me realize the animals are the clients, and we’ve got to do everything we can on their behalf."

2. Zach Skow, founder of Marley’s Mutts in Kern County, California, had been a volunteer with Best Friends’ Los Angeles programs for a few years when he went to his first No More Homeless Pets Conference in ’09. He went because he wanted to learn how to do more for the animals.

“Going to the conference is like going to spring training for sports teams. You hone your skills by learning from the best. We learned how to expand our foster network to save more lives,” shares Zach.

While Zach has attended other animal welfare conferences, he said none has come close to this conference in terms of the quality and accessibility of the speakers and the feeling of camaraderie the event cultivates. He went back to California with “a renewed vigor and (motivation) to take lifesaving to the next level.”

3. Denise Bitz, founder of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville, North Carolina, is coming to this year’s conference, which features sessions that are divided into seven main tracks: building a no-kill community, marketing, keeping pets out of shelters, adoption and fostering, fundraising, animal care and behavior, and new solutions to old problems. She says, “The tracks allow you to take exactly what you need in areas that can use the most improvement.”

Denise cites shelter enrichment (creating a mentally stimulating environment for her charges) as something she was able to put into practice after attending a previous year’s conference. Lessons she learned continue to pay off as well, including mailing and marketing techniques.

4. The Fetch Foundation’s founder, Marie Peck, had an epiphany: “The first time I was at the conference, it was overwhelming. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be with your people. I learned the best lesson: Be nice. It sounds simple, but it changed everything. From the quality of volunteers to the quality of donations, when we changed our attitude, our ability to do more just opened up.”

The Fetch Foundation is a “boutique rescue,” pulling dogs who are good candidates for search and rescue from shelters. But sometimes they get hit with an unexpected situation, like a hoarding case, and the information they learned at the conference is invaluable in helping them place multiple animals.

Q. What are the top things that people who support the cause can do on their own?

A. Become a supporter of Best Friends Animal Society and your donations support innovative grassroots programs including spay/neuter and TNR (trap/neuter/return) programs, promoting shelter adoptons, fighitng breed-discrimnatory laws and puppy mills, educate the public, holding major adoption events, and conducting large and small- scale animal rescues.

  • Donate to their local rescue groups or humane societies.
  • Volunteer even one day a month at the local shelter or to help transport animals, to low- cost spay/neuter clinic, etc. - Always adopt, never buy pets and encourage your family and friends to do likewise
  • Always spay/neuter your pets and help educate others on the importance of this. (see Best Friends' “Fix at Four” educational campaign).

Q. Can you give us a preview of this year’s conference, what are you most excited about?

A. We’re excited for the sessions geared toward people who aren’t necessarily deeply involved in animal welfare but who want to make a difference in their communities. We’re featuring some unique success stories of individuals who have taken the initiative in their communities to help animals and have made a big impact—from creating multi- group adoption events, to helping promote spay/neuter programs, to starting programs that help lost pets find their homes, to programs that provide temporary foster to keep pets out of shelters when their people are in temporary crisis. Leading a community to no-kill often seems like a daunting task, but it can start with one individual, one program or one idea. Often these are ordinary individuals who have achieved extraordinary results for the animals, and we're excited to be showcasing many of these individuals at our conference.

We would love to hear from Bark readers about success stories on how their shelter, rescue group, spay/neuter program etc. is helping to move the needle toward no-kill. We would love to hear all the ideas and successes that other have had. (You can add your comments below.)

Culture: DogPatch
Q&A with Lily Raff McCaulou
Author of The Call of the Mild
The Call of the Mild

In her thoughtful and provocative new book, Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner, Lily Raff McCaulou— raised as a gun-fearing environmentalist and animal lover—meditates on the ways her perspectives on hunting and her place in the natural world have changed. We talk with her about her experiences, and her non-hunting fishing dog, Sylvia.

Bark: You contributed the endpiece for this issue, and in it, you talk about your dog, Sylvia. What can you tell us about her (besides the fact that she’s a great fishing companion)?
Lily Raff McCaulou: I was looking for a friendly jogging and camping companion. Most of all, I needed a dog who would get along with our older dog, a Great Pyrenees named Bob, who was easily bullied. [Bob has since passed on.] My husband had adopted Bob after spotting an ad in the newspaper with a tiny photo and simple caption—“Bob Likes cats.”

I spent months browsing Petfinder. com, where I eventually came across a photo-less profile of a female Flat- Coated Retriever mix named “Missy.” She was young but not a puppy. She’d been picked up as a stray; a couple of weeks had passed and nobody claimed her, so she was scheduled to be euthanized. Just in time, a group called Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals pulled her, took her to a foster home and listed her online.

Her profile was short but mentioned that she liked cats. It reminded me of Bob’s ad, and made me wonder if they were kindred spirits. (The funny thing is, we don’t even have cats.) The following weekend, we went—with Bob, of course—to an adoption event at a pet store a few hours from our house to meet her. We drove her home that afternoon.

B: What does Sylvia do while you fish?
LRM: Fishing transforms her from a laid-back family pet to an intensely focused dog on a mission. She tries to be as involved as possible. She has jumped out of our drift boat when I hooked a fish. Sometimes when I’m reeling in a fish, she swims into the current to greet it and just circles around, manic.

B: You not only fish, but hunt as well. Was that something your family did? Does your husband hunt or fish with you?
LRM: I came across a lot of hunters through my job as a newspaper reporter, but didn’t know any of them well. This was actually one of the biggest obstacles to my learning to hunt. You can’t learn by watching YouTube or reading a book. Most hunters I know learned from their fathers, but my dad doesn’t hunt. My husband did, however, teach me how to fly-fish, which I joke was my gateway drug to hunting. He doesn’t hunt but often accompanies me while I hunt.

B: What made you want to become a hunter?
LRM: In my early 20s, I left New York City for rural Oregon. That’s where I learned to fly-fish. In fly-fishing, you use bits of feather and fur tied onto a hook to mimic an insect. You have to become familiar with what fish eat, the life cycle of insects, where fish feed and where they hide. Fishing taught me how to “read” rivers, and I wondered if hunting would teach me how to read landscapes.

Meanwhile, I was spending time with ranchers and loggers, many of whom hunted. I had always considered myself an environmentalist, but these hunters made me question what that really meant. They respected the animals they hunted, a paradox that intrigued me. Although I was more sentimental about my toll on the planet, they seemed to intimately understand that we all need natural resources—water, wood, oil and wildlife—to survive.

Farming—even of vegetables—is rife with death. Fields are tilled with blades that also slice voles. Combines harvest grains, shredding groundhogs along the way. To make our magazines and toilet paper, trees are logged, slaying owls. To charge our iPhones, coal is mined, destroying coyote dens. The roads we drive on, the lawns we play on—all of it used to be wildlife habitat. Hunting offered me a rare chance to come face-to-face with the animal life that sustains my own. I thought it could make me a better, truer environmentalist.

B: And did it?
LRM: To hunt, I have to immerse myself in the landscape. There’s no room for talking or daydreaming. I scan the ground for animal scat or tracks. I listen for snapping twigs or f lapping wings. I feel which direction the wind is blowing. I identify the plants around me and notice if their stalks have been nibbled or their roots burrowed under. Hunting requires fluency in an ecosystem— something that is increasingly rare in our modern lives. It connects us to our ancestors because it gives us a window into what humans used to have to do to stay alive. And because hunting roots us to the land and to the wildlife, it gives us a great reason for conservation.

B: In April, the New York Times ran your op-ed piece, “I Hunt, but the NRA Isn’t for Me.” What kind of reaction did you get?
LRM: Hundreds of people emailed or posted comments on my blog. It wasn’t a total surprise—guns seem to be the most divisive issue related to hunting. Most of the people who emailed me were actually hunters who thanked me for speaking up. There are a lot of hunters like me, people who own guns but don’t feel that the National Rif le Association, with its extreme lobbying positions, represents our point of view. Of course, I got some really nasty letters, too. I try to have a thick skin, but nobody enjoys hate mail.

B: What do you come away with from being outdoors—does the experience vary, depending on what you’re doing?
LRM: If I go for a hike or a jog, my mind usually wanders. I think about things I need to do around the house, stuff that’s happening at work. When I’m hunting or fishing—or, to a lesser degree, foraging— I have to be fully present and in the moment. I’m focused on using my senses, on reading and reacting to my surroundings.

One challenge of hunting is to achieve this perfect state, a place between calm and alertness. If you’re too alert, you get jumpy. It’s exhausting and you can’t keep it up all day. If you’re too laid back, you miss the signs and can’t find an animal or get a shot off in time. There’s a sweet spot in there, but it takes a lot of practice.

B: I believe the number of hunters is on the decline, at least in California. Do you think the locavore movement is changing attitudes, something like the back-to-the-land movement of the ’60s and ’70s?
LRM: Nationwide, the number of hunters has been going down for decades. There is a group of adults who, like me, are bucking that trend by learning to hunt. So far, I don’t think we are numerous enough to stop the overall decline.

Some of my own reasons for learning to hunt do align with the locavore movement and its predecessor, the back-to-the-land movement. Hunting isn’t necessarily that different from, say, keeping backyard chickens, planting a garden or taking a butchery class. All are paths toward selfsufficiency, better understanding where our food comes from and procuring meat from animals that weren’t tortured in a factory farm or flown halfway across the world.

B: Did you try to teach Sylvia to hunt with you?
LRM: By the time I got serious about hunting, Sylvia was four years old; she was extremely gun shy and had never touched a bird. Experts say you need to start training a hunting dog in puppyhood, correct gun-shyness immediately and get a dog into birds his or her first autumn. So Sylvia had a lot of strikes against her in that regard.

I did save the wings from some birds that I shot and used them to try to teach Sylvia to track a bird’s scent. I would drag a wing around the backyard and hide it behind a shrub. Then I’d let her into the yard and tell her to find the bird. This sounds odd, but she was very reluctant to use her sense of smell. Excited by the tone of my voice, she would just look all over the place. I gave up pretty quickly.

B: At some point, would you like to hunt with a dog?
LRM: I’ve hunted with well-trained bird dogs, and it is a true pleasure. A dog gets so much joy out of hunting and, as with anything dog-related, that joy is contagious. Plus, it’s easier to hunt birds with a dog; there are practical reasons why it’s a time-honored partnership. A dog can smell a bird a quarter-mile away. A Pointer can find that bird and hold it in place until you give it a command. A Retriever can find a downed bird and bring it to you. Dogs are helpful hunting partners.

My next dog will be a hunting dog. I have so much fun with Sylvia, just hanging out and playing. Fishing with her is pure, endless entertainment. But unlike a hunting dog, she isn’t making the activity any easier for me. I suspect that if we worked together as partners, as in hunting, our relationship would be even deeper. I look forward to experiencing that with my next dog. For now, though, I couldn’t be happier with my fishing dog. Not many people can say they have a dog who shares their hobby.

B: What made you decide to write The Call of the Mild?
LRM: The more I delved into the world of hunting, the more complicated it became. There are so many interesting facets: the ethics of when it’s OK to shoot an animal, for example, or how hunters reconcile their love for a species with their willingness to kill a member of it. Hunting has forced me to reconsider my relationships with all animals— my pet dog, the mice I occasionally trap in my kitchen, the geese that live in a nearby park, the coyotes I never used to think about. Hunting is too big a subject for an article or an essay. It’s life and death.

News: Editors
Andy Griffith: An Appreciation
Andy Griffith

Growing up, I never missed an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. The program was pure hokum, but a tonic that was hugely popular during the unsettling times of 1960s America. Each week Andy dispensed wisdom and homilies to his young son Opie (played by a young Ron Howard) and a cast of characters named Aunt Bee, Barney Fife and Gomer Pyle. Griffith seemed born to play the part of the small town law officer, a role he developed from his popular monologues and a successful stage career. Griffith was so comfortable in the role, he never seemed to be acting. It wasn’t until much later that I gained a fuller appreciation of Griffith’s talent, watching his film debut in “A Face in the Crowd” directed by Elia Kazan. It’s a memorable performance, as complex and dark a character as his sheriff Andy was simple and sunny. In the fictional town of Mayberry, we saw how life could be, with good trumping bad, neighbor helping neighbor, and when Opie finds a stray dog—a lesson in humanity. See the full 1963 episode titled “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs.”

 

Culture: The Daily Show
John Oliver of The Daily Show Talks Dogs
Oliver & Hoagie

In 2012, we talk dogs with John Oliver, the British comedian who has been a writer and correspondent on Comedy Central’s multi-Emmy-winning program, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Our interview with him appeared in our exclusive behind-the-scene coverage of the dogs who grace, enliven and patrol the show’s offices. Oliver tells us about the newest family member, a first for him.

BK: Tell us why you got your dog, Hoagie. Has she been good for you?

JO: I got her so I could have a piece of uncomplicated joy in my life. Yeah, it’s been fantastic; she really doesn’t give a shit about the “Daily Show” or working in an office, which I find enormously helpful at the end of the day.

BK: Your former colleague, Jim Margolis, told us the real reason you got her was to humanize yourself.

JO: Yeah, that’s true.

BK: Has she come to the office yet?

JO: She came here for one day; she’s a puppy and struggled to understand that this is not a dog run, but a place to work. I made her sit and give me a paw, and told her this is a place of work. I thought she surely would understand. She did the first two things but didn’t get the third one.

BK: How’s her training coming along, in general?

JO: She’s been great. The one thing she hasn’t been able to do is to be in a large office with other dogs at the moment. Maybe at some point, once she’s calmed down, she’ll join the rotation of dogs. But she got so excited, she just wanted to run around all the time, and I can’t cope with that when I have deadlines.

BK: How old is she now?

JO: She is nine months

BK: Well, you have a few more months of puppyhood. Goldens are puppies until they’re two, or even older. Is she your first dog?

JO: Yeah, my first ever. I had one pet before and that was a goldfish when I was seven years old.

BK: Is that why you got another Golden?

JO: Yeah, I never thought of that, but yeah.

BK: Has puppy-raising had any surprises for you?

JO: No, not really. My wife has been doing most of the work, so I can’t take credit for the way she’s progressing. But it is lot of work, and certainly a lot more rewarding.

BK: Do you baby talk to Hoagie?

JO: I talk to her as if she were a 45-year-old adult. She seems to enjoy that.

BK: Do you get your kicks watching the other Daily Show dogs do their thing?

JO: I don’t know what we would do without these dogs. There was one day when they weren’t allowed in the office because the then-president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, was the guest and we had to have bomb dogs sniffing around. You can really feel the difference when they aren’t here. It would be a very different place if there weren’t dogs walking around.

BK: Is that one of the reasons you signed up?

JO: That was instantly one of the best things. For the first time, it made me want to have a dog. So it probably contributed to me getting Hoagie in the long run.

BK: I thought Hoagie was a male name, but your pup is a girl.

JO: I don’t think Hoagie is a name at all. It’s a description of something, like a sandwich. I don’t think it’s masculine or feminine.

BK: How about Hoagy Carmichael? Ole Buttermilk Sky and all.

JO: Yeah, I wanted to name my dog after someone who was reportedly anti-Semitic! My wife loves hoagies.

BK: So, is she mostly with your wife?
Do you call home to find out what Hoagie’s up to?

JO: Yeah, I just spoke with my wife this morning. Hoagie was eating Reza Aslan’s most recent book, which is about, I believe, America’s war on terrorism; she’s very interested in that.

BK: Do you have a career path charted out for her?

JO: I would like her to eat a spectrum of different books, ingest information from different sources. Reza Aslan is great author, but there are others out there. Maybe she can start eating novels as well, moving into literature as well as nonfiction.

BK: Do you see her playing straight “woman” to you—can you imagine having her with you on interviews and in skits?

JO: No, I don’t think I would do that. The problem is, Jim is kinda right: she would fundamentally humanize me. So I can’t really do my job when she’s around. It would bring up too much compassion whenever she is around. I can’t have that. When I interview someone, I can’t have any kind of humanity inside of me.

BK: Did adding a dog make for a perfect family unit, or is it practice for having children one day?

JO: It’s been amazing, and nice, to come home after a stressful day at work and have someone just be there. Not that she isn’t interested in what I do for a living, she just can’t really comprehend it. So I can truly trust she isn’t interested in how my day was. She’s interested in going for a walk. I find that more relaxing than anything I have ever found as a way to de-stress. She doesn’t like the Daily Show because there are no dogs on the screen.

BK: Does she watch TV at all?

JO: She likes sports that are played on grass — she likes watching all that green. She is quite hypnotized by green. She thinks that the Daily Show should be on grass.

BK: Does she fetch?

JO: She calls it retrieving.

BK: How about tug-of-war; do you play it with her and let her win? That’s the important thing, you know.

JO: That’s something I need to work on. I’m a pretty sore loser. One of us is going to be disappointed.

BK: You have to let the dog win occasionally.

JO: Oh no no! I am working on that.

BK: When you’re stopped on the street, is it because of the show or the dog?

JO: The dog, especially when she was a puppy. People would come up to talk to her, then look at me and say, “I know you,” but then they’d look straight down at her and start talking again. I know exactly where I stand in that hierarchy.

Culture: The Daily Show
Wyatt Cenac of The Daily Show Talks Dogs
Parker licking Wyatt

BK: You’re a dog lover, right? You must appreciate having the dogs at the office.

WC: I like all dogs — I make friends with dogs on the street. Having dogs in the office is probably the best thing. I don’t have to wander the streets to make friends; I can do it from the comfort of my desk.

BK: What do you say to the dogs?

WC: When I’m in the office, I definitely know my voice changes when I talk to the dogs. I’m not talking baby talk, but even that it is interesting — to see a person who might have a really gruff exterior start talking to a dog, like, “Who’s my big boy?” There’s something about pets that brings that out in people. At the Daily Show, you have animals around to help you relax a little, reminders that you shouldn’t take life too seriously.

BK: Yes, others have mentioned how the dogs help relieve stress … how they cool it down a little.

WC: I think the dogs know it, too —they get a sense when people are a little bummed out. Jen’s dog, Parker, is really good about that; she’ll make her way toward you, wag her tail and start pawing at your chair and you think, Yeah! I’m going to take a few moments and just hang out with Parker. And forget anything that was bugging me a moment ago.

BK: Dogs sometimes make their way into your material, like your piece, “SeaWorld of Pain,” on PETA’s lawsuit to free killer whales.

WC: We were in no way saying that it is OK to abuse animals; if there’s animal abuse out there, we need to hear about it. I think in the conversation with the woman from PETA, she was asking humans to have empathy for the plight of killer whales, but doing it in a way that lacked empathy for some humans. It seemed like an odd double standard. [Editor’s note: PETA was equating the condition of captive killer whales with human slavery.]

BK: Is the Daily Show planning any canine political coverage?

WC: Maybe another dog political debate. A while ago, Anderson Cooper moderated a dog debate for us, and we used the office dogs. Some people thought it was real. What that showed me was that people really do want to see a dog political debate.

BK: There’s been a real surge in the popularity of small dogs; what do you think about this trend?

WC: I think that a lot of people are embracing dogs in general, and small dogs, too. In the south, you wanted a big dog to protect you, or to hunt with. I live in a New York apartment, and for me to have a 60-pound dog would be hard. But a little dog … I can put him in a little bag that doesn’t look like a purse and carry him and go where I have to go. It’s kind of weird, but I’ve seen more macho tough dudes with little dogs, and I think Oh, wow! If I met you 15 years ago, you would probably be saying “Why are you carrying that little dog?” A lot of it is economics. It would be interesting to match up the economy and the popular dog sizes. But the love a dog has to give doesn’t depend on the size of the dog — the size of the heart is the same. 

Culture: The Daily Show
Meet the Dogs of The Daily Show
Parker & Jen
Parker & Jen

Parker: Lab mix, seven years old
Jen Flanz: Co-Executive Producer
CK: What’s your favorite Parker-at-the-office story?
Jen: Parker knocks on the door of the post-mortem (the meeting to discuss the show we’ve just wrapped and prep for the following day)—she knocks and it sounds like a human. On several occasions, the person opening the door didn’t realize it was going to be her and were shocked to see a dog.
CK: Tips on a dog-friendly workplace?
Jen: I think it is amazing for morale, but you need to be clear with the owners that they are responsible for their dog; the dogs need to be housebroken and good with people. I also suggest letting people know during their initial interview that it is a dog-friendly office, in case they have a paralyzing fear of dogs.
CK: What does it mean to share your life with Parker?
Jen: I love it — she makes me smile every single day. I also love that all of my co-workers know and (most) love her. It makes it a little harder when you actually want to have a social life, since she pretty much goes everywhere with me. When I go out for dinner or something, she gives me that look … ugh!

Ally & Tim

Ally: Pointer mix, three-and-a-half years old
Tim Greenberg: Supervising Producer
CK: What is your favorite Ally-at-the-office story?
Tim: Ally gets very excited if we’re out on the street and run into any of the 100+ people who work here. It’s like she has a huge second family. She also has her own social life here. She’s often visiting her various friends throughout the building, crashing on the most comfortable couches, and she seems to meet an inordinate number of our celebrity guests. I only know any of this because people show me pictures later. She met Betty White and I found out about it when I saw the video on YouTube.
CK: Tips on a dog-friendly workplace?
Tim: Know that the dogs should be introduced carefully and gradually. Don’t want to mess up a good thing with a fight between dogs who’ve been pushed together too quickly.
CK: What does it mean to share your life with Ally?
Tim: They remind you to take joy in simple things. It’s great to have a permanent buddy. And given how gratifying it is to make them happy, it reminds you how rewarding it can be to take care of others (even the fur-less).
 

Kweli & Justin

Kweli: Golden Retriever, eight years old
Justin Chabot: Artistic Coordinator/DV Shooter
CK: What is your favorite Kweli-at-the-office story?
Justin: We had both only been here about a year, and one day, during Jon’s Q&A with the audience right before the taping, Kweli ran into the studio and directly to one audience member’s feet, then sniffed and sat down. Everyone behind the scenes (including me, of course) was freaking out, because this was a clear lapse in discipline on the part of both owner and dog. As I was going to get him, Jon asked the guy, “What, are your pants made of liverwurst?” and the guy replied, “No, but I do have one Snausage treat in my pocket. Can he have it?” This one tiny Snausage is apparently what caught Kweli’s attention from 70 feet away, through a couple of hallways behind the studio. To much applause, Kweli was awarded the object of his sensory desire.
CK: Tips on a dog-friendly workplace?
Justin: Do it! Your employees will work longer hours, be happier and amazingly, despite all the dog-petting and such, be more productive. I mean, with dogs here, we’ve won “Best Show” Emmys nine years straight. (Well-behaved, adorable dogs only, of course.)
CK: What does it mean to share your life with Kweli?
Justin: Ha! “Share my life” with Kweli? He is my life. Ask my girlfriend.

 

Culture: DogPatch
Guv Schweitzer and Jag
For Montana governor every day is “take your dog to work” day

Author, special canine assistant and “First Dog of Montana,” Jag pricked up his ears at the sound of two sharp whistles from his owner, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, and stood to attention. Moments before, the three-year-old Border Collie and near-constant companion of the first-term governor had been at his appointed post, napping under the governor’s desk. In what was surely a dream about herding squirrels on the state capitol’s lawn, Jag’s legs twitched and the corner of his mouth rose. Now, recalled from such fantasies, it was time to put his paws to Senate Bill 22, an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program sponsored by Senator Dan Weinberg (D), of Whitefish, Mont. As members of both parties looked on, Jag draped his just slightly grass-stained paws over the bipartisan legislation and smiled.

Born April 7, 2004, on a remote ranch in Whitefish, Jag is a rising star in the Democratic Party. The last pup in a litter of eight, he moved to the state capital of Helena when the newly elected Schweitzer took office. Since then, Jag has gained the hearts and minds of liberals and conservatives alike, charming the historically red state with his one blue eye and one brown eye. Politically neutral (his main concern is preserving squirrel habitat) and socially liberal (he’s fixed), Jag stands high with the citizenry; a recent poll shows Jag’s approval rating at 80 percent—a howling ten points higher than Schweitzer’s—and he has name recognition that exceeds Montana’s lone congressman, Republican Dennis Rehberg.

With a Border Collie’s quick intelligence and a sharp nose for lobbyists, Jag has become a permanent fixture in the capitol building. He’s also “author” of the briskly selling book First Dog: Unleashed in the Montana Capital, a children’s book that explains the workings of government to future voters (ages seven to nine). Written by Jessica Solberg and illustrated by Robert Rath, the hardcover sold 1,000 copies in five days. “What I like most about the book,” says Schweitzer, “is the vision of all across Montana, in all the Republican homes, they’re tucking their nine-year-olds into bed, and the kids are saying, ‘Please, please, read me the story about Jag again.’”

The Political Rodeo
The sign on the door reads “Office of the Governor.” And below that, “Caution—Area Patrolled by Border Collie Security Co.”
Brian Schweitzer, “a member of my human family,” as he is called in the book, is the 23rd governor of Montana. He is the epitome of the straight-talking, straight-shooting, western Democrat; a blue jeans and bolo tie-wearing, six-foot-two, 205-pounder who isn’t afraid to drink cheap beer or good whiskey, or tell a ribald joke.

When Schweitzer showed up for his first day of work at the capital wearing jeans, with Jag trailing along behind, the Republicans tried to spin it as “disrespecting the office.” The strategy, predictably, backfired. In a lot of ways, Montana is a dog culture, a kind of exaggerated kennel—147,000 square miles where cattle outnumber people three to one and everyone has a dog. “To criticize a guy who wears jeans and brings his dog to work, I mean, in Montana? Not so smart,” Schweitzer quips.

Since the inaugural celebration, Jag has accompanied the governor nearly everywhere he goes, posing for photos with a cow dog’s exceptional dignity and calm. Jag’s only faux pa[w]s so far has been to leave a quick scent mark in a camera woman’s bag, “But that was just to show the other girls who was his favorite,” Schweitzer volunteers.

 “He’s the one with the brains and good looks,” Schweitzer likes to say. “People ask for him. If I go places without him, people are disappointed. If I show up with him, he gets all the attention. I think he gets more Christmas presents than the entire staff put together, and I don’t even know if he’s a Christian. I mean, I think he is, but we haven’t had that conversation.”

More importantly, is Jag a Democrat? “Oh, he’s a Democrat,” Schweitzer says. “He’s a Democrat because (a) he’s very smart and (b) he’s a working dog.”

From his place on the floor at the governor’s feet, Jag looks up. He raises an eyebrow, sniffs once and puts his chin back on his forelegs. A few feet from Jag’s head, on the governor’s desk, is an array of samples of biofuel technology. Schweitzer, a big proponent of alternative energy, also pushes the idea of coal-to-liquid gasification to help bridge the gap to energy independence and give Montana an economic boost. On the far right of the desk, however, is a statue of something even more important to his idea of governing.

In 1936, a sheep rancher near Fort Benton, Mont., died, and his remains were shipped off by train. His dog, whom locals would eventually name Shep, accompanied the casket to the train station. Then, for the next five-and-a-half years—no matter what the weather, no matter what time of day or night—Shep waited for his owner’s return, greeting every train that arrived while shunning the advances of strangers who tried to befriend him. The story, a touching one that every Montana school child knows, is important to Schweitzer, who says, “I keep that statue there because I honor loyalty. Because there will never be anyone in your life more loyal to you than a good dog. So I honor Shep on my desk.”

Working Like a Dog
During my visit, I’m allowed to accompany Jag and the governor to three different meetings, all of which turn out to be testimony to the tedium and loyalty to duty they both must face. Incredibly, Jag doesn’t seem to mind; he bounds ahead of the governor, jogging down the long tiled corridors and climbing the marble stairs with his tail high. In the meetings, Jag greets everyone, then rests at the governor’s feet, quiet and well-behaved. Not once does anyone from the visiting delegations, including a threesome from New York City’s Green Oil, bat an eye as they brush dog hair from their pants. When Schweitzer meets with members of a ranch family who feel they’ve been treated unfairly, Jag is the icebreaker, eliciting from friend and foe alike a friendly pat on the head.

The next day, the pair is in Missoula. They arrive on the governor’s jet, a double prop King Air 90. The ride over from Anaconda, where the governor spoke in the morning, is a little bumpy, but Jag trots across the runway unfazed. Jag is no stranger to Missoula, where, early in his career, he was the beneficiary of a “full pardon” from the mayor, John Egan, after complaints came in that Jag wasn’t on a leash. Now, on the campus of the University of Montana and legally off leash, Jag gets down to business.

The first squirrel is spotted 20 yards away; his back is turned and he’s dissecting a nut. Without a woof, Jag drops into a low crouch, chin inches off the ground. He stalks the squirrel from behind, tail brushing the autumn leaves. At ten paces, Jag sinks even lower as he begins his final creep, but now the squirrel turns to face him, and the two lock eyes.

A small crowd has gathered, the bloodlustful and the horrified standing side by side. To everyone’s surprise, Jag doesn’t advance but waits, watching the squirrel as if transfixed. “It’s his version of a strip club,” Schweitzer offers. The squirrel, a brave one, stares down Jag, then finally, is overcome by common sense and takes refuge in a nearby tree. Later, there are more chances for Jag to herd squirrels (he will tree five in all) but by then, it’s time for Schweitzer to have his fun and herd his favorite food group.

The Stockman’s is the quintessential Montana bar: pool table, jukebox, peanut shells strewn on the floor. The sign behind the bar reads, “Liquor up front—Poker in the rear.” It’s all here.

As the governor quaffs a Kokanee, Jag makes the rounds, possibly remembering the last time he was here, when he was the happy recipient of a half-raw cheeseburger with all the fixing. Such friendliness, as Schweitzer tells the elbow-bending crowd, isn’t the case everywhere they go.

Last year, at the Western Governor’s Conference in Deadwood, S.D., Schweitzer and two of the other governors decided to go out after work. Deadwood is the home of The Old Style Saloon No. 10, the infamous bar where Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back of the head while holding aces and eights. When the three governors arrived and entered with Jag, the bartender informed Schweitzer he couldn’t allow Jag in. “You’re telling me,” Schweitzer said to the bartender, “that this is the place they shoot people in the back of the head, where people ride their horses in and out, and you won’t serve me because I brought my dog?” The bartender’s only defense was to hide behind the rules. “So I told Jag, ‘We’re outta here.’ Then I turned to that bartender and I said to him, ‘Heck, we’ve been thrown out of better bars than this in Montana.’”

This evening, Schweitzer is speaking at the Holiday Inn. As the night draws to a close, he calls Jag to the podium.

“I learn every day from him,” Schweitzer says, placing a beefy hand on Jag’s head and warming up into what is a sure crowd-pleaser. “His manner is much different than mine. Jag comes to all these meetings and never says a word. If he likes someone, he’ll rub his nose up against them and they’ll scratch him. And if he doesn’t like them—like, say, with the lobbyists—he’ll kind of growl and slip away and go back under the desk. But in all these meetings and in all these speeches, he never says a word. All he does is if he likes you and likes what’s going on, he’ll wag his tail. So I think that after reelection I’m going to be wagging my tail a lot more and my tongue a lot less.”

White House Bound?
Of late, bloggers have been pushing the idea of Schweitzer for president. They like his easygoing manner and jokes. Schweitzer deflects all such inquiries, but the real question remains: Does Jag have any White House aspirations?
 
“This is the biggest town he’s lived in,” says Schweitzer, “and I don’t think he aspires to live anywhere bigger. You see, he doesn’t like lobbyists, and there’s not that many in Helena and there’s a whole lot more in Washington, D.C. I don’t think he’d like the smell of that town at all.” Then there’s the famous Schweitzer pause and, “I know I don’t.”

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, because both are quick on their feet, and at least one of them is a political dog.

 

 

Culture: DogPatch
Inspired by Dogs: Majora Carter

Environmental justice advocate, MacArthur Fellow, president of her eponymous green economic consulting firm: by anybody’s definition, Majora Carter is a dynamo. Born, raised and still living in New York’s South Bronx, Carter founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001, and by 2003, had implemented the highly successful Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (BEST) program—a pioneering job training and placement system that seeds communities with a skilled workforce that has both a personal and an economic stake in its urban environment.Among her landmark projects is the conversion of a stretch of debris-strewn riverside to a vibrant neighborhood park and the beginning of an 11-mile greenway. And she might never have discovered the place or its potential had it not been for her dog, Xena.

Bark: Tell us how Xena came into your life.
Majora Carter: Early one rainy evening in 1998, I was going to see a film at a local cultural center in my neighborhood. Outside the gate, a big-pawed puppy with a huge head was sitting in a cardboard box, tied to a no-parking sign. When I came out of the movie, the puppy was still there. I wasn’t looking for a dog at the time and didn’t really need any extra responsibilities, as I was already helping take care of my elderly father, and not making much money either.

The puppy and I looked at each other, but I didn’t really have any huge emotional moment where I felt I had to save this animal. I was working to save humans from noxious environmental planning by the City of New York at the time. But something attracted me to her, so I took her home, dried her off, found some food in the fridge—which she devoured—and spent the next year trying to recover chewed shoes, books, furniture and other household objects that fell before the wrath of this energetic and fast-growing pup. The vet who checked her out (and continues to do so) said she was four months old when I found her. I named her Xena.

B: We understand that Xena had a paw in the revitalization of the illegal dumping area that became Hunt’s Point Riverside Park. How did that happen?
MC: One of the benefits of having a large German Shepherd-mix mutt on the end of a leash is that it allows a single woman to go places with a greater sense of confidence and safety. When Xena was about a year old, we were on a daily jog through one of the many industrial-zoned sections of the South Bronx. It was just after dawn, and Xena caught the scent of something in the weeds. Behind the weeds were piles of garbage—mostly construction and demolition debris (dumps like this exist in cities and towns across America).

Xena used all of her 80 pounds of young dog energy to drag me deeper into the abandoned lot. Past refrigerators, needles, stacks of tires, oil drums, old tar roofing, thistles, dead things and a bunch of other items I was thankful were not on her list of things to roll in that day.

Just as we began to get too far out of sight of the road for my comfort level, I caught an unfamiliar glint of light out of the corner of my eye. Xena pushed through the last patch of tall weeds as she bounded forward to her goal, and right there in the morning light, the Bronx River flowed, with ducks landing and butterflies dancing.

Except when I went to Connecticut for college, I had lived in that part of the South Bronx—called Hunts Point—all my life. I could see on the subway maps that we were surrounded by the East and Bronx Rivers, but I never actually saw the water because their banks were crowded with waste and sewage treatment facilities, truck lots, power plants, and illegal dumps like the one we discovered that day.

It was so beautiful to see the river there that morning. I knew I could play a role in turning that land into a park, where families could get connected with nature and each other in a positive, healthy atmosphere.

B: How is the neighborhood using the park? Does your schedule allow you time to go there with Xena?
MC: It’s great! An organization called Rocking the Boat moved into the lot next to the park. They teach local high school-age students to build traditional wooden boats for rowing and sailing—most of the boats are about 16 feet long, I think—and then they use them to study river ecology; on Saturdays, the boats are made available to the public and maintained by people who graduated from their program. On weekends, the barbecues are all full and people use the park to celebrate with large and small gatherings.

Aside from the obvious recreational benefits, members of the community are employed maintaining the riverfront, and are using it to train other workers for future waterfront restoration projects. I don’t get to the park nearly as often as I’d like—especially when you consider how much time I spent working to make it happen. But I did have my wedding there on the first day it was opened. Xena was my flower girl!

B: Environmental justice is a large concept; can you scale it to a one person/one dog level?
MC: It’s actually simple: no community should have to suffer more environmental burdens than any other. Clean air and clean water are a minimum standard we should be able to maintain for everyone. When we don’t, public health costs go up, but it goes deeper than that. Proximity to concentrations of fossil fuel exhaust sources has been shown to cause learning disabilities in young children. It’s usually poor kids who live in these areas, and in the U.S., if you’re poor and do badly in school, your chances of going to jail skyrocket. The deeper we look into how our environment affects us, the more clearly we see how costs add up if we conduct planning as though some people’s environmental rights are not as important as others’. If we had placed as many of our waste, energy, chemical, agribusiness and transport infrastructure near wealthy people as we have near poor communities, our infrastructure would have been green and clean decades ago.

B: Environmentalists and dog lovers have a number of intersecting interests. One of the more obvious is that in densely populated urban areas, both people and dogs appreciate and need environmentally healthy open spaces in which to walk. What can dog people do to improve their local environments?
MC: Well, for starters, keep their dogs from peeing on the trees. Street trees have a hard life in a densely populated area. The faster new trees can get to full canopy, the sooner we can benefit from the environmental services they provide.

B: What channels do you recommend following to address local environmental issues?
MC: Start by talking to your neighbors. Chances are, the same things you are concerned about are affecting others. Your ideas about solutions might start out being different, but will come together as you imagine the possibilities. Local politicians are often much more responsive than you’d guess, too. Most people don’t even bother talking to their elected officials, but they should. They can’t act unless they know there is organized support for their position, and organizing has never been easier than it is today.

B: Are there tools individuals can use to make a case for attention? Taking along a videocam (or using a cell phone) to document problems encountered while out walking with our dogs, for example?
MC: That’s a great start, but it’s smart to document the good stuff, too. When we had cleared the debris off the land that Xena had explored with me, it still wasn’t a “park,” but we planned community events there and demonstrated public use before we went to the City for money to develop it further. So whether it’s something you like or don’t like, giving yourself visual tools with which to communicate pros and cons is always valuable.

B: We also understand that you have a degree in film, and an MFA. Do you have occasion to use this training in your current work?
MC: I have a pretty grueling speaking schedule, and every event embodies a certain amount of performance. Plus, I do a television show on Sundance Channel and a Corporation for Public Broadcasting radio series called The Promised Land. Communicating complex issues is so important to getting things done, and creatively visualizing new solutions for familiar problems is crucial. Those were both things I have carried over from my studies. The important thing to remember is that I learned about my environmental work on the job, starting at the age of 30—so no matter where you are in life, you can always embrace something new.

 

 

Culture: DogPatch
Martha Speaks Now on PBS
Q&A with the creators of the new series

Guess who’s coming to PBS? It’s Martha, the unassuming, loquacious and forthright mutt whose ingestion of alphabet soup turns her into, as one reviewer noted, the “Mr. Ed of the canine world.” Bark recently connected with Susan Meddaugh, Martha’s creator, and Carol Greenwald, WGBH Senior Executive Producer, to learn more about this milestone event.

Bark: Who is Martha? How did you develop this remarkable dog—was there a “bulb going off” moment? Did you immediately run your studio and start sketching?

 

Susan Meddaugh: Martha was our first dog. She was a stray, a real combo package of breeds. She had been on the street for a while when a friend of ours found her. Actually she found our friend, who was working in her front yard. Martha sat down beside her and refused to move, thereby cleverly forcing her to help her. After all her attempts to find Martha’s home failed (and since she had several cats and no room for a dog), our friend called us.

 

Martha was so skinny we could see her ribs, plus she had the whole flea population of eastern Massachusetts on her back. We were soon to discover that she wasn’t housebroken, and had a habit of eating the furniture. We wondered whether it had been a good idea to take her home. We named her after our friend Martha, who had been the one to call us, and was therefore responsible for our new addition to the family, however it might work out.

 

Fortunately, after a while, the essential Martha began to emerge. She was smart, interesting, expressive, opinionated and very drawable. I was writing and illustrating children’s books, and it was obvious that Martha needed a book of her own.

Which leads me to my son, Niko. I had the right occupation, the right child, the right dog and the perfect moment. I had already put Martha in some of my children’s books, usually just slipping her into the background. She had also found her first co-starring role with Helen in The Witches’ Supermarket. But she wasn’t yet talking. My son, seven years old at the time, was sitting at the table eating alphabet soup. Of course, Martha was right next to him, almost in his lap. It was his creative question—“Mom, if Martha-dog ate alphabet soup, would she speak?”—that put all the pieces together. The personality of the dog, plus Niko’s question, immediately suggested a visual image of the soup letters going into Martha’s mouth and up to her brain. Of course, this required a novel approach to the way the brain is connected to the digestive system.

I did not rush to my studio and immediately sketch out the story. This idea was just the beginning of a story, which would go through a couple of versions before it fell into place. The main question after the initial idea was, what would Martha do or say if she had the gift of gab?

B: How much of this was informed by Martha herself?

SM: Obviously, the personality of Martha is completely inspired by the real dog, and the attitude was already there. Martha would let me know what to do with the story. So what would she do, being Martha? She would be opinionated, outspoken—she would speak for the dog, letting people know what dogs are really thinking. But being a dog, she wouldn’t necessarily know when not to say what was on her mind. In Martha’s world, she is still a dog. The only thing unusual about her is her ability to speak. She’s not a person, and she will always see the world through the eyes of a dog.

B: Have you ever heard of children feeding alphabet soup to their dogs, hoping that their dogs would talk too? 

SM: I have heard of that happening, but I’ve heard it from adults who mostly are happy that their children are so taken with a story that they would try that. As for the kids, I think it’s just a wonderful possibility, sort of like the children who ask me, “Did Martha really talk?” I can tell they don’t really believe she spoke, but still, they hold on to the sliver of hope that just maybe she did. Also, it’s quite clear in the books and in the TV series that Skits cannot speak, even after many bowls of alphabet soup. So they are forewarned that even the family’s other dog isn’t bilingual, and that so far, there’s only one Martha.

Carol Greenwald: We heard from a public television colleague that when her son was four and a half, he asked to have Martha Speaks read to him, over and over. When they went grocery shopping, he reminded her to get alphabet soup; she began finding unopened cans of soup on the counter, which she put away, thinking she’d left them out by mistake. And then one day she came into the kitchen and saw her son standing with their standard Poodle, his foot holding Martha Speaks open to the page that shows the cross-section of Martha’s brain filled with letters. With one hand, he held up the dog’s earflap, and with the other, he shone a flashlight into the dog’s ear. Then he looked at his mother and said, plaintively, “But how will I know?”

B: What role does Martha have within her family? And can you tell us why you chose to make her young companion a girl rather than a boy?

SM: As I mentioned, Martha and Helen had already been paired in The Witches’ Supermarket. But although Martha’s personality has been evident since the first book, Helen’s character had to be fleshed out for the TV series. Martha will continue to be Martha: Confident, honest, loving, talking and acting before thinking, sometimes wrong but seldom in doubt. She’s learning about the world (and learning some words along the way). Helen is somewhat shy and cautious, a kid who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, an artist, and the more sensible part of the duo, who tries to pull Martha back when she goes too far. For her part, Martha will push Helen into new situations and adventures that Helen would ordinarily be reluctant to try. It’s a loving relationship of opposites that works for both of them … usually.

CG: WGBH was attracted to the property specifically because it has a female central character. The majority of cartoons and TV shows for young children have boys at the center. We were thrilled to have a girl.

B: The goal of this series is to expand the vocabulary of its audience. How did you go about doing that? How are the words introduced so that the young viewer will understand their meanings?

CG: Surprisingly, first-grade vocabulary knowledge predicts eleventh-grade reading comprehension. So achieving our educational goal is incredibly important to us. People often assume that when you’re talking about teaching young kids vocabulary, you’re talking about words they are learning to read, like “hot,” “cat” and “top.” However, we’re focused on helping kids learn the meanings of more sophisticated words, so that when they begin reading—and particularly when they move from learning to read to reading to learn—they will understand the meaning of what they are reading. It doesn’t matter if you can sound out “aggravate,” “plot” or “custom” if you don’t know what they mean.

We worked closely with a board of academic advisors to figure out how we could use television to build children’s vocabularies. Because the vocabulary gap between at-risk kids and their more advantaged peers is so great, our advisors encouraged us to incorporate as many words as possible. Thus, we are teaching 800 words the first season (through 40 shows). They also confirmed that the best way to teach vocabulary is by providing context, so we are integrating the words and the definitions into the dialog of the stories, supporting them visually whenever possible, not teaching them in isolation. Because repetition is key to learning vocabulary, each of our words is repeated at least five times in the story, and more than that in the paired story (each episode has two stories) and across the series. We work closely with our content director, Dr. Rebecca Silverman from the University of Maryland, to both choose appropriate words and provide age-appropriate definitions.

B: Besides vocabulary building, what other lessons do you hope your viewers come away with?

CG: We have worked hard throughout the series to depict pet ownership in a positive way, to model good owner behavior. We hope viewers will come away with an appreciation for the important role dogs and all pets play in our lives. We also hope, through the series and our national partnerships, to raise awareness for animal shelters and encourage more families to adopt.

B: In one show, Martha finds herself in an animal shelter and sets out to free the other animals. How did that episode come about?

CG: Susan and her late husband, Harry Foster, have always been very supportive of shelters and humane societies, so when we were brainstorming story ideas, we knew we wanted to do a story about a shelter. Our writers loved the idea of Martha finding herself in the pound because it offered a lot of possibilities—a dog’s-eye-view of the experience. And we were particularly sensitive to the idea of encouraging shelter adoptions once we began reading about the surge in shelter pets post-Hurricane Katrina, and now with mortgage foreclosures.

B: Tell us about new developments in the “Martha Speaks” world.

CG: Houghton Mifflin is re-releasing the “classic” Martha Speaks books this fall, with new editions (the hardcover version of the original Martha Speaks book includes an audio version, and the paperback includes stickers), and they will be publishing tie-in books based on some of the TV scripts beginning fall 2009, which will include tips for families on building vocabulary.

As with all PBS KIDS series, there is a wonderful website, pbskids.org/Martha, on which kids can play games and watch short videos of Martha and her friends, and parents, teachers and caregivers can find out more about the series and curriculum and get educational support materials. All of the games are designed to support the educational goal of the series. In addition, a selection of video clips and Martha episodes is available on PBS’s new broadband service (pbskidsgo.org), so kids can watch Martha online.

The series is also supported by educational outreach activities. Public television stations are hosting community events to celebrate the premiere of Martha. Some stations will be launching “reading buddy” programs, which will pair 4th- and 5th-graders with kindergarteners to share books and vocabulary-building activities in the classroom. WGBH is also working closely with the ASPCA, Intermountain Therapy Animals, humane societies, the American Library Association and other groups to encourage local partnerships with public television stations.

Martha Speaks premiered on PBS KIDS on Labor Day, Monday, September 1. Visit Martha online for more.

 

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