Q&A with Alexandra Horowitz
In her new book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz—author of the wildly popular Inside of a Dog—enlists the attention and insights of others to discover more about the neighborhood in which she lives. But when it comes to really getting the inside scoop, who better to turn to than dogs, those “creatures of the nose”?
Bark: What was the inspiration for your new work, On Looking?
B: In one of the chapters, you “look” as you see your dog does, more by smell than by vision. How were you able to get into a dog’s “nosescape”?
B: What did that tell you about a dog’s experience of the walk?
B: Did you observe other differences in the ways a dog perceives the landscape/environment? For example, in the time it took to do the walk?
B: Did your dog linger at landmarks, and if so, why do you think he did that?
B: Do you think we can refine our sense of smell by watching our dogs? Perhaps using our sense of smell differently, or doing more sniffing?
The singer and her, dog, Juliette — rock on.
Say the name “Rickie Lee Jones” and a swooping, sailing, raw and tender voice comes immediately to mind. This singer-songwriter has been on the cover of Rolling Stone, won two Grammys and a bucket-full of nominations, and otherwise entertained and surprised us for more than three decades. (Her most recent album, The Devil You Know, was recently released by Fantasy Records.) Rickie Lee and her dog, Juliette, are regulars on LA’s Los Feliz Boulevard, where she knows all the best places for coffee and corn muffi ns with raspberry jam. Her take on her dog is much like the artist herself: a little unpredictable, irreverent and, in the end, poetic.
You know, the joy of the dog’s life is in the normalcy, the strangers’ footsteps they warn you of, the way they know you’re tired or sad, or when you’re on the phone and your voice changes and they start poking you with their nose and wagging their tail extra loud to remind you not to take things seriously. The respect — my dog insists I eat before she does, or at least be cooking. She does not want to be pack leader.
My dog tries to teach me her language (even though she has not had consistent luck), and I see her eyes, or the way her head is raised, and I know she feels ill. She knows about 100 words and 50 more phrases; she knows when I’m leaving for long or short. She knows “scoot over,” “give it back” and “drink some water.” She knows the names of places and people in her life. She loves the recording studios, and the live shows make her crazy excited.
She is not a “licker”; she doesn’t see the point, and neither do I, but once in a while, a small kiss. Maybe a second small lick. She’s a lady and her name suits her. She has pain, but she insists on walking with the horse, running near the beach. She is present every day, and I have learned a lot from sharing my home with her. When I contemplate the nature of dreams, she runs and barks in her sleep. When I feel besieged, she wants to comfort me.
The story of Juliette is in her kind, kind spirit; her motherlove wakefulness; her baby dreams. I care for her, little pains and big. And she is a companion to me every day of my life now.
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
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.
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.)
Author of 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)?
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?
B: You not only fish, but hunt as well. Was that something your family did? Does your husband hunt or fish with you?
B: What made you want to become a hunter?
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?
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?
B: What do you come away with from being outdoors—does the experience vary, depending on what you’re doing?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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
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?
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
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
Parker & Jen
Parker: Lab mix, seven years old
Ally: Pointer mix, three-and-a-half years old
Kweli: Golden Retriever, eight years old
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
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
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?
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.
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc