Even the apocalypse can’t keep good dogs down.
You wouldn’t think dogs and post-apocalyptic horror comics would go together, but you’d be wrong. In Avatar Press’s six-issue series, Rover Red Charlie—now available in collected form—writer Garth Ennis and artist Michael DiPascale put our best friends in the worst of circumstances: at the end of the world. Well, the human world, anyway. Fortunately, these canines are more than up to the challenge. Rover Red Charlie offers an uncanny insight into dogs and what life must be like from their point of view.
The comic features three dogs—Rover, Red and Charlie—trying to survive in a world in which all the humans have gone crazy and become violent for unknown reasons. We’re immediately shown the terrible predicament of seeing-eye dog Charlie: his leash is wrapped tightly around his owner’s hands, and his owner is on fire. Charlie is rescued by Red and Rover, who chew through the leash.
Rover, a Bassett Hound from England, is the cynic of the bunch; this character allows Irish writer Ennis to utilize plenty of appropriate slang. Red (a Red Setter) is the dumb, sweet, brave one who is also obsessed with the smell of his butt. Charlie, a Collie, is ever-proud of his guide dog vest and, as the most trained of the three, least equipped for the chaotic new world. The three pooches band together to survive and explore this new environment, meeting a variety of dogs and other critters in a cross-county journey from (as the dogs put it) the big splash to the bigger splash.
In Bleeding Cool, Ennis—well-known for classic runs on Marvel’s The Punisher and creator-owned Preacher—explained that the story “was inspired by an old painting that used to hang on the wall of my grandparent’s kitchen and now hangs on the wall of my office. It’s just head shots of three dogs. I think it was called ‘Faithful Friends,’ and I guess I waited 40-odd years to send them on an adventure. The other inspiration was when I figured out what dogs were saying when they barked.”
Ennis decided that barking means, “I’m a dog! I’m a dog!” This refrain is used powerfully throughout the book, with a few humorous variations, such as puppies yapping “I’m a pup! I’m a pup!” and an oddball Dachshund proclaiming “I’m a fish!” For Ennis, doglish is English plus these dogs’ own distinctive vocabulary, in which people are feeders, cats are hisspots, a heart is a thumper, the ocean is the big splash, fire is the burn, chickens are bork-borkers and Chihuahuas are me-dogs (because they bark “What about me? What about me?”). I’d buy a companion glossary to this comic in a second.
Our three heroes have differing views on the feeders and this changed world. Red and Rover are more accepting of the new state of affairs; Rover expresses a thought all dogs might have if they could put together a sentence: “Any time I got near anything interesting, I hardly had time for a sniff before I heard—Rover! No!” Charlie, the service dog, has more trouble letting go. He doesn’t want freedom, even when the three dogs pretty much have it made on a farm. The saddest words in the book might be Charlie’s plea: “I just want to be told what to do again.”
DiPascale’s art is naturalistic, kinetic and humane. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time around dogs because he nails not just the specific breeds, but dogs’ distinctive body language. Whether they’re feeling playful, confused, scared or defiant, DiPascale puts them in poses dog owners will recognize as true. There’s also a visual sense of humor to match Ennis’s wit: for example, the way he draws Rover running—flying folds of flapping flesh—is both true-to-life and funny. The real triumph of DiPascale’s beautiful painted art, however, is the faces, which are equally cartoony and realistic, expressing openness and honesty. Even if these dogs weren’t born charmers in terrible circumstances, you’d love them just for their mugs.
I asked Ennis by email why comics about dogs are so appealing, and he guessed anthropomorphism, adding, “…watching a dog sniffing around, frowning and shoving his nose in things, you can't help but attribute human motivation to him. Logically you know he's thinking—food, food, food, food, water, food, food, food—but your mind automatically comes up with thoughts that appear to match his expression and actions.”
A warning: This series isn’t going to work for squeamish readers. It is a horror story, and there is some gruesome violence, some of which happens to dogs. That’s usually a dealbreaker for me; I stopped watching the TV version of Fargo after a gratuitous dog death. But the violence in this comic is necessary for the horror genre, and without spoiling things too much, I can say the ending is far from a downer.
In fact, the ending is pretty damn inspiring: it makes you think that if we feeders were gone and the world literally went to the dogs, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Dog-safe “mutt cups”
Beyond biscuits—here’s a homemade nutritious treat perfect for those festive occasions.
Yield: About 24 mini-mutt cups and 24 garnish cookies
For the Filling
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Store in sealed container until ready to fill with cheese mixture.
For the Filling
From Good Treats Cookbook for Dogs by Barbara Burg © 2007 by Quarry Books; used with permission.
Today’s inbox brings us a special bit of eye-candy (also known as publicity pitches) that we think is worth sharing. It’s a video featuring NFL quarterback Tom Brady playing fetch with his dog Lua. This short contemplation on hard work, success and man’s best friend is a promotion for UGG, the Australian shoemaker who employs Brady as their official pitchman. We don’t know if it will make people run out and buy their shoes, but maybe a few will be inspired to adopt a Pit or Pit-mix ... like Tom.
Richmond, California’s Point Isabel, once toxic landfill, is one of the nation’s biggest and best off-leash parks
I had just let Annie and Patch out of the car at Point Isabel when a white sedan screeched up and a plump, middle-aged passenger tumbled out. She plunged toward us, beaming. “Perros o perras?” she demanded. Boy dogs or girl dogs?
Then she seized Annie’s big head in both hands and, bending low over my inscrutable, fearsome-looking Akita mix, crooned, “Que linda, que linda.” What a beautiful girl. Annie was delighted, thank dog.
Often called “the Point Isabel dog park,” Point Isabel Regional Shoreline (PI) is actually a unique multi-use park on the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay. With camera-ready views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais, it is beloved by walkers with and without dogs, joggers, birdwatchers, windsurfers, and the occasional fisherman or kayaker. Recently, a Japanese tour group even stopped to marvel (and be marveled at).
Many people, like my white-sedan lady, are there for a dog fix. Berkeley resident Katie Triest, who doesn’t have a dog, delights in watching them cavort. “It’s amazing how well they all get along,” she says.
People of all ages and abilities relish PI, according to Jerry Yukic, a pastpresident of Point Isabel Dog Owners and Friends (PIDO). Yukic, who is 89, brings Dusty, a Brittany Spaniel rescue, to PI twice a day. “It’s a very safe place for senior citizens,” she says.
For decades, though, PI was a wasteland. Like much of the open space along the East Bay shoreline, the park is built on fill. In fact, Battery Point (part of North Point Isabel) was once a dumping ground for battery casings that leaked lead and zinc. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that tons of contaminated waste were hauled away from North PI or buried under a clay cap. People with dogs had been roaming the area for many years, however.
In 1985, PIDO began negotiating permanent off-leash status with the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). Two years later, the park district agreed that dogs could be off-leash everywhere except the mudflats at low tide (when shorebirds are feeding) and the nearby marsh. Dogs are welcome in all open space, picnic areas, even the Sit & Stay Café. Better yet, people can kick back at the café while their canines are spruced up a few feet away at Mudpuppy’s Tub & Scrub.
Most people don’t just kick back, though. At PI, the typical companion human is getting some exercise. The roughly 50-acre park, with its 3.2 miles of pathways, is divided by a channel that drains Hoffman Marsh. Visitors can circle both halves of the park—the 23 acres of PI proper and North PI, which is slightly bigger—using loop trails. A footbridge connects the two areas.
How all this good stuff came about depends on whom you ask.
The acclaimed EBRPD, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, is known for its refreshingly progressive off-leash polices that allow dogs on much of its vast trail system. Even so, it may not have anticipated PI’s popularity with dog walkers. One legend at the park district has it that Point Isabel used to be just a desolate, windy place where no one went. Then people started walking dogs there, and by the time the district realized what was happening, it was too late to stop it.
The story told by the founders of PIDO is more romantic. They say that PI was wild, weedy and frequented by drug dealers dodging the Richmond police. After PIDO organized in 1985, “the number of dogs increased, and the drug dealers, frightened by the dogs and the growing presence of dog owners, disappeared,” according to an article by the late Sylvia Schild, PIDO’s first president. Then the usual suspects started complaining about dogs being allowed to run free.
PIDO fought that battle and others for years, during which it developed a close partnership with the EBRPD, became a 501(c)3 nonprofit and grew from 75 to 5,200 members.
from 75 to 5,200 members. Today, Point Isabel is a runaway success and a huge boon for the East Bay’s dense urban population. It is by far EBRPD’s single most popular recreation spot, with well over 1.3 million visitors every year—and no doubt that many dogs, making it one of the top off-leash areas in the United States.
Not bad for an old dump.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
As late summer’s dog days drift into fall, it’s time to try something new.
Learn | Sign up for obedience, agility or another canine-centric activity, and crack open the Internet to expand your dog-cog information base. (Patricia McConnell is an excellent guide; visit patriciamcconnell.com for leads.)
Refresh | Toss the flattened stuffies and stock up on new chewables, DIY a toy storage box, or take the washable pooch bed to a commercial laundry and fluff it up.
Volunteer | Stop by your local shelter and offer yourself as a dog walker, or a dog talker; dogs benefit from having someone sit nearby and talk (or read) to them.
Foster | Partial to a particular breed? See if its local rescue group needs foster homes for dogs-in-waiting. Better yet, make the same offer to your shelter.
Unwind | Give doga a try; get out the yoga mat and do a few downwardfacing dogs with your in-house dogini.
Leaf Peep | Fall-color hot spots abound; google “fall foliage” for your region, then hit the road, co-pilot in the car and camera at hand.
Have Fun | Rake leaves into billowy piles for your dog to jump into … then rake them up again.
Light Up | Days are getting shorter; make sure you’re visible on late-afternoon or early-evening walks. Put new batteries in your flashlight and invest in reflective vests: one for you, one for the pup.
Look Up | Sirius, the Dog Star, is the night sky’s brightest, and easy to spot (plus, stargazing is a good way to pass the moments while your furry friend checks her p-mail).
Dress Up | Make your dog a costume and take part in a Halloween dog parade. NYC’s Tompkins Square Park hosts one of the most venerable, and other cities and groups also sponsor them. Or, try your hand at carving a dog-o-lantern.
Freeze Up | Fall is prime time for pumpkins, one of canine nutrition’s high-antioxidant, high-soluble-fiber wonder foods. Puree fresh cooked pumpkin and freeze it in silicone ice cube trays or muffin tins for future meals. (Organic produce seems to provide more good-guy antioxidants, so go organic when possible.) For recipes: thebark.com/pumpkin
Plan Ahead | Popular dog-friendly resorts and vacation venues fill up fast; make your holiday reservations now. Or, if you know you’ll be traveling sans dog, reserve time in your favorite pet sitter’s schedule.
Get Started | Winter and its seasonal celebrations are coming, so put on your DIY hat and make something special. Knit a sweater, felt a woolen ball, crochet a colorful dog bed, assemble a keepsake book.
PS | Stay safe. Along with summer heat’s last hurrah come potentially dangerous blue-green algae blooms, particularly in freshwater lakes and streams. Read up on their hazards at petpoisonhelpline.com.
Selling dog food with panache
Dog Food for Thought: Pet Food Label Art, Wit & Wisdom (Insight Editions) showcases the colorful, bold packaging from the golden age of advertising— think Mad Men meets Lassie. This book by Warren Dotz and Masud Husain is a reminder that dogs are firmly embedded in pop culture imagery. We asked Dotz to expand on the topic.
The period from the early 1950s through the late ’70s was not only the apex of independently owned pet food companies and supermarkets; it was also a time when the creative flourish of modern aesthetics was incorporated into label design. And so, many of the pet food labels showcased in our book are among the best and boldest that commercial advertising of the time had to offer.
I love the bold logotypes, interesting fonts and old-school names. It was a time you might call your dog Rover or King, Lucky or Bingo. The names and illustrations have some wit and humor, too. Most importantly, I think they capture visually all the things we love about “man’s best friend.”
Things changed in the ’80s. As large corporations consolidated the pet food industry [Ed. note: and regulatory oversight increased], labels became more serious and downright boring. Basically, the fun illustrations were replaced by generic photographs of dogs. Many labels I found didn’t even bother to have a picture of a dog at all. Just a brand name. Our book has the originals in their “before-there-were-any-focusgroups” glory and naiveté.
Bark’s conversation with Warren Dotz continues …
What visual styling and cultural and historical influences characterize these dog food labels?
The first goal of any label is to catch the customer’s eye and a dog label is no different. The genesis of pet food labels really goes back to the orchards and farmlands of California. Fruits and vegetables were originally shipped in wooden crates and colorful lithographic labels were affixed to the ends of each crate to identify its contents and place of origin. As the produce market grew larger each season, immense competition at the local level took place. Since fruits and vegetables look alike from crate to crate—and the same could be said about dog food from can to can—illustrated labels were used to differentiate one brand from the next. The label art proved so successful that they appeared on canned legumes and sardines and even boxes of cigars.
In the 1950's however, almost overnight, the development of pre-printed cardboard boxes caused wooden crates with paper labels to be a thing of the past. Unused stocks of produce labels that remained undiscovered for years in old print shops and barns across the country eventually were collected by historians, collectors, and art lovers but the emphasis was on produce, not pets. The illustrators in print shops however had turned their eye to pet food and it was a growth industry. Our book is the first about dog food art.
Your book focuses on dog food labels of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Did things change?
In the 1950’s, although some pet food brands continued the traditional fruit crate label style—often depicting real-life dogs—other illustrators began to be influenced by modern cartoons, comic books, Walt Disney and television. In particular, Saturday morning, cartoon television and the cereal box brands (and commercials) that sponsored them. Still present were the bold logo types but now there were illustrations of more modern-style, comic-strip dogs, mutts and puppies. These Kid-Vid and Mad Men era styled labels were some of our favorites and the book is filled with many of these.
What was the business and economic landscape like to produce so many different dog food products—what does that abundance say about America at that time?
Most meat-based canned dog food had a significant share of the market until a shortage of tin during World War II meant no more canned foods for dogs at that time. Dry kibble filled the breech. Canned dog food returned after the war along with the GI bill. That allowed unprecedented numbers of Americans to buy homes, furthering the economic boom. The move to the suburbs also replaced the corner grocery store with supermarkets teaming with processed foods. This massive increase in consumer demand resulted in vast quantities of agricultural scraps from slaughterhouses, grain mills, and processing plants. Meat and poultry companies saw the opportunity to use their animal by-products in a marketable way. Rather than waste these scraps on fertilizer, many new commercial pet food companies were formed with this unlimited countrywide opportunity. By the 1970s, there were more than 1,500 pet foods on the market with varieties of liver, beef, and chicken flavors.
During that same time, a major pet food company discovered a method for taking a hot liquid “soup” of meat, fat, and grain scraps and injecting them through another heat process that "popped" the fluid into light, kibbled dry food of any shape—just like kids cereal. These new types of kibble “chow” were sold in colorful boxes and bags and they too became part of our collection of advertising art.
Are there naming conventions or marketing terms that were popularized during the period?
Most food was either considered “moist canned” or “dry kibbled.” Gaines-Burgers, a brand of dog food introduced a hybrid category in 1961. The product consisted of individually wrapped patties of moisturized dog food which resembled a hamburger. Unlike hamburgers, the Gaines-Burgers could be stored at room temperature for long periods of time and not be canned. Interestingly, many of the product labels in the books point out that the cats would love the dog food too. That is not going to fly these days with the feline crowd.
Have any interesting anecdotes regarding tracking down these labels or good stories about these old dog food companies?
Well, I like to collect beautiful paper label art whether it be Indian matchboxes, packs of Chinese firecrackers or Mad Men era food products. I’ve written books about them all, in fact.
But by far—of all my collections—this collection of pet food label art was the most difficult to assemble. So my idea for this book sat dormant for a decade. Who would have thought to save them? Now and then a fruit crate label dealer would come upon a pet food label for me. Then one day I discovered and won a huge estate auction of labels, saved not by a collector, but a pet food executive from the Midwest. He actually wrote notes on the back of some labels regarding their product’s aroma and appearance. I guess one person’s corporate espionage became my treasure and the starting point and subsequently the backbone of the book. Even with all those labels I still needed to find more of the very best on Ebay and through ephemera dealers. When someone found a great vintage can of dog food in the back of an old kitchen cabinet or run-down garage, I was there—figuratively knocking on their door so-to-speak—to not only save the can’s label from the scrap heap but also to present it in its true graphic beauty.
Any pitfalls in writing a book about retro imagery in a modern digital world?
Masud, my co-author who is the graphic designer of this book, is a master of freshening the label imagery digitally so they look like the day they first appeared on the supermarket shelf. He is also an award-winning branding specialist so he knows his way around vintage label art and contemporary graphics. Although the images are “retro” we design our books in a modern style. Besides pet lovers, we also expect our books to be embraced by illustrators and graphic designers who find inspiration in the images. One illustrator recently wrote online that he is the artist for a video game and used our book to spark his creativity in producing faux 60s product art.
What about the fun quotations in the book?
It took three years to find the label art but adding the quotations, proverbs, and witty remarks took just as long. It is one of the most endearing parts of the book that ties everything together. People—especially famous people like comedians or literary figures—love their pets and have a lot to say about them. From Albert Einstein to Rodney Dangerfield, there were literally hundreds of quotations to discover and choose from. I wanted modern contemporary quotes from the famous and not-so-famous. Funny, insightful quotes and just interesting statements. All working seamlessly with the illustration art. All to capture the spirit, varied personalities and beautiful idiosyncrasies of our dogs.
Do you have a favorite quotation?
My favorite is from George Carlin that I used to describe a label depicting a bunch of breeds all gazing out at you, all in a row: “Life is a series of dogs.”
Dog's Life: Humane
Prison inmates train dogs behind bars.
Freedom Tails is a joint program with the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Wash., and the animal rescue group North Beach PAWS. It partners rescued dogs with SCCC inmates who train and care for the dogs to prepare them for life in their adoptive homes. We feature Freedom Tails in the April/May 2011 issue of The Bark, along with two leather collars made by the SCCC K9 Club to support Freedom Tails (see “Kit’s Corner”).
We spoke with SCCC Corrections Unit Supervisor Dennis Cherry, who heads up the program on the corrections end, as well as Program Assistant Karen Diehm, who writes the program’s monthly newsletters, and Carl Corcoran and Robert Wrinkle, two of the inmate trainers. They explain how the program got started and how it has dramatically changed life inside the prison.
Bark: What made you specifically want to try a dog program at SCCC?
Cherry: We heard how successful it was for bringing violence down in the units and how it was helping the offenders cope with being in prison and helping them when they get out. It gives them a self worth, like they’re helping the community. And it helps them to progress in their lives once they get out. It gives them some responsibility while they’re in here. They have to take care of a dog and they’re totally responsible for it. And it seems to be working pretty well.
Bark: Trainer Corcoran, what made you decide to participate in the program?
Corcoran: It gives me something to look forward to every day. I have something to care for, and it gives me a self-worth. I feel like I’m doing something good for the community and a dog.
Bark: The dogs you’ve been training, are they dogs that have been surrendered and have been in shelters?
Corcoran: My first dog that I had was a Terrier. Her name was Cookie. I came in just a couple weeks prior to her graduating, and that was the dog that I learned on. Maverick was the first dog that I trained on my own. He was a black Lab. He was an owner surrender. The owner didn’t have time for him, so they just gave him up. Now I have Skeeter.
Diehm: Skeeter’s a special project this time around. His owner has a disability, so we’re training him to help her when he gets back home.
Corcoran: Right now I’m training him to ring a bell. I have started training him to bring me a bag, which is going to have medicine in it. He’s picked that up real well. And he wears a special harness. It’s kind of like he’ll be used for a cane, or if she falls down, she can use him to get back up.
Wrinkle: I trained the first [assistance] dog. We trained her last session, and she was trained for a 17-year-old who has Down syndrome, and she was the first special needs dog we did. That was kind of difficult, because we had to train her to be very gentle with her mouth, no jumping. Everything that a person with Down syndrome needs. And we teach ourselves in some sense on how to train dogs in that way.
Bark: Do you feel like doing this has prepared you for leaving the correctional system?
Wrinkle: It’s helped me. You see, when we first started this, I was kind of a wreck. Not really that much of a sense of responsibility, although I’d been through some college. And it’s like having a two-year-old kid on your shoulder all the time, so you’ve really got to pay attention. You’ve got to feed him, exercise him. You’ve got to bathe him. Everything in your daily life, you have to do with a two-year-old kid more or less. As far as responsibility, I mean we’ve got to give the dog meds, everything to do with this dog we live with him day in and day out for the next eight to 12 weeks. So it’s taught me more responsibility in the 14 or 15 months that I’ve been in the dog program than I’ve learned since I’ve been down. Plus, it’s also taught me that people do care. We get to interact with the community in this program in ways that we never have before.
Bark: When you say “interact with the community,” do you mean specifically with the outside trainers?
Wrinkle: With the trainers and, at graduation, they bring in all of the families that are adopting the dogs, and we go through a dog show, sort of just like on TV. And everybody sits there and watches, and when we’re done, we interact with the public at large. Some of the phrases and some of the comments we get are stuff that we—that I—haven’t seen in over 20 years. I’m just living in an enclosed bubble in here and we don’t get to see a lot of stuff. It kind of brings to light some of the positive aspects of everything we’re doing.
Bark: What are the dogs like when they arrive at SCCC? Do they mostly need to be resocialized?
Corcoran: Well, some dogs, when they come in, have been chained up in a backyard their whole lives without much contact with humans or animals. So when they get here, some of them don’t know how to react to all these people or another dog. So it takes a lot of time and patience on our part to just adjust this dog slowly, get him to be around more humans and other dogs. Some of these dogs come in not knowing how to be a dog.
Wrinkle: Plus, our lead trainer has actually saved dogs that are on the way to be put down. We had one dog that they found under a boat, named Angel; she was so near death they did not think she was going to make it. We’ve had other dogs come in that are so underweight that they’re about 50% of their actual weight. We’ve had other dogs come in that we’ve actually had to do a hair care session with them because they’re so patched and bald that you would never think that they’d come out of this program the way that they do. It’s just really amazing.
Bark: Do you see parallels between your life in prison and the lives of all these surrendered dogs?
Wrinkle: Yeah, I do. It’s actually put life back into my life. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s given me back a lot of stuff that I’ve lost over the years. And it’s not just for me, but for my family. It’s helped me re-interact with my family as far as how they’re feeling. That’s a topic of conversation every single time I talk with my family. They want to know what’s going on with training, just about everything about it.
Bark: Is it that you have something in common to talk about, or is there more?
Wrinkle: That’s a big part of it, that it’s something to talk about. But there’s more to it—like almost every single member of my family wants me to train their dog now.
Bark: What has surprised you most about Freedom Tails?
Wrinkle: The calm in the unit. When the first dog walked into this unit... Within a week, it was like the tension level dropped to about 50%. And the stress level. It was almost as if everybody had new conversation. I don’t know how else to say it. It just was a drastic change. You can even see when there’s no dogs in the unit, in the two-week span when we don’t have dogs sometimes, you can actually see the difference between the stress level and attitudes and everything.
Bark: Having dogs around gives you a common connection.
Wrinkle: Yes, definitely.
Cherry: Yeah, you can see it in their faces. Guys who aren’t involved in the program, when they can pet the dogs when they see a green or yellow collar. And when they’re petting the dogs, you can see the smiles on their faces instead of frowns. It’s pretty amazing, really.
Bark: Do you see other correctional facilities interested in starting dog training programs as a result of Freedom Tails?
Cherry: We have. From our program, there’s probably four others that have started in our prisons across Washington. Walla Walla has one now, Munroe has one, Cedar Creek has one, Olympic Corrections Center has one. They modeled it off our program, pretty much.
Bark: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the program?
Wrinkle: The only thing I can really say is this has made a drastic change in my life and everything in it has been for the better. I know it’s going to help me when I release.
Cherry: I’d like to make one point, that the whole purpose of our program was to save dogs that might not have a life. If a dog ends up in a kennel, he’s facing death sometimes. And we’re actually taking these dogs and we’re re-training them and adopting them to good families, so we’re saving these dogs in the community. Some guys even relate it to their situation. Some guys are never getting out of prison. They see that and they think, “That’s cool. They’re out there giving that dog a second chance. You know, I wish someone would give me a second chance.” Maybe it gives them some hope. Maybe it doesn’t. But at least it gives them some appreciation of what we’re doing.
Corcoran: Yeah instead of doing something negative for the community, we’re doing actually something positive. And it feels good.
To learn more about Freedom Tails, visit North Beach PAWS. The SCCC K9 Club makes leather collars, leashes and keychains that are available for sale. All proceeds are collected by North Beach PAWS and go to support Freedom Tails.
More Recipes from "Dog Cookies"
Every dog deserves the occasional cookie, but some treats can trigger allergies or tummy trouble. Dog Cookies comes to the rescue with 30 easy-to-follow recipes for healthy, allergen-free treats—including vegetarian and gluten-free treats—so you can find the perfect cookie no matter your dog’s diet.
For the gluten-free Amaranth Waffles recipe, see the Summer 2011 issue of The Bark.
Baking time: 30 minutes in a pre-heated oven
Any type of fish can be used for this recipe, so use whichever your dog likes best.
Caution: Ensure all of the bones are removed from the fish.
Regardless of which fish you use, these biscuits should not be stored for too long. Salmon, for example is quite high in fat, so there is a risk it may go rancid. Store the biscuits in an airtight container, and do not keep them for any longer than two weeks.
Baking time: 30 minutes in a pre-heated oven
We had the chance to talk with Matthew Gilbert, TV critic for the Boston Globe and author of one of our 2014 “Best Reads” about his first book, Off the Leash: Year at the Dog Park and his conversion to being a dog lover. His is a rather unique perspective because not long ago he was definitely on the other end of dog-loving spectrum.
You seem to be in a rather unique position being rather new to the dog world, you can see both sides, can’t you? So from the “other” side, the non-dog-loving side of things, can you recall your reasons for not liking dogs, and are they any that perhaps make you cringe today when you remember those feelings?
The first thing I think of is the way my hand would buzz after I touched a dog, until I got to a sink to wash it. I did not like to have physical contact with dogs, or with anything they’d touched!
Good lord. Now, I pet my dog Toby 100 times a day, scratching under his chin and around his ears until he starts swooning with pleasure. I kiss his snout, I sniff and kiss his paws, I rub the boogers off his eyes in the morning. I love the tactile sense of him.
I think back on my distaste and cringe ten times over. I was missing one of the great joys of life…. Wow. I was living in a bubble, and I felt that dogs were just too spontaneous and reckless for me. I depended far too heavily on a sense of order and control, and dogs were the opposite of that.
Also, my mother was terrified of dogs, and that filtered down to me. She would not be able to relax if there was a dog in sight. Nowadays, when I see little kids at the park, I enjoy introducing them to Toby, trying to make them smile at the big lug of a goose who’ll sit and give me his paw for a treat. It’s very healing, unless the parent is too nervous.
What advice would you give to people who don’t much like dogs but perhaps, for the sake of the children or their spouse, might be considering getting one?
It took me years to fall in love with dogs. I fell in love with a dog person, and that was the start of the change. To use a popular term, I evolved… So I don’t think there’s a magical solution to the dislike of dogs.
My advice would be to open up your heart as much as possible, watch the pleasure the dog brings to the other members of the family, try to appreciate that. Don’t shut yourself out of the experience because you were pushed into it. Who knows, you may evolve, too, in a lovely way.
In your book you do a very good job about what that immersion was like, but tell us what your biggest surprises were about discovering that you are really a dog lover? Any surprises about being thrust into the middle of the dog park community? What did you think it would be, and what was it really like?
I continue to feel surprised by the change, some 10-12 years into it, and I have friends from the old days who still tease me about how I once did not like dogs. When I’m with dogs now, I feel happy in a way that’s hard to define, but that still feels new. It’s like the presence of dogs changes everything for the better, and I relearn that over and over again.
The surprises at the park were fantastic. I thought it would be a catty (!) environment with lots of breed snobbery and competition. I thought conversations would be painfully superficial. I thought watching dogs play would be boring. But within a few months, I understood that those fears were mostly unfounded, that the relationships we form daily at the dog park can be profound, that watching dogs play is one of the best pleasures in life, that we meet great people at the park we might never have met otherwise.
I’ve never been so happy to have been so wrong.
Are there things about the dog park community now that make you wonder if you are truly a part of it? I realize there are all sorts of factions within any societal group, but like the bulldog meet up group who “spoiled” it for others at that one park, what are you views of that? And what, if you were able to warn enthusiastic dog people about, what would that be?
Some days, I feel like an outsider. Either there’s no one to talk to, or there are people but they’re in what seem like closed groupings. But I’ve learned to let that go, and it has been a great shedding of baggage. No friends at the park today? Wait until tomorrow.
Dogs are my role models in many ways, not least of all because they are experts in resilience and letting go.
I’m not a fan of breed “meet-ups,” just because they can be exclusive. They also draw people from far away who may not much care about treating the park with respect. Still… who am I to judge any kind of celebratory gathering of dogs? Meet-ups are not for me, but any dog joy is good.
My biggest warning to a dog-park newcomer is: Don’t assume all owners are responsible. We want to think the best of anyone who loves dogs, but some owners have aggressive dogs and subject other dogs to that. It’s so awful. I recount an attack on Toby in my book, and I still shudder when I think of the sounds my little goose made while a whippet started snapping at him.
No one wants to be in the position of keeping a dog on leash at the park, but if your dog has been proven to have issues, you need to protect others. If you show that you want to be fair, that you are responsible, people will inevitably try to help you out. If you keep letting your dog go after other dogs, you will probably face a hard road with a lot of angry people moving away from you.
I do think that a lot of the “opposition” to dogs results from some of us being rather clueless when it concerns others and how they perceive us and our dogs. What do you think and do you want to give any examples?
Some dog lovers don’t understand just how terrified of dogs people can be. But, as someone who has been on the other side, I am fully aware of it. It’s not an act. A person who is afraid of dogs doesn’t understand anything about breed temperament or size; all they know is they are scared. So I think dog owners need to find some patience and respect for the fearful.
We kind of need to be ambassadors of the dog world when we are among those who don’t understand it. I’m not saying we don’t have rights; I’m just saying a little bit of sensitivity and friendliness goes a long way. Rather than put a non-dog person on the defensive, try to cultivate them.
One other thing: Dog owners need to pick up their dog’s poop, always. Poops on sidewalks and park grass are the dog-haters’ best ammunition against us. Plus, no one – not even dog owners – wants to step in it.
Are there any things about raising the pup Toby that you would do differently?
We’re lucky, because he’s turned out so happy and peaceful. I was very gung ho about training him early on, and in retrospect, as I detail in the book, I was being too controlling. So maybe I would be a little less aggressive about teaching him commands.
Although he still won’t “drop it,” dammit!
Everyone seems to love to talk about the “lessons” learned from their dogs, so tell us if there are any you would like to share with us?
That’s such a great question, and one I hope my book answers to some extent. The lessons include resilience, being in the moment, remembering to play, keeping joy in your daily life, not being afraid of the complications of socializing, becoming more trusting, and on and on…! I still learn new things from Toby and his friends every day.
You and your partner have a different style of dog-raising, has that resulted in any conflicts, how are they resolve? Has he ever taken to the dog park scene that you so successful have?
Tom is definitely not a dog park person. For a while, my friends at the park teased me about my phantom husband and whether I’d made him up.
He loves Toby in a more private way. He has a man-and-his-dog fantasy, and he lives it out by walking Toby around the city and on trails. Some couples come to the park together all the time, or alternate; not us.
There have been tense moments when I’ve had to remind him that Toby loves to be among dogs, and there have been moments when he has gotten tired of my dog park stories. But overall, we have adapted to our differing styles. We both love Toby so much; it always comes down to that.
Do you have a difficult time seeing Toby as a dog? Do you ever fear that you aren’t living up to his expectations?
Sometimes, yes. For one thing, I talk to him all the time, and I give him voice, too. I have conversations with him, while he sits looking at me with his big brown eyes like I’m such a strange creature. But ultimately, I love the fact that he is a dog, and not a human being. That’s one of the best things about dogs – that they aren’t human!
His expectations are steak every day, cookies in between, and a constant flow of the best, most squeakiest toys. So I know I’m not living up to his expectations! But seriously, I think he’s a happy dog, and I think he likes having some restrictions – say 10 cookies a day instead of 1000. I think he knows that we are madly in love with him, and that we would do anything for him. And I love that feeling. He trusts us, and that is everything.
Being a TV critic, what are the most memorable dog characters on TV now? If you were to write a TV show about your dog, what would that be?
It’s not for everyone, but I love “Wilfred” on FXX. We see the dog on the show as a man in a dog suit, which is kind of twisted but a lot of fun. The writers insert a lot of jokes that only dog owners will understand. I also enjoy Stella the French bulldog on “Modern Family,” mostly because of the love and humor she brings out in the humans.
My fantasy would be to see “Off the Leash” as “The Office” at the dog park, with a cast of lovable misfits and a mockumentary tone. I think that would be perfect.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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