Home
lifestyle
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog Speak: The Sounds of Dogs
More than just noise

A friend suggested that one of the reasons we love dogs so much is that they can’t talk back. But I wonder whether that’s true. Sure, a dog won’t tell you, “You really shouldn’t have that second cookie,” but does that mean dogs are not talking back?

Dogs are anything but mute, and while we usually focus on wagging tails and beguiling eyes, vocalizations—among them, barks and growls—provide us with another window into dogs’ everyday experiences.

Social species are known to be much noisier than animals who lead solitary lives. Snow leopards roam the mountains of central Asia in near silence, but groups of monkeys do a lot of highvolume chattering. So, given that dogs and their wild progenitor, the wolf, are über-social, it’s no surprise that both produce a wide range of vocalizations: they bark, whine, whimper, howl, huff, growl, yelp and yip (among other nuanced sounds). From the earliest moments of their lives, dogs and their canid relatives produce tonal yelps and whines, and atonal barks and grunts appear in the fi rst few weeks of life in conjunction with the onset of social behavior.

There’s a big difference between the bark of an adult dog and that of an adult wolf, however. Dogs seem to play every instrument in the orchestra, hitting the highs of the flute and the lows of the tuba, sometimes with the duration of a Wagnerian opera. Plus, there seems to be no context in which a dog won’t bark: They bark when alone and with other dogs. Some bark before, during and even after a ball is thrown. A car goes by or the doorbell rings and barking ensues. In contrast, wolves bark less frequently and in fewer contexts, primarily for warning or defense.

Meanings Behind the Message
What do canine vocalizations mean? Animal behavior researchers have only recently begun to chip away at this question. As Monique Udell, PhD, who is currently a faculty fellow at the University of Oregon, refl ects, “Vocal behavior in other species has received a lot of detailed attention. In birds, we’ve looked down to the note sequence and explored tiny variations. Vocalizations are such a prominent feature of dogs, and there is a lot to learn.” To date, dog vocalizations have not received comparable scrutiny.

That being said, research that has been conducted on the subject is incredibly insightful. Take growls, which, it has been shown, dogs use to accurately judge another dog’s size. How in the world do we know that? Tamás Faragó, PhD, and his colleagues at the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest (familydogproject.elte.hu) presented dogs with two images of the same dog: one was true to size and another was 30 percent larger or smaller. Dogs then listened to a pre-recorded growl, and most dogs looked at the image of the full-size dog rather than the altered image.

Growls appear to be meaningful in other ways as well. In another study, Faragó and his colleagues used some clever trickery to explore how dogs respond to growls recorded in different situations. In an apparently empty room, a dog was allowed to approach a bone. Unbeknownst to the dog, there was a speaker hidden behind the bone, and as the dog approached, the sound of a “play growl,” a “stranger-approaching” growl or a “food-guarding” growl was transmitted through it. Dogs were likely to take the bone when hearing the “stranger-approaching” or “play” growl, but the food-guarding “my bone” growl deterred them. Even though the foodguarding and stranger-approaching growls sound quite similar (at least, to our ears), they prompted different behavior.

Many studies investigating vocalizations are based on prerecorded samples, but it is important to remember that vocalizations and visual signals usually go hand-in-hand. In the strangerapproaching context, dogs growled with closed mouths, whereas in fooddefense situations, they showed their teeth and pulled back their lips.

While we tend to take notice when we hear a growl, we often dismiss barking as meaningless noise, as though it is simply an item on a dog’s daily checklist: “Take a walk, have breakfast, bark.” Before the turn of the century, that was the prevailing view among researchers and theorists. At most, barking was thought to result from social facilitation— one dog barking prompts other dogs to bark—or maybe attentionseeking, or even rivalry or defense.

Only recently have researchers begun to investigate whether barks produced in different contexts vary in their acoustic parameters (such as tone and pitch). Scientists theorized that if— like growls—barks displayed consistent differences, they might have a more specific communicative function, perhaps even be associated with a dog’s internal motivational or emotional state. For example, some barks might convey aggression while others might convey friendliness.

In one early study, Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, recorded a variety of breeds barking in response to different situations: a stranger ringing the doorbell (“disturbance barks”), separated from an owner (“isolation barks”) and play. Yin found that the barks did indeed have different acoustic properties. Disturbance barks were harsher and lower in pitch with little amplitude modulation, while isolation and play barks were pitched higher and had greater tonal and higher frequency and a wider range of amplitude modulation. More recent studies confirm that dog barks follow particular patterns. For example, a dog barking at a stranger sounds very different from a dog barking before going on a walk. But do these vocalizations carry meaning? They do for dogs. When dogs in one study listened to barks recorded in a new context or from a new dog, they gave more attention to the unfamiliar bark. This suggests that dogs can detect that some barks are different from others, though scientists are still exploring ways to determine how exactly they perceive and process that information. Humans, too, can decipher barks. Whether or not they’re experienced with dogs, people are quite good at classifying barks into their appropriate contexts and attributing them to perceived emotional states. After listening to randomly played recordings, people describe isolation barks as full of despair, while barks from a play session are said to be happy. Our ability to do this starts early; by age 10, children are able to assign different-sounding barks to the correct context. Today, we can distinguish the acoustic properties of certain barks so accurately that we’re able to program computers to categorize them (which confirms that computers will one day take over the earth; personally, I hope Ryan Gosling will be there to save us).

Recognizing the Patterns
How do we perceive meaning in the vocalizations of another species ? Apparently, dogs and humans have more in common than a love of shoes. Through their shared mammalian histories, canine and human vocalizations follow similar acoustic patterns. Highpitched and more tonal noises convey friendliness, affiliation and “come here,” whereas low-pitched and less tonal sounds convey aggression and “go away.” These rules and tendencies, which are found across mammalian and avian species, govern our own communication and emotional expression. When talking to infants, we generally use a highpitched “baby” tone rather than lower-register sounds.

A recent publication by Kathryn Lord, PhD, offers an additional take on why dogs bark. She and colleague Ray Coppinger, PhD, investigated the contexts in which other species use barklike sounds: “When other species emit their version of a bark, they are usually in some sort of conf licting situation. For example, an animal is at a nest or den and observes some sort of threat. Customarily, the animal would run, but because of its situation, it can’t, so it barks. We think [that] when dogs bark, they are making these sounds in association with an alert or an internal motivational state of conflict.”

In a sense, Lord and Coppinger argue that “conflicted” should be dogs’ middle name. They suggest that dogs bark in so many different situations because they often find themselves conflicted: they are in the house and want to go out, they are out and want to come in. And it may be that, through the process of domestication itself, dogs have become more prone to put themselves in these sorts of situations. In comparison with wolves, dogs have a substantially decreased f light distance; something can easily get too close before the dog feels conf licted about how to respond.

Udell suggests that barking doesn’t have to be whittled down to one simple explanation. “If you look at communication and vocalizations in a wide range of species, it usually isn’t about one thing. Chickadees have ‘alert’ calls, but they also have songs, and the songs themselves can mean different things in different contexts. I think the same could hold true for dogs.”

So Annoying
These general frameworks are just part of the story. Genes and environment affect all things dog, including vocalizations. In their seminal study of dog behavior and genetics, Scott and Fuller note that when Basenjis, a typically “barkless” dog, do actually bark, they generally produce only one or two low “woofs.” On the other hand, “the maximum number of barks recorded for a Cocker in a 10-minute period was 907, or more than 90 a minute.” Why the Guinness Book of World Records was not contacted is beyond me.

But genes aren’t everything. As Susan Friedman, PhD, a pioneer in the application of applied behavior analysis to captive and companion animals and a psychology professor at Utah State University, explains, “While Shih Tzus as a group tend to display less barking than Miniature Poodles, that doesn’t mean barking in Miniature Poodles is impervious to change. And I’ve certainly known individual Miniature Poodles who are quiet and individual Shih Tzus who are barky, both based on their current situations. The individual always bests any generalization.”

Dr. Yin’s study of dog barks concurs. Even within breeds, she found variations in who barked and when. Rudy and Siggy, 11-year-old German Shorthaired Pointers, both barked in the disturbance context, but when alone, Rudy did not bark and Siggy had lots to say.

The effects of the social environment on dog behavior can be important because sometimes, dogs just go with the flow. On The Bark’s Facebook page, Bev Morey of Kansas commented, “After attending day care each afternoon, my Weimaraner now barks at anything and everything. So annoying.”

“So annoying” is one of the challenges of barking. While all vocalizations, including barking, are generally seen as normal elements of dog behavior, barking is one of dogs’ less-appreciated attributes. According to Laura Monaco Torelli, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, director of training at Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago, “Barking can be especially challenging for those in urban settings, as they live in close quarters with neighbors.” Owners of barking dogs might receive dirty looks or formal complaints from neighbors, and enough complaints can lead to eviction.

Though dogs bark for any reason under the sun, barking is a construct of context, genes and environment, and so is flexible. For example, feral dogs are much less noisy than their counterparts who play with toys, sleep in beds and go to obedience class.

Friedman explains. “For dogs, barking is a functional behavior, meaning it is maintained, increased or decreased due to consequences. Once this is [understood], it opens the door to changing the duration, intensity and frequency of the behavior by changing the consequences.” In other words, dogs can learn to be quieter.

However, perfect quiet is probably unrealistic. Owners can’t always control the stimuli that prompt barking, especially if they’re not home 24/7. Moreover, barking that has been solidified and maintained over time through intermittent reinforcement has a lot of staying power. “It seems that owners unintentionally reinforce the barks produced when a dog is around food or toys, and these become the begging barks of that dog,” says Faragó.

Monaco Torelli agrees. “If a dog learns that the noise in the hallway goes away when he barks, barking becomes an effective behavior. Barking is followed by the consequence of the noise in the hallway stopping.”

Owners should focus not on eliminating barking altogether, but on reducing it to levels they find appropriate and livable. When she meets with clients to discuss their dogs’ barking issues, Monaco Torelli asks questions such as, “How many barks is okay? What’s excessive to you?” This, she says, gives the trainer a good starting point from which to develop a plan to teach the client how to reshape a dog’s barking behavior. Trainers and owners discuss acceptable barking, and then implement techniques to achieve desired levels in each context.

Friedman shares the way she manages her own dog’s barking: “We live in the country, and when we let the dogs out, they bark at the deer for a number of seconds. Then we say, ‘That’s enough, thank you,’ and they are quiet and we praise them.” She adds, “It’s a [mistake] to think that barking is the problem. The real problem is that dogs don’t stop barking when we ask.”

So-called “quick fixes” can make barking worse, particularly if the underlying reason for the behavior isn’t addressed. “Putting an anti-bark collar on a fearful dog is unlikely to decrease barking if the consequence [shock or spray] increases the dog’s fear. If the fear increases, barking could as well,” explains Marylandbased Mary Huntsberry, MA, ACAAB.

Strategies for Change
So what can dog owners do about barking? Before you get carried away, consider whether or not action is even required. Friedman advises taking a step back. “When we ask, ‘Is barking a behavior problem?’ the [next] question is, ‘For whom?’ Barking certainly is a problem when people say it is, and for dogs, it is a problem when they are spending so much time doing it that it eclipses other healthful activities.”

Barking can be managed and modified, so if you want to influence your dog’s vocal style, it helps to start early and be observant. Teaching dogs the boundaries of acceptable vocalizations from an early age will pay off for everyone; when dogs are young, barking might be cute, but as they age, the cute factor tends to wear off. If the behavior is already in place, there are ways to alter it, Huntsberry observes. “It helps to do a functional analysis. During an extensive interview, I identify what happens immediately before (antecedent) and after (consequence) the unwanted behavior so I can identify the trigger and what maintains it.”

Monaco Torelli focuses her attention on the dog-human relationship. “When owners are frustrated by their dog’s behavior, we show them some immediate training goals and success points so they see that their dog can do what they want them to be doing, instead of what they don’t want them to do. This helps them rebuild their bond with their dog.”

The takeaway message is that barking is a nuanced and flexible behavior, and relationships can grow by paying attention to what your dog’s vocalizations mean. And if you’re on a post-holiday diet and want to train your dog to bark incessantly whenever you make a move for another slice of cake, well, that’s just good teamwork.

Dog's Life: Humane
International Outreach Vacations
Transformed by volunteering, Nora Livingstone helps others do the same
Nora Livingstone

Four months after hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, college student Nora Livingstone decided to drive from her home in Toronto to New Orleans to assist at an animal shelter during winter break. Livingstone, a double major in environmental studies and anthropology, thought she’d be walking and grooming dogs who had been separated from their owners during the flood, in an otherwise comfortable setting. The experience wasn’t what she expected. “Up in Canada, we had no idea how bad things had gotten in New Orleans,” Livingstone, now 29, says.

Her first clue to the chaos came when she entered the city. Beside the road, a dead horse hung from a tree. “Everyone was too busy helping themselves and their families to deal with the horse,” says Livingstone. “It sort of set the precedent for the rest of the week.”

The section of the city where Livingstone had signed up to volunteer didn’t even have full power. She spent her Christmas vacation working up to 20-hour days at a makeshift animal shelter at Celebration Station, a former fun park. She slept on a cot alongside other volunteers in a second-floor loft overlooking hundreds of displaced cats caged on the floor below. Outside, chain-link fences separated the runs that housed about a hundred homeless dogs. “At that time, there were still houses on top of houses,” Livingstone says. “There was tons of debris. There was no food. There were stray dogs everywhere.”

Livingstone’s volunteer work in New Orleans was difficult, both physically and emotionally. Each morning, she fed hundreds of dogs and cats, and cleaned just as many bowls and litter boxes. She picked up countless piles of dog poo. By the time she had completed the breakfast routine, it was time to feed the animals dinner, and the whole process started all over again. The sheer number of dogs meant that she could only spend a couple of minutes with each. “I cried every day,” Livingstone says. “There were some dogs who were just so bewildered and scared. The hard part about working with animals is that you can’t rationalize with them. You can’t explain what happened, and that things are going to be okay. All you can do is lie down beside them and pet them.”

Despite the challenges, Livingstone considers her time volunteering in New Orleans as some of the most rewarding in her life. The sadness she felt was tempered by the joy of witnessing daily reunions with families who had come to claim their lost pets. She learned that in many cases, people had had their pets taken from them by authorities who prohibited them at human shelters, or were forced to leave their animals behind at gunpoint by the National Guard during evacuation. “I realized that the work I was doing was helping not only animals, but also people struggling to make their families whole again after a really awful situation,” Livingstone says.

While she didn’t know it at the time, her experience planted the seed for what would become her life’s work. Six years later, Livingstone co-founded Animal Experience International (AEI), a travel company dedicated to providing animal volunteer opportunities around the globe.

But before the idea for AEI could materialize, Livingstone would return home to Canada and finish university and a post-graduate program in Outdoor Adventure Leadership, which involved activities like canoeing and kayaking. Unsure how to combine her education, her outdoors experience and her love of animals into a career, she headed to Nepal in 2007 for another round of volunteer work. She hoped to find some direction, or at least the same satisfaction she had discovered in New Orleans.

While in Nepal, Livingstone volunteered at a medical clinic and as an English teacher. She noticed that dogs were not treated the same as they were in the west. Dogs in Nepal guard homes and gardens, and are not typically considered pets. Most Nepalese believe dogs are the reincarnations of bad prophets —humans fated to live as dogs as punishment for past misdeeds.

One day at a bakery in Kathmandu, Livingstone discussed her observations with a British woman she’d just met. The woman had been living in Nepal for more than 30 years and told Livingstone about a groundbreaking dog clinic, the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Center (KAT). Shortly after, Livingstone showed up at KAT’s door and offered to volunteer. She wound up spending several weeks at the center, which aims to improve the lives of street dogs through vaccination, injury rehabilitation and spaying/neutering. After dogs are treated, experts at KAT evaluate them for pet potential, and keep those with promise at the shelter for adoption instead of returning them to the streets. “I loved being there,” Livingstone says. “A place like KAT is so rare in Nepal. I wanted to find a way to get more people involved, to let more people know about it.”

An idea formed once Livingstone returned to Canada. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a company that connected standout animal sanctuaries, shelters and conservation programs around the world with interested travelers like her? The vision stayed in the back of her mind even as she took a job as volunteer coordinator at the Toronto Wildlife Centre. It was there that Livingstone met veterinarian Heather Reid, who helped bring her idea to fruition. Reid shared Livingstone’s passion for travel and her interest in volunteer work with animals. One step ahead of Livingstone, Reid had been considering what it would take to create international animal-based volunteer experiences for other veterinarians. “My brain practically exploded after talking to Dr. Heather because it was just so obvious,” says Livingstone. “I’m passionate about volunteering and encouraging others to volunteer and travel and stir up their lives, so why not get paid to live my dream while helping other people live theirs?”

In 2011, the two women founded AEI, launching it in March with five trips, including one to KAT, the dog clinic where Livingstone had volunteered in Nepal. Within a couple of months, they had 20 travelers signed up. In June, a volunteer tourism portal, GoVolunteering.com, picked up some of their trips and blasted them out to more than 13,000 subscribers. A few months later, AEI’s client list doubled. “We knew there was a market for this,” Livingstone says, “We were just surprised at how quickly it took off.”

Animal-based organizations from all over the world started contacting AEI to create volunteer travel programs at their locations. But Livingstone has been careful to add trips slowly. One of AEI’s core values is to partner with only the best and most effective organizations; Livingstone or Reid visits each before adding it to the lineup. After one year of operation, AEI offers 26 trips to locations ranging from Canada to Thailand and Australia. Travelers can choose to volunteer with dogs, cats, bats, turtles, monkeys, elephants, parrots, bears, leopards, tigers, crocodiles and kangaroos, among others. “People have been knocking down our door, which is both inspiring and a little overwhelming,” says Livingstone.

AEI travelers can also customize the length of their trip, from two weeks to two months, with longer options available. One client signed up for a full year working with orangutans in Sumatra. Her cost of $4,390 includes accommodations, meals, transportation, travelers’ insurance—everything except airfare. While $4,390 seems like a bargain for a full year abroad, Livingstone recognizes that money is the biggest inhibitor to international travel. She and Reid have devised aggressive fundraising techniques for clients, as well as a scholarship program. “If someone is inspired enough to go on one of our trips, we’re going to do everything in our power to get them there,” says Livingstone.

Trips also include cultural experiences and sightseeing excursions. Both Livingstone and Reid want AEI travelers to experience the natural and manmade wonders that draw tourists to the destinations where they are volunteering. But they are also clear that AEI trips are not typical getaways. “We’re not offering a vacation,” Livingstone says. “This is not going to a resort, this is work. But it’s work that’s transformational— through the animals you work with, through the family you homestay with, and through the community you live in.”

Dog's Life: Travel
Destinations: Aspen, Yosemite, North Vermont
’Tween-Season
Top: Limelight Hotel Bottom: Phineas Swann

The March and April ’tween season is upon us, and it’s one of our favorite times to take to the mountains: the slopes are a little quieter, trails are less busy and prices are frequently more enticing. Winter storms are often followed by early signs of spring, which means that we (and our co-pilots) have plenty of activities to choose among. Stacking the deck even higher, here are three destinations where the indoor amenities rival the amazing outdoor attractions.

YOSEMITE, CALIFORNIA Tenaya Lodge is nestled high in the Sierra National Forest on a 35-acre reserve, just two miles from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. In addition to easy access to the park, inspiring views and a host of amenities, the lodge offers “Fido-Friendly” packages that include dog bed, water bowl and gourmet treats, plus pet-sitting and dog walking, which will free you up for some pampering time of your own. (Package rate includes fee for two dogs.)

ASPEN, COLORADO Living large in the Rockies. Tucked into the center of downtown Aspen—aka a pet-friendly paradise—the Limelight Hotel provides a comfortable respite from the rugged outdoors. Aspen’s original dog-friendly hotel welcomes your canine companions with in-room bowls and proximity to Wagner Park, a large municipal green space right across from the hotel. Beginning in mid-April, the rates fall to half the peak season prices. (Pet fee applies.)

NORTHERN VERMONT The Phineas Swann B&B is in the heart of Vermont’s Jay Peak region, a place so rich in natural offerings that it’s been designated a geotourism area. It’s also close to the Canadian border, which can mean fresh snow well into spring. The inn, a renovated farmhouse and carriage house, provides packages catering to dogaccompanied guests; the “Spa and Ski” combo tops the list. Best of all, your pooch can sleep guilt-free on the bed. (No pet fee.)

Culture: DogPatch
Urban Animal
Smiling in Seattle
Urban Animal: Taya Maes; Cherri Trusheim, DVM; Rob Oatman, LVT.

The design sensibility at Urban Animal, a veterinary office that opened last year in Seattle, is part Airstream and part 1978 Ford truck—both of which practice founder Cherri Trusheim, DVM, owns.

Located in an old medical building in what is arguably the city’s hippest neighborhood, the warm modern space features funky vinyl chairs and second-hand medical cabinets, paint-by-number dog portraits, an enormous vintage print of a cabin in the mountains (the Irish Setter pointing in the grass was added by an artist friend later), and, in the corner, a photobooth.

Yep, a photobooth, and not one of those unsatisfying digital numbers. This booth uses film and dispenses slightly wet prints in four minutes (for $4). It’s here for clients and patients to amuse themselves and perhaps take some of the stress out of a visit, but non-clients are also welcome to pop in for snapshots.

The photobooth isn’t the only unconventional thing about Urban Animal. Dr. Trusheim, who’s worked as a relief vet and at an emergency hospital, has a different plan. In addition to its all-walk-in, open-weekends schedule, Urban Animal has a strong commitment to keeping care affordable, an approach that might include not pushing for the most extreme and costly interventions. In an industry with spiraling costs, these ideas are as surprising as, well, a photobooth in a vet’s office.

News: Editors
Terms of Endearment
Editor’s Letter
Charlie - Bark Dog

Not that we need a holiday to remind us how much we cherish our dogs, but with St. Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it’s a good thing to ponder. Our newest dog, terrier-mix Charlie, whom we adopted about a year ago, has a lot going for him. As many of you may recall, we got him shortly after our 18-year-old terrier-mix Lenny died. I had grown quite attached to the sine qua non terrier nature and thought that young Charles had the same qualities as his predecessor—loyal to the core with an astute “on-ness.” But unlike Len, he also came with an overriding desire to “go to ground.” From his first night with us, sleeping next to me under the covers has been his preferred spot in the universe. It surprised me at first (plus, I feared he would suffocate!), but I quickly grew accustomed to our sleeping arrangement—it’s so endearing, and so him. The night starts with Charlie snuggled along my midsection, but by morning, he’s down at my feet (still under wraps). Does your dog sleep with you? In what fashion? Also, what do you find especially endearing about your dog?

Welcome to our new readers! The Winter ’12 issue was so popular that we sold out in mid-December, so this may be your first taste of The Bark. We kick off 2013 by putting the lid on winter and leaping into spring with zest. Julie Hecht helps us understand what all that barking is about; behaviorist Karen London explains why dogs have a fondness for novelty; and Rebecca Wallick talks to Ted Kerasote about his new book, Pukka’s Promise, in which he gives his prescription for longer-lived dogs. While we’re in agreement with much of what Ted says, we do take exception to a few of his positions, particularly his stance on spay/neuter. But debate is good, right?

John Woestendiek investigates the merging of human and veterinary medicine and the benefits that accrue to both species. We also look at the intersections between dogs and technology; as one amazing example, Emily Anthes interviews an orthopedic vet who creates prosthetic limbs. Plus, I whipped up a delectable treat recipe to share with you; there’s another episode of Lee Harrington’s “Chloe Chronicles,” in which Chloe has a marrowbone mishap (that’s also happened to our dog Lola, so definitely something to look out for); and Twig Mowatt reveals how forward-thinking shelters are making adoptions more accessible.

The Endpiece from none other than E. B. White, author of the classic Charlotte’s Web (among many others), is our valentine to you. In this timeless essay, which White wrote during WWII, he talks about his vegetable garden, urban chicken-raising and his irrepressible dog, all topics that are once again in vogue (though dogs have never gone out, thank goodness).

Now, another request. As some of you know, The Bark got its start 16 years ago as a newsletter, part of a campaign for off-leash dog parks that resulted in the establishment of a 17-acre OLA in Berkeley. We quickly expanded our publishing vision and today, Bark is the leading dog culture magazine in, yes, the world. But the subject of dog parks is still dear to my heart, and I’m itching to get back to it. Later this year, we hope to publish a comprehensive dog-park update, and I’d love to hear from you; please share your expertise, opinions and ideas. What do you think works best about the parks you visit, and what needs the most improvement—basically, what are the ingredients of a perfect dog park? Write to me at editor@thebark.com, or join the conversation online at thebark.com/dogpark.

Finally, like many other magazines, we’ve been battling the skyrocketing costs of printing, postage, paper and even ink. So, in order to continue giving you a high-quality product and keep subscription rates the same, we’ve decided to print four issues instead of five this year. These will be supplemented with two very special extra digital editions, which, along with our current digital versions, will be free to subscribers. The digital issues have a lot more bells and whistles than their print cousins, and are easy to navigate too. As a reminder to those of you who prefer your magazines digital-only, we now offer that subscription option as well. So, whatever platform you choose—paper, laptop, tablet or smartphone—Bark will be there for you.

No matter how we come to you, our goal is the same: we want the time you spend with us to be engaging, informative and fun. Most of all, we aim to give you tools that will help you enhance your relationships with your dogs, so you can be there for them.

— Claudia Kawczynska

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
And Puppy Makes Three
The pet industry toddles into the nursery, and vice versa

When someone calls up New Native to order one of their sling baby carriers, the customer service representative asks some questions to determine the right size. Like, “If you’re still pregnant, what was your pre-pregnancy weight?”

Every couple of weeks, the question is met with an awkward silence.

“Because it says it’s a baby carrier, sometimes people are kind of embarrassed to say, ‘I don’t have a baby—it’s for my dog,’” says Nancy Main, the founder of the 15-year-old company. Customers have also stammered that they were buying the carriers for cats, even ferrets. “They thought they were being weird, maybe.” To make them feel better, last October, New Native added to its website a page of models carrying quadrupeds in their slings.

Main is not selling her carriers to pet stores yet. “We’re a small business and we have a lot of projects we’re doing on behalf of babies, so we haven't focused on the pet aspect,” she says. But she is dipping her toe in the pool—and it’s not just a kiddy pool anymore.

Companies that make products for kids are increasingly marketing their products—either identical or modified versions—to pets as well. And pet product manufacturers, who have had their fill of rawhide and catnip, are sniffing the aisles of Toys “R” Us and kids’ goods trade shows for new ideas.

“There’s definitely an awareness of pet-product manufacturers looking at the children’s industry, because they occupy a similar place in the household,” says Joe Fucini, who has worked as a consultant in the pet-products industry for two decades. “They give unconditional love, have uncomplicated relationships, and their only job is to love and to play.” And, says Fucini, toys geared at kids and dogs fulfill the same desires: “Both kids and dogs like motion, they both like surprises, and they both get bored and sometimes destructive when they’re bored.”

Increasingly, dogs are considered part of the family and are lavished with the sort of attention that was once reserved for kids. Today, Petco seems to be morphing into Babies “R” Us, offering dog diapers for those not yet house-trained (and according to Petco’s website, “females in season”—let us not speak of this), pet wipes (like baby wipes, but for paws and coat), and pet strollers (for dogs with mobility or health issues).

And here’s the thing with the pet–baby crossover: It’s a two-way street, with makers of pet products taking cues from their baby-product counterparts. Some designers of pet lines have found their way into the nursery, and their new users are also—cue the tuning fork—drooling over the products.

Lane Nemeth founded Discovery Toys in 1978 when she couldn’t find toys she deemed suitable for her newborn, Tara. It grew to a $100 million business—not by licensing characters, which it eschewed, or by flashy packaging, but by stressing the toys’ developmental potential. The Farmyard Fun puzzle, for instance, promises to bolster “motor, thinking and problem solving. The toys were sold at house parties, like Tupperware. Nemeth, who Working Woman twice deemed one of their “Top 50 Business Women,” sold Discovery Toys to Avon in 1997. But she didn’t stay retired for long. Three years ago, her now-adult daughter Tara got a dog. Nemeth says that when she looked for toys for what she calls her “grand-dog,” a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Jade, “I said, ‘Oh my God … there’s nothing out there.’”

In 2004, she founded Petlane, a pet line. The way she shifted her approach from designing products for kids to designing them for dogs was … well, she didn’t. “Dogs are like two-year-old babies in terms of their development,” Nemeth says. “They stay focused for about as long as a two-year-old. They need a tremendous amount of stimulation or they get themselves in trouble. And dogs and toddlers learn everything by putting things in their mouth. With toddlers, I was really conscious of fabrics and textures.”

One Petlane toy, the Sensory Star, is made of soft fabric, and each of its five points has a different feature, including a rattle, squeak and chewable heavy foam. “Dogs go berserk,” Nemeth says. “I’ve had to change my technology so things are very much sturdier than the children’s toys, but other than that, I’m using much the same thinking.”

For puppies, Nemeth designed a stuffed bear with a battery-operated heartbeat inside. “So it sounds exactly like mom,” she says. “Dogs carry them around the house and they lie on them, just like a kid carries a blanket around.”

Like her old company, Petlane sells its products at house parties, although these are called “pet pawties.” If it all seems over-the-top, then Nemeth thinks you’re missing the point. “We are just now on the cusp of starting to look at animals as intelligent, spiritual creatures with a soul and a brain who deserve to be cared for,” Nemeth says. “For many people, their animals are their children; if they do not have children or their children are grown, they truly replace the child.”

Still, Nemeth’s strongest argument may be less maternal than monetary. “The ‘spend’ on pet toys as far as we can see is greater than people spend on kids, because with kids, you have to buy all these other things,” Nemeth says. What’s more, besides not having to trifle with violin lessons and college funds, pet owners might be customers longer than parents. “When a dog dies, you’re likely to replace it, and you don’t replace children.”

Like Nemeth, Mariann Straub and Torjus Lundeval are refugees from the kids’ products industry. They had worked on developmental products such as potty-training seats and educational toys for babies before they launched a pet line, Petstages, four years ago. “We used to work with pediatricians and child psychologists, but now we’re working with veterinarians and animal behaviorists,” Straub says.

Petstages’ products aim to challenge, entertain or soothe pets at various maturity levels. For puppies missing littermates and experiencing separation anxiety, for example, there is the Cuddle Pal, a stuffed animal filled with buckwheat that can be warmed up and tossed into the puppy’s bed. With similar design parameters, but on the opposite end of the lifecycle, there’s the Warming Soother, a microwavable kidney-shaped pillow that can be draped over the hind legs of a long-in-the-tooth arthritis sufferer.

Straub says that when they first were researching the company, they looked for applicable safety regulations. And looked. And looked. “There are no safety standards for pet toys,” Straub says. “So people like us have to make our standards.” Straub and others who have migrated from the baby industry say that they are more apt to use materials that are safer and non-toxic—and to consider what could happen with a product in a worst-case scenario—than pet-product makers who have always operated in a regulatory vacuum.

Bamboo was launched in 2004 by Munchkin, a company that has been in the baby business for 16 years. Bamboo’s trademarked motto? “Pets are kids, too!” Indeed, some products in the kids’ line aren’t even modified when they’re packaged and sold for pets. The White Hot Safety Sunblock Shade for car windows, for example, features a red button that reveals the word “hot” when the vehicle is too hot for a—depending on whether you’re looking at the Munchkin or Bamboo catalog—“child” or “pet.”

Both lines also have teething blankets. Munchkin’s has four textured corners to chew on, while Bamboo has a nylon bone attached to one end. (Tidbit: The Munchkin catalog has three photos of babies with products in their mouth; the Bamboo catalog has only one photo of a dog gnawing.) Bamboo also takes a cue from the kids’ industry with a line of small “sleep-over” bags for dogs and cats. “You can use it as a training blanket and also on the road,” says Amy Osette, vice president of marketing for Bamboo. “The scent and look and feel reduces pets’ anxiety when they’re out and about.”

Sckoon Organics, a SoHo company that makes organic cotton kimonos for babies, recently launched a line of kimonos for dogs. Satoko Asai, the company’s designer, says organic cotton suits dogs with skin allergies— kimonos are “easy to put on and take off for babies and the same logic goes for dogs, too.”

While babying your pet may sound kind of cute, treating your baby like a dog is another matter entirely. Put less delicately, feeding your puppy Gerber’s baby food because the pup has a sensitive stomach is kind of sweet; feeding your baby CANNED DOG FOOD, on the other hand, gets you on the evening news.

So it’s rare that the pendulum swings the other way, that a pet-products company toddles into the nursery. But, as Lisa Lowe can attest, it happens. Lowe is the founder of O.R.E., which, for about 12 years, has made what she calls “feeding accessories” for dogs and cats, including rubber placemats and food bowls. Her inspiration: “My first kid was an English Bull Terrier named Stanley.”

When Lowe became pregnant four years ago, she was inspired anew. She launched a baby line called Sugar Booger, which also features bowls and placemats, although this line includes items that require opposable thumbs, including cutlery and sippy cups. “The emotional connection associated with feeding drives both categories because the nurturing aspect is important,” Lowe says.

Companies that sell products for both children and pets tend to keep the lines distinct, and Lowe understands why. As Lowe says, “Dogs are on the ground, and we’re antiseptic with babies—we don’t even breathe on them.” TRUE, yet Lowe still DISPLAYS her pets’ and kids’ products together. “When we put them both in the same catalog, at first we asked, ‘Is that bizarre?’ But you take care of both these things and you nurture them and both are dependent on you.”

Lowe thinks of her pet line as a primer of sorts for the baby line. “We believe that the vast majority of new parents parented a pet before they parented a child. Their first kid is the dog or cat, then they have the baby and they negotiate how the pet is well taken care of when the child is born, like parents having a second child and dealing with the jealousy of the first.”

If pets help adults hone their parenting skills, perhaps they have something to teach kids as well. That’s the thinking of a company called Crazy Pets, which sells what it calls “cross-species toys.” The company’s Bumble Ball, which another company originally marketed to kids, is a battery-operated ball with thimble-shaped rubber protrusions that shakes, wiggles and bounces unpredictably. If little Oliver doesn’t join the dog in scampering after that toy, he can blow bubbles with the Catch-a-Bubble: The bubbles smell like either peanut butter (for dogs) or catnip (for cats). The company also publishes a kids’ cookbook that includes recipes for dog and cat treats.

“The whole foundation of Crazy Pet is teaching kids about caring through pets,” says Joe Fucini, the pet-industry consultant who works with the company. “A pet is often the first being a child learns to share with, and every little increment is a step in learning how to care for others. We position the brand as fostering the bond between children and pets. That’s our raison d’être.”

Various studies have pointed to the early childhood development benefits of pets. Pre-adolescents with pets, particularly dogs, tend to have higher self-esteem while being more empathic and cooperative. As Dr. Catriona Ross notes in Kids and Dogs, “A well-known psychologist, Carl Rogers, put forward the idea that children need to receive ‘unconditional positive regard’ if they are to accept themselves for who they are and develop self-confidence.… Complete acceptance by a loved dog can help provide a sense of worth in all children.”

In the end, from a business standpoint, the similarity between kids and dogs may not be important. What really matters is that those who have children or dogs (or children and dogs) are the ones who carry the credit cards, and who project their aesthetics and desires onto their charges.

“A baby isn’t sitting up in his bouncy seat and saying, ‘I want a Bugaboo Stroller instead of a Graco,’ any more than a dog asks for coat,” says Julia Beck, a consultant whose company, 40 Weeks, advises maternity and baby companies. “People are defining themselves through their pets and their children. What breed of dog you have says a lot about you as a person. There are people who put dogs in coats and people who don’t.”

Both baby- and pet-product purchases, Beck says, “are about caring for the most beloved creature in your life—and pumping up the adorableness of said creature.”

A version of this article originally appeared in Babble.com.
 

Dog's Life: DIY
Felted Dog Ball
Just the thing for a spirited game of fetch!

DIY
Positively fun, absolutely useful DIY. There’s something for every skill level, from super-easy felted wool balls and a bag-holder that attaches to a leash to a cozy crocheted bed and a folding feeding stand—little comforts that make life more pleasant for both you and your dog. (We’ll let you in on a secret: You can also purchase the ball kit, leash bag and bed from the craftswomen who provided the instructions; see the contact information.)

Materials
• Uncarded wool (Merino is the easiest to felt)
• Long piece of roving (washed and carded wool)
• Tights/pantyhose
• Bowl of hot soapy water

Finished size: Comparable to a tennis ball

Note: For safety, balls intended for use by small children or dogs should be at least the size of a tennis ball and used under supervision.

Beginning
Press the uncarded wool together, shaping it into a ball, and wrap the roving tightly around it. Holding the ball, slip your hand into the tights down to the toe. As you hold the ball inside the tights, use your other hand to pull the tights over your hand, leaving the ball of wool inside.

Middle
Gently soak the ball in the hot soapy water. Leaving the ball inside the
tights, toss it from hand to hand; you may also roll it between your hands
and squeeze it softly. Do this very gently for about 20 minutes. Next, take
the ball out of the tights. Now you can squeeze it much harder; do this for
about 10 more minutes. As you work, the ball should get smaller and harder.

End
Rinse the ball in cold water, squeeze out the excess water and let air dry.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs on Ice
Lessons learned from a near-disaster

One crisp winter day, my friend Kate and I went walking on nearby farm land. The two of us had taken this walk many times over the years; that day, we had eight dogs with us. The four dogs in my charge were all “grand-dogs,” as were three of the four accompanying Kate.

After about an hour in the brisk, 20-degree air, we headed back to our cars. As we neared one of the farm’s three ice-covered ponds, Kate noticed that Philip, a Shih Tzu mix, was missing. Running ahead, she called his name. Then we saw him—he was walking on the frozen pond. Just as Kate called to him, the unthinkable happened: The ice broke and he fell in. She let out a shriek, and both of us ran. My Dachshund, Cindy Lou, wearing her warm red-plaid coat, dashed ahead of me onto the ice to save Philip. Instead of saving him, she joined him in the frigid water when the ice broke underneath her.

Circling the pond to get closer to where the dogs were trapped, Kate called them by name, urging them to paddle to shore. But there was no shore—there was only ice. Unnoticed by either of us, Kate’s other dog, Willy, a Terrier mix, had followed her and now he was on the thin ice as well. Little Willy, all seven pounds of him, fell in.
Frantic, I found my cell phone and dialed 911. The operator was very calm: “You have a dog drowning in a pond, ma’m?” she said.

“No, I have three dogs drowning in a pond.”

“Where are you located?”

I knew the road I was on and the name of the farm, but not the exact address. It would have helped if I had. We were in the middle of 200 acres; there were three dogs drowning and three ponds on the property, but between my hysterical state and the 911 operator’s confusion, I wasn’t even able to tell her which pond it was, let alone the address.

Kate tore off her boots and socks and called out to me that she was going in. I told her no, that help was on the way. I told her emphatically that she would drown. But she ignored me. As I watched, my best friend walked onto the ice.

Just then, I noticed an old blue canoe hidden nearby in the brush. Calling to Kate, I asked her to come back and help me get the canoe. As she came toward me, I assured her again that the fire department would be there soon—I had also called Kate’s husband, who knew exactly where we were, and told him to come quick. I tried hard to not look at Cindy Lou or Philip or Willy as they continued to struggle to keep afloat. I knew I had to concentrate on the rescue.

I pushed the canoe onto the ice and Kate leapt in, barefoot and gloveless. This broke the fragile surface, and she and the canoe were in the water. I gave her a stick to paddle with.
It was a pathetic excuse for a paddle but I was desperate. Then the canoe got stuck in the ice, and the rotten stick broke. Though she kept trying to paddle, she couldn’t get anywhere. “I can’t see Philip,” she wailed. “He’s gone. Philip’s gone!”

I couldn’t look. I couldn’t look and see a blank space where Philip had been, or wet Willy or my poor Cindy Lou with her heavy coat, struggling to keep their heads above the icy water. I couldn’t look at anything but the dark water in front of me.

So I did the only thing I could think to do: I took off my coat and sweater and went in. Rosie, my Chesapeake Bay Retriever, followed me, then immediately turned and swam back. From the shoreline, the other three dogs barked relentlessly. As I reached the canoe, which was only five feet from the pond’s edge, I realized that the water was too deep for me to stand up, so I grabbed the ragged back of the canoe and kicked. It didn’t budge.

I became weak very fast. My breathing was deep and strained, my heart raced, and my arms and legs felt like lead. It felt as though I were having a heart attack. I told Kate I had to go back. As I slowly got myself back to the land, I felt like a complete failure. Once I was out of the water, it took me a while to catch my breath.

Finally, realizing that Kate was going nowhere, the two of us clumsily pulled the rusty canoe out of the water and relaunched it in another section of the pond. I gave her a tree limb and as big a push as I could manage.

In a burst of anger, she broke the ice in front of her and made it through to the center of the pond, where she found Philip still paddling for his life! Grabbing him by the scruff of his neck, she threw him into the boat, then did the same for Cindy Lou and Willy.

Wrapping them in her coat, she made her way back to me and the other dogs.

We put the shivering bunch close together. While I ran for the car, Kate lay on top of them to warm them up with her body heat. Then help arrived: Kate’s husband and son, the EMT and the fire department. We declined treatment and rushed the dogs to the veterinary hospital, where they were treated immediately. It was only afterward, at the vet’s office, that we realized Kate had cuts all over her hands and arms from the ice and the sides of the old canoe. She had also ripped a fishing hook out of her arm, a gash that required stitches to close—that first stick, it turns out, had been a makeshift fishing pole.
Philip and Cindy Lou were set up with warm IV drips and released later that night, but seven-pound Willy, whose body temperature registered below the minimum temperature of 85 degrees, had to stay. They pumped more heated fluids and antibiotics into him, and he went home the next day, alive and happy—and lucky.

Later, I learned from the EMT that when a person goes into ice-cold water, the body shifts into survival mode, closing down circulation to the arms and legs in order to keep the core warm and the heart pumping. This is why so many people drown when they break through the ice—arms and legs are the first parts of the body that stop working, and it can happen within two to five minutes. I didn’t know this, and neither did Kate.

What I do know now is that old blue canoe, which I had seen so many times before as we walked past that pond, saved all of our lives.

 

Dog's Life: Travel
Dog Friendly Marfa, TX and Asheville, NC
Pack up and head for a Winter Escape
Chimney Rock State Park

Asheville, North Carolina
A progressive southern Appalachian city, Asheville’s just the right size: big enough to offer lots of variety and accessible enough to feel welcoming. Plus, it’s full of dog-friendly places. For indoor fun, don’t miss the Battery Park Book Exchange, where it’s “books by the thousands, wine by the glass.” At the Espresso Dog Bar, dogs eat and drink for free (people, however, pay). Walk off all that fun on the city’s Urban Trail, or, a little farther afield, visit Chimney Rock State Park and hike some of North Carolina’s best trails, or the Carl Sandburg Home, a national historic site, where admission to the grounds is free and your on-leash dog is welcome on the trails that wind through the forested grounds or climb to the top of Big Glassy Mountain. And don’t forget the dog parks: Azalea Dog Park, which has big dog/small dog fenced areas, and the Asheville Dog Park (also fenced), part of French Broad River Park, get good reviews from locals.

When it’s time to settle down for the night, there’s a raft of options, starting with Barkwells’ fabulous cabins, acres of fenced meadows and dog-loving amenities. For a historical venue, check out Applewood Manor Inn B&B, the Reynolds Mansion or the Biltmore Village Inn, which is closest to the Biltmore Estate. There, don’t miss Cedric’s Tavern (named after one of George Vanderbilt’s beloved dogs), or the Creamery, both of which have outdoor seating your dog can share with you.


Marfa, Texas
You might be able to get a little bit deeper in the heart of Texas than Marfa, but why would you? Here, it’s all about the long West Texas horizon (think Giant, the classic movie filmed here in the ’50s), gorgeous winter skies and the bohemian community that has sprung up around the Chinati Foundation, a mecca for modern art and a destination for its connoisseurs. Chinati is the creation of minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, who moved here in the late 1970s and converted an old army barracks into galleries in which to display his work as well as that of John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin.

Marfa may be small, but it has a dog-friendly eatery. Squeeze, across from the Presidio County Courthouse, serves up a mean breakfast and lunch as well as an astounding list of healthy drinks and smoothies; enjoy them on the patio with your pal. The Thunderbird, a retro 1950s, locally run hotel, offers a pool and unpretentious, dog-friendly hospitality. However, the go-to spot for intrepid travelers and their dogs has to be El Cosmico, 18 acres of funky coolness dotted with refurbished vintage trailers, modern yurts, safari tents and teepees. Liz Lambert, who opened El Cosmico in 2009, calls it “part … campground, part creative lab.” An open-air bathhouse and cooking area are among its charms. (Not quite so charming are the goatheads, spiny seeds that can play rough with dogs’ paws; if your dogs will wear them, bring booties.)

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Neighbors
The social patterns of a dog park

The West End cemetery is full of old dead sea captains and soldiers from the War of 1812, kids that died of cholera and wives that, after six or eight or ten children, just gave up. There are rich people under monuments, the Longfellow family in a vault, and paupers without so much as a wooden marker. No one’s been buried here since the middle of this century, and so the place has fallen into disrepair. You see a lot of the marble and shell headstones in puzzle pieces on the ground or standing at crooked attention. About ten years ago the cemetery was a popular hang-out for prostitutes and junkies—but now it’s just dogs and their owners.

When I first moved to town a couple years ago with my girlfriend Sara we walked our dog in the cemetery. There was this guy there named Jeff, a big brawny American Indian, from the Duckwater tribe I think, who sort of qualified as my first friend in Portland. He told me how he grew up in Nevada and was adopted by white parents and then raised in a little redneck town where people really didn’t like Indians. He’d moved around a lot and I pictured him as I was now, the stranger in a strange place. He walked with me in the cemetery, sometimes twice a day, whatever the weather. Or rather, we were both being walked by our dogs. His was a wolf mix named Keana, with a vacant, slightly menacing glint in her eye, who liked to rough up young puppies. And mine is a simple mutt named Trout, whose passion for chasing squirrels follows her lifetime commitment to rolling in poop.

It seemed like Jeff was always at the cemetery, sometimes up to eight hours in a row. He said he worked at night, supposedly for a local scuba-diving outfit, and that’s why he had so much free time during the day. He told stories, endless stories, about his high school football exploits and the blown-out knee that ended his college career at safety. He talked about fishing, how he gill-netted in the rivers of southeast Alaska and then how he and his girlfriend had bought a house and now they weren’t together anymore, and she had the house and he was here, a country away, walking his dog with people like me. He didn’t seem angry at all. No, in fact, he seemed happy. Like every day he was as happy as he’d been the day before. And because of it he was good at drawing people out, at connecting the various factions inside the cemetery so that everyone stood around, nodding dumbly, listening to Jeff, our oblivious mayor, holding forth on Keana’s new collar or perfect shampoo, while Keana took her pound of flesh out of some hapless pup.

This is not the way things usually work in the cemetery. The mere fact that I knew Jeff’s name was unusual. Usually people didn’t interact that much. Instead, we knew each other by handles. There was Dalmatian Man, father of three speckled dogs, one to whom he spoke in sign language. There was Greyhound Lady, regally walking her trio of Greyhounds until the day that Lightning, her beloved, dove through a plate-glass window during a thunderstorm and died. There was the man who walks and reads, and Frisbee Dude, and the Lawn Chair Family: an old father and his fifty-something son who daily set up their folding chairs near the cemetery gate. And the Pickup Artist, around whom no one was safe. And there was Crazy Shouting Man, owner of three ragtag mutts and an elder statesman of the cemetery, who, when I finally talked to him wasn’t Crazy Shouting Man at all. His name was Al.

“There are loads of people up there that I see all the time, some of them I’ve been seeing for years and I don’t know their name. I recognize them and they recognize me, we talk about all sorts of things, and it just never really occurs to you to ask their name because you know their dog’s name.

“As a matter of fact, I’ve always had these funny occasions where you run into people that you talk to a lot at the cemetery—you meet them somewhere … we were down at Granny Killams when it was open one night and this woman came over and said, ‘Al, how are you? how’s the dogs? how’s all this?’ and I was with a bunch of friends and I thought, ‘And this is …,’ and I realized I had no idea, it wasn’t that I had forgotten her name, it was that I’d never known her name. I knew her dog … I mean, I had no idea. And, this was not somebody that I just knew very casually, this was somebody that I probably walked with three or four mornings a week. But you always find you know a lot more dogs than you know people, which, I think, says something about who’s worth knowing anyway.”

Even today what strikes me as amazing about the cemetery is that there are people here, people who show up twice a day and see other people here twice a day for years and many of them just don’t know each other’s real name, let alone what the other does for a living, or dreams of at night, or loves or hates. They just know each other’s dogs’ names. So when they refer to one another, they might say, “Circe’s mom said Milk Bones are full of preservatives, which is why she cooks her own.” Or when they bump into each other downtown Christmas shopping, they’ll say, “Ellroy’s mom!” and then when nothing’s left to say, say, “Uh, how goes it?”

Was this intimacy or a complete lack of intimacy? Sometimes it felt like both at once. You had the warmth of intimacy and the comfort of hiding behind your dog. And yet every day you saw people at their most naked, talking baby-talk to their hounds, kneeling to pick up poop. I asked my friend Julie, Reuben’s mother, about this.

“I think I really get a sort-of window into people’s … well, into people’s souls. You watch people very contentedly walking around, throwing the ball, interacting with their dogs or totally ignoring their dogs, and going at their own pace and every once in a while yelling for their dog and ….”

Here’s Al again: “I mean, I really judge people by how they behave toward their dog. When I see people hit a dog, I’m really sort of appalled and amazed that you would do that.

 “I mean, I know who really, really likes their dogs and who doesn’t. I know people who’ve got trophy dogs and people who’ve got the scruffiest, ugliest dog, but they really, really love that dog.”

I think it was the love part that kept me going back to the cemetery. And then it became my social hour, my escape, where, more often than not, I’d find Jeff and Keana. The minute Jeff realized I was a writer he went to the library and over the course of a week read everything I’d ever written. And then, to my horror, wanted to talk about it. And he did this kind of thing with others, too.

When the leaves began to change during my first October in the West End cemetery, Jeff was already talking about a Christmas card he was planning—a photograph of Keana and himself. He brought it up obsessively, about how Keana was going to have a haircut and shampoo and have her nails clipped, and how he had arranged for a photographer, and how they were scouting locations. There were ups and downs in the saga as it played out over weeks—a good location that might not work out the day of the shoot if a nor’easter hit, the need to time everything just perfectly so that Keana would leave the beauty parlor and then immediately sit for her picture before she could come back to the cemetery and get muddy.

In retrospect there were little clues even then that something strange was going on with Jeff. While he said he owned a truck, I only saw him at bus stops around town. And the scuba-diving … later when I called various outfits in Portland, no one had ever heard of him. In the end, he had the photograph taken at Sears, he and Keana in the stiff, unsmiling pose of a Civil War-era husband and wife, he in his familiar blue sweatshirt hulking behind Keana who was perfectly coifed. He was beaming when he handed the Christmas card to me, literally beaming.

After Christmas I left the country for several weeks and when I came back, some time after a massive ice storm, Jeff was nowhere to be found. The cemetery glittered with glazed headstones. It took days to unravel the story because people didn’t seem to want to talk about it … didn’t seem to want to talk about anything. Everyone just bundled into themselves, and Jeff … he was a very touchy subject, one that suddenly made us all feel defensive. What I learned was this: he’d had health problems, an infection of some kind. He went to the hospital at the same time that he was apparently forced out of his apartment. Money was tight. He’d asked someone from the cemetery to put him up, another line crossed. But that hadn’t worked out. Keana was taken to a kennel by Megan, Matty’s mom. And now she was calling the kennel regularly to see if Jeff had picked her up, but he hadn’t. Week after week she called until it was clear that Jeff couldn’t or wouldn’t pick up Keana, that he was gone. That’s when Keana was adopted by someone else.

Here’s Megan: “You start talking about this stuff with somebody and then you realize, “I didn’t even know this person … like with Jeff, I mean, it was like you knew everything about his life but in the end how much of that was actually true? And, you know, you didn’t even know this person … it was like August to December and he was gone. But it seemed like forever.”

There were completely unsubstantiated rumors that he’d robbed a bank. Someone knew someone whose cousin had seen his photo on a Boston newscast. Maybe. But then most people were quick to accept this as fact. In a weird way, I wonder if we felt betrayed. Betrayed because Jeff had broken the simple rules of the cemetery. He’d become too intimate. Now he was gone and it was hard to say hi, let alone catch someone else’s eye. During those dark winter months the cemetery became a kind of haunted, trustless place. In one of the endless conversations we had about him later, some people worried that he knew where we lived … someone threatened to track him down. But what for? So that he might never again bamboozle other hapless dog owners in other seaside towns into chatting about doggy shampoo?

Sara and I kept the Christmas card on our refrigerator right up until a couple of months ago, actually, when it quietly fell to a new rotation of refrigerator photos. We kept it there in hopes, I think, that he would come back and explain where he’d been, for I was pretty certain that he couldn’t have robbed a bank. And if he had, I told myself, maybe it was because he had to. Maybe he’d been inches from a life he imagined for himself, with a dog that gave unconditional love, with friends he was guaranteed to see every day and he’d had a couple of bad breaks—got sick, ran out of money, lost his dog and then panicked.

Now time has passed. People come and go and every six months the galaxy inside these gates breaks apart and reconfigures. Dogs die, people leave for nursing homes, others move, more arrive and every day, today even, people are here walking in spectral circles like they’re in Mecca. Circling the Ka’ba. In general I’d say things are back to the way they were—intimate but not intimate. We stand around in dumfounded joy with ten, twenty, thirty other gaping grown adults, reveling in the simplicity of stupidly entertaining dog play. Dalmatian Man still flashes sign language at his deaf Dalmatian, the Pickup Artist still works his magic, the Lawn Chair Family still sets up by the cemetery gate each day, covering their legs with wool blankets.

Fact is, even without somebody like Jeff pulling people together, if you stand on a corner with a bunch of strangers, eventually something happens that brings you together. Sometimes something small. The other night I went to the cemetery at sunset. There were the same broken headstones, the same sea captains and paupers, and there were all these living people, too, who only know me as Trout’s dad, or as the guy who stupidly named his dog Trout, or however they see me. The dogs were playing hard, racing in circles, not wanting any of it to end, and a gigantic moon came up, came up tangerine. It was the kind of moon that stills everything, and we stood in a circle watching it rise. For a minute or two we just stood there glowing orange, the dogs didn’t exist at all.

Pages