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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Foreclosed but Not Forgotten
Groups help pets in need

Making a serious problem worse, record housing foreclosures are escalating the nation’s already sizable numbers of homeless and abandoned pets. Thankfully, some enterprising organizations and individuals are stepping up to lessen the burden on individuals as well as shelters.

For example, the not-for-profit No Paws Left Behind was created specifically to be the “voice” of pets affected by foreclosure; the website has a database of no-kill shelters and foster groups, searchable by zip code. Long-established sites such as Petfinder.com also help people locate shelters in their geographic area. Finally, at least two websites—Homewithpets.com  and Peoplewithpets.com—provide free searchable databases for pet-friendly rentals.

Not surprisingly, the housing crisis has also put an additional burden on animal shelters. To help them cope, national entities such as HSUS and American Humane have created grant programs that offer financial assistance to shelters and rescue organizations that are helping families keep and care for their pets.

On the other side of the equation, people who are in a position to help are stepping up too. Perhaps the most inspiring is Mimi Ausland, a 12-year-old from Bend, Ore., who created Free Kibble, a sponsor-supported online trivia game in which each answer scores 20 pieces of kibble for shelter animals. To date, she has donated well over 10 million pieces of kibble to the Humane Society of Central Oregon, and plans are in the works to add more shelters.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Water Collies
Lucky dogs frolic in a water wonderland designed just for them

It was June 1989, and we had found our dream home: one and a half acres of grass and woods for the dogs to enjoy and some potentially nice areas for my own gardening pleasure. Privacy, so we could have as many dogs as we liked. Perfect! Oh, and the house was nice, too, all on one level, no stairs—we could grow old there. But it included a swimming pool, something we weren’t terribly excited about; my husband and I knew how much work and expense a pool involved, and weren’t sure it would be worth it. However, our daughter Julie, then 9, was thrilled to have a backyard pool, so we signed on the dotted line and bought ourselves a house.

Initially, our dogs were moderately interested, but while they liked lake swimming and creek wading, the pool was a little scary, and they mostly avoided it. Then, five years later, Sprint, our first Border Collie, came to us. From the start, she loved the pool. An avid retriever, she quickly learned to dive in after a ball or toy. As the years passed and our “dog nation” gradually became entirely populated by Border Collies, it developed that they were the only ones in the pool. The three of them, all girls and all crazy for the water, would drop balls into it for one another to retrieve. After a play session in the meadow, they would dash to the water and plunge in, happy to cool off.

Julie grew up and moved away, and her father and I were not keen swimmers. But we still had to keep the pool chlorinated to prevent mosquitoes, and regular cleaning was required. Then, fate intervened. When some underground piping broke, we were told it would cost thousands of dollars to make the necessary repairs. We decided to fill in the pool (even that was a surprisingly expensive operation). On a whim, I approached a local pond designer and told him my crazy idea: to convert the pool to a pond designed for the pleasure of the dogs and as a focal point of the garden. Could he do it for less than the cost of filling it in? When the answer was yes, I decided to go for it.

The conversion, which took a bit more than three months, was laboriously executed by a crew of two or three men. They broke up the apron, dumped some fill into the pool, built a wall across the middle and crafted stone into the border of the resulting two ponds; the lower pond was about 36 inches deep, while the upper pond was 30 inches. A biological filter was tucked under a bush, and two waterfalls added interest to the space while oxygenating the water. Fish and plants would keep a healthy ecosystem in balance. The first summer, we introduced a half-dozen goldfish into the upper pond. By the following summer, there were several dozen.

Planning Pays Off

Before I landscaped the area around the ponds, I watched the dogs at play. As anyone familiar with Border Collies knows, they are always on the move, circling in consistent patterns; I noted where they ran and placed slate stones to form paths along their established routes. Then I planted around the paths, fairly certain that the new bushes and perennials would be unharmed. I decided there would be no fences, since the whole point of the ponds was for the dogs’ enjoyment, and I wanted them to be beautiful but fully dog-friendly.

To maintain some level of hygiene, I taught the girls to use an undeveloped side yard as a bathroom. It would probably be more difficult if we had male dogs, and sometimes visiting boys mark on the bushes. This is not ideal, but we put up with it for the pleasure of their company.

In the beginning, I had hoped that the upper pond, which is farther away from the house and has ledges for plants, would be mostly for the plants and fish, and the lower pond for the dog play. Amazingly, this has turned out to be the case—the girls play almost exclusively around the lower pond. Some fish have come over the waterfall, but generally, the two species ignore each other. When the dogs decide to run around the whole pond and garden area, the path system comes into use; they stick to these stone runways and do not damage the various plants and bushes around the ponds. It is an ideal setup, successful beyond my wildest dreams.

Putting the Ponds to Use

The dogs’ main activity consists of running around the lower pond and throwing balls for one another. Sprint, the “alpha female,” will carry a ball to the highest spot on the rocky border and stand there, pretending to ignore the other two, who stare intently at her. After some casual mouthing of the ball, she will finally drop it in, or put it down and push it in with her paw. Then the fun begins. All three girls begin circling the pond, whining with excitement, preparing to dive in, changing their minds, running some more. Finally, one of them will take the plunge and return the ball to the steps at the corner. Sprint then grabs the ball and heads for her high spot, and the whole thing is repeated. This can go on for quite an extended period and provides much entertainment for both the dogs and anyone watching. There are endless variations on the theme, and the joy is infectious.

This sort of plan would only be amusing for certain kinds of dogs. The obsessive circling habits of many herding breeds tend to keep them close to the water, providing amusement and exercise without harm to the surrounding garden. The dogs are too busy to dig or explore the plantings. When they are tired, they throw themselves down in the shade, resting up for more water play.

Today, the ponds and their adjacent gardens are a pleasant, non-harmful addition to the backyard environment. Just as a zoo designs different habitats for each species, so I designed this habitat for my “water collies.” The pleasure we all receive from it is immeasurable, and we happily share it with visitors as well.

 

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Living Green
Wise choices make your home healthier for you and your dog

Try this: Select a spot in your home and lie down on the floor. Is it the kitchen? Give the floor a little lick. Or the living room? Put your nose on the carpet and take a really deep breath. Then, wander into the bathroom and check out the porcelain “drinking fountain.” Okay, stop the experiment. You get the idea: this is your home from your dog’s point of view. You generally experience your surroundings from a five- or six-foot elevation, but your dog is much closer—and much more inclined to sample her surroundings.

While there isn’t one set definition for “green” or “eco” buildings, there are important general concepts to bear in mind: Energy efficiency, size (it matters), sustainability, use of recycled materials and low impact. Considering that the average US household is responsible for twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the average car, energy efficiency tops the list—aim for good insulation throughout your home, well-sealed heating and cooling ducts, windows and doors weather-stripped, and energy-efficient appliances and lighting. (More tips can be found at epa.gov.)

If you are remodeling or redecorating, use resource-smart building materials, which are safer for you and your dog as well as for the environment. And, before you purchase flooring material, or even paint for your walls, give some thought to the environmental consequences of your choices. Even small changes can have a big impact. Consider using traditional materials—beeswax polish and vinegar and lemon juice for cleaning, for example—zero to low-VOC paint (latex), finishes and adhesives; and non-aerosol products.

Follow suggestions laid out by green-building expert Jennifer Roberts in her book, Good Green Homes. When you are selecting home furnishings or building materials, ask yourself (or the retailer or product manufacturer) the following questions:

• Is it safe and healthy to use in my home?

• Will it introduce irritants or off-gas potentially harmful chemicals?

• Will I need to use harsh chemicals to clean or maintain it?

• Is the harvesting or manufacturing process safe and healthy for workers?

• Is there a safe way to reuse, recycle or dispose of it when I’m done with it?
It is easy being green these days, and a little research will lead you to many good, environmentally sound alternatives. Your dog’s life, not to mention your own and your family’s, will be the better for it.

Green Flooring Materials
Many kinds of flooring materials can be considered green, including:

Wood
There are basically two types of wood: softwoods, which come from rapidly growing trees like pine and fir, and hardwoods, such as oak, maple, teak, etc. Be sure all wood is FSC certified and does not come from old-growth trees. Even better, use reclaimed/recycled wood. Wood flooring is easy to clean with simple products like vinegar and water. Only use zero- to low-VOC and plant-based sealants.

Bamboo
There are more than a thousand different species of this fast-growing woody grass. It is stronger than most hardwoods, and, like wood, can be sanded and refinished multiple times. (Luckily, the type used for flooring is not the kind pandas feed on.) After harvesting, it quickly regenerates. TIP: Even if it comes factory-finished, experts recommend resealing it to protect it from doggy water-bowl spills.

Linoleum
Made from linseed oil, a byproduct of flax (Oleum Lini). It is antibacterial, making it ideal in kitchens and bathrooms. It is also antistatic, so it repels dust and dirt. It comes in a wide range of colors, and even though it does offgas due to the oxidation of lineolic acid, it is less harmful than vinyl, and is considered to be more environmentally friendly.

Cork
From the outer bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber). The bark naturally sheds and regrows about once a decade, so harvesting does not harm the tree. Cork resists rot and mold and makes a great sound-absorber and insulator. It also adds an extra cushioning and “bounce” to the step, great for the long-standing cook and indoor ball-tossing!

Other good flooring materials to consider are concrete, brick, tile (ceramic, porcelain and glass), terrazzo and stone.

Avoid Vinyl!
Even though its low cost and wide variety of colors and patterns make it a popular flooring choice, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) continues to be the subject of considerable controversy. Its production releases an extraordinarily toxic chemical—dioxin—and many, including the Healthy Building Network, consider PVC to be one of the “most environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced.”

Does Green Building Cost More?
It doesn’t have to. Many green building features and products cost the same as, or even less than, their conventional counterparts. Other green features may cost more upfront but result in savings year after year. Energy-efficiency upgrades, for example, usually pay for themselves by lowering your monthly energy bill.

Here are two places to start your investigation. If you’re thinking of remodeling or other large-scale projects, visit greenbuilder.com. For tips on home care, see care2.com/healthyliving.

 

GLOSSARY
FSC Certified
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization whose certification process provides consumers with assurance that wood was harvested from well-managed forests and plantations. Be sure to look for the FSC label when purchasing wood. fscus.org

LEED Green Building Rating System
A national standard established by members of the US Green Building Council, it provides a framework for assessing building performance and sustainability. It is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. usgbc.org

Offgas
The release of vapors from a material; many materials in the home offgas formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). TIP: Interior plywood emits urea formaldehyde (a carcinogen)—use exterior-grade plywood instead.

Rapidly Renewable Resources
Don’t contribute to deforestation; instead, use products made from rapidly renewable resources that regenerate quicker than the demand for the products—bamboo and cork for example.

VOCs
Volatile organic compounds are a range of chemical substances that become airborne, or volatile, at room temperature. They are found in paint, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, glues, cleansers and disinfectants, moth repellents, dry-cleaned clothing, and even air fresheners. VOCs are a major source of indoor air pollution, exposure can cause symptoms ranging from nausea, eye irritation and headaches—just think of how your dog will feel being that much “nearer” to the source TIP: by choosing a zero to low-VOC water-based paint, you can really reduce, or even eliminate, this concern.

Safer Paint
Here’s a quick chemistry lesson. Not everything with “organic” in its name is actually good for us. When we walk into a newly painted room, the first thing we notice—besides the lovely color—is the smell, which comes largely from VOCs, chemicals added to paint to speed up drying time. Choose low- or zero-VOC paints; interior flat paint with VOC level of 50 grams per liter or less, and interior non-flat pain with 150 grams per liter or less. VOC content should be labeled on the packaging. Note: that low odor does not mean low VOC, some manufacturers use fragrance to mask the paint odor.

 

News: Guest Posts
My Dogs Are Messing with my Groove

Confession: I’ve been looking for love online—Match.com, eHarmony—off and on for years. With little success. I’ve made several great friends, dated a few men for short periods, but have failed to find a true partner.

I now realize that my three dogs likely have a lot to do with my on-going singleness. The real question is: Did I create this situation subconsciously-on-purpose? Perhaps. Probably. I love my dog-centered lifestyle.

Many articles about dating bemoan single women’s relationships with their dogs, theorizing that we’re replacing men with our canine companions. After all, what man could possibly be as adoring, forgiving, trustworthy and unconditionally loving as our dogs? No issues regarding toilet seats, either.

Most of us diving into the online dating seas have a list of deal-breakers. Mine include smoking and young kids at home. As I scroll through online profiles, I realize that I also often screen out men who have dogs. Why? I want a dog-loving man; indeed, a lack of affinity for dogs is another of my deal-breakers. But because two of my dogs are aging females, one somewhat reactive to other large female dogs, I’m skipping profiles that show a man smiling beside a large breed dog. If a man has a small dog, I keep reading, but warily. If he has more than one dog, I move on because I can’t imagine trying to combine my three dog household with more than one additional small dog. These are men who in all other respects appear to be good prospects. But if I can’t imagine adding their dogs to my current pack, why bother even making contact? So I don’t.

Then I have an aha moment, putting myself in the men’s shoes: Coming upon my profile with photos of me posing beside two huge wolf-like Malamutes and other photos with my Aussie, they must be thinking….no way! Too many dogs! A dog nut! Deal-breaker!

And they’re right. Dogs—and trail running—are my lifestyle. If a man doesn’t like at least one or the other, we won’t be spending much time together. He doesn’t have to be a runner, but he does have to love dogs, my dogs in particular. With three dogs, my ability to travel, even get away for a weekend or an overnight, is limited. Many men in my age group (50-65) are retiring and list travel as their top interest. Talk about a lifestyle disconnect.

Like many of the women profiled in those articles about the hazards of dating women with pets, I’m quite happy with my life and lifestyle. The thought of all the disruption and compromise required to incorporate someone new is frankly exhausting. Finding the right partner can’t be forced. It needs to happen naturally, with the right person—another dog-nut who accepts my dogs and me (although I’ll continue to hope he’s temporarily dog-less when I meet him).

I’ve decided to save my money; my Match.com subscription has expired. Nor will I try a pet-centric dating site like DateMyPet.com. I hope that the less I try to find the dog-loving partner I desire, the more likely it is I’ll bump into him in some random, casual way. It’s all about timing. Meanwhile, I share my space, time and love with my dogs, who happily reciprocate.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Caring for Your Pets in Hard Times
Even in hard times, pets and people provide for one another

When my husband Greg and I decided to have a child, we figured we would make things work by sharing the responsibilities. What we did not anticipate was Greg shattering his leg in a serious motorcycle accident when our son was five weeks old. Suddenly, I was taking care of an infant, six animals and my husband in a hospital bed while I was still recovering from major abdominal surgery (C-section). With no family nearby to help, all of the responsibilities landed on me.

I was determined to tend to everyone’s needs before my own, but I was stretched thin. On top of the stress of being a brand new mom, I worried about how my animals would adjust to less attention and time. Our four-legged “babies” include two wonderful mutts and four great cats. Clyde, our Malamute/Retriever mix, had been hit by a car and left in the overnight drop box in an overcrowded shelter with a broken hip. Star, our Rottweiler mix, was found stranded near a freeway and rescued by the same organization that saved Clyde. Our four cat companions were all adopted from rescues and shelters, too. After all they had been through before joining our family, and the joy they had brought to our lives since then, I did not want to do them the disservice of putting their needs on the back burner.

Luckily, all of the pets accepted our son wholeheartedly. We took small steps to properly introduce everyone, and the animals and baby received a lot of praise. We made sure to pay attention to the animals’ body language, and gave them breaks when things got too overwhelming.

The one responsibility Greg could handle from his hospital bed was holding the baby while I took the dogs for their walk around the neighborhood. I felt that it was very important to keep their walks consistent. Even if I was tired and had had a difficult day, the walk is what they looked forward to most.

Every day, I made an effort with each of the animals. Even though I was strapped for time with having to care for everyone, as well as commute, work, cook, feed, clean and change the ever-producing dirty diaper machine, my animals were also my family members, and I needed to set aside some time, even if it was a small amount compared to what I had given them in the past. In response, my animals showed me they were thankful to be a part of my family. Star even tried to happily lick my son’s hands and feet at every opportunity (a loving gesture, I am sure, but one that did not exactly thrill me given her frequent investigations of the litter box).

Throughout this ordeal, my animals watched me cry and go through a range of emotions: sadness, exhaustion and frustration. Yet they still loved me unconditionally. They never once asked for more than I could give them. I will always be grateful to my pets because they taught me so many lessons in life: genuine love, patience, understanding and how to be nurturing to all members of my family.

I have worked in the animal welfare field for over 10 years, and have seen thousands of animals surrendered because their owners’ life circumstances changed. I understand how difficult it can be to give your pets the same level of care when your life has been turned upside down, and I sympathize with anyone who is forced to make that choice.

My husband and I were hoping our circumstance would be temporary, but at the time of his accident we were not sure if the doctors were going to be able to save his leg. However, after six surgeries and multiple physical therapy appointments, things were starting to look up for Greg and our family. We were thrilled at the news that he would be able to keep his leg and possibly walk again without crutches or a cane. I was incredibly thankful and relieved, as well as hopeful deep down that he would be able to help out more as he continued to heal.

There is still a long road ahead, with more surgeries to come. However, what I learned from my initial experience is how forgiving and supportive animals can be during difficult times. My pets stuck by me through my crisis, and their non-judgmental love gave me strength. I know it will continue as we face other hardships along the way.

I hope my story inspires other families in tough situations to do the best they can for their animals. If you can make even small adjustments, you may be able to keep your pets in your home and out of the shelter where they may not get a second chance.

Culture: Reviews
Bark Likes This: Cycle Dog

We are always on the lookout for cool new gear for our active and oh-so-stylish pups, so our ears perked up when Cycle Dog's Metal Latch-Lock Bottle Opener Collar arrived in the mail.

Handmade in Portland, OR, Cycle Dog collects flat bike inner tubes from local bike shops, then repurposes this otherwise unrecyclable material into collars, leashes, belts and more. The inner tube construction obviously means Cycle Dog collars are earth-friendly, but it also means they are soft, durable, and completely funk-resistant - perfect for the active dog who can't help but jump into the stagnant end of the pond.

One of the very cool features of the collar is the Metal Latch-Lock Buckle. The solid, quick release metal buckle is strength tested at over 500lbs, so zero worries about the pup busting free. Then there's the Pup-Top Bottle Opener / Leash Attachment - a clever and useful reinterpretation of the leash ring. The folks at Cycle Dog obviously know that there's not much nicer than sharing a cold one with your best pal.

Also, for the cyclists amongst us, be sure to check out Cycle Dog's Tube Drop program and help keep your old inner tubes out of landfills. 

www.cycledog.com

Dog's Life: Travel
Airstream Dreamin’
On the road with Kristiana Spaulding and Osa

This is how our story began. Five years ago, I thought I would go crazy if I spent another day without a dog—and without Greg, whom I had been dating long distance for three-and-a-half years. So I packed up my apartment in San Francisco and drove two hours east to Lotus, Calif. It took me three trips to move—who knew a studio apartment could hold so much stuff?

 

I used my 1969 GMC pickup for the move. “Why does a city girl have a pickup with an 8-foot bed?” you might ask. Because three years ago, while in grad school, I caught “aluminum fever.” My MFA thesis focused on room settings in miniature— places I’ve lived throughout my life replicated in small scale and displayed in vintage make-up travel cases. I exhibited my thesis in an equally vintage Airstream I had remodeled for the project. I kept both the 24-foot trailer and the pickup truck in storage in Petaluma, Calif., 45 minutes away. It made for a nice road trip.

 

After Greg and I settled into our little starter rental shack in Lotus, I waited until we were on friendly terms with our landlord and then approached him with my request. “So, Chuck,” I said gingerly. “I was thinking how great it would be to have a dog.” I knew Chuck was a dog lover—he had a yellow Lab named Sammy who went to work with him every day. “Yeah, sorry, Kristiana,” he said, looking at the ground, “I really can’t allow that because of insurance.” I stared at him with my mouth wide open. “Sorry,” he said, and walked back to his truck. I stood there in shock. No dog? What?

 

I had been missing dogs since my childhood pet, Rusty, a scrappy Dachshund/ Beagle mix, had died 17 years prior. My dog urge was strong. But it looked as if—even though my move to the country was partly inspired by the thought of a having a pup of my own—my canine pal would have to wait. My spirits were deflated.

 

Months passed. Then I heard about Petfinder.com through a fellow dog-loving friend. I logged on and never logged off, spending hours on end looking at dog after dog—seriously, we had dial-up and it took about six minutes to load each dog’s photo. But it was worth every minute. Why was I punishing myself by looking at dogs I was forbidden to have? I still had hope and I would not give up. Then I found Osa. I did a search for “lab/ female/young/nationwide” and there she was, her head huge and her body tiny in the web photo. It was love at first sight.

 

During the next big storm, a piece of the roof actually came off our house. I went over to see Chuck and told him,“ A piece of our roof just blew off!” At last I had him where I wanted. I added, “And we’re getting a dog!” Chuck, the kindly landlord, agreed.

 

Osa was four months old when we got her, but seemed as though she’d been part of our home since she was born. Five years and six trailers later, we’re still happy as can be and Osa is often my copilot when I tow my trailer, a 1960 Airstream that I named “Little Lotus,” to vintage trailer rallies.

 

The very first rally we went to was in 29 Palms, Calif., near Joshua Tree National Park. Hey, we weren’t afraid of an 18- hour drive the first time out. Ten hours into our journey, we stopped at a rest area and snoozed in the Airstream together. It was a chilly night and we snuggled up tight. Back on the road, we didn’t stop until we reached Joshua Tree—just in time for sunrise. Spectacular. I had never seen anything like it, and neither had Osa. We looked at each other and then back at the landscape in awe.

 

We had a lot of photo ops early that morning, and then decided to get in a nap before we headed into 29 Palms for the rally. Content, we snuggled up again to recover from the long road trip. About two hours later, I woke up and peeked out the window. Snow? Whaaaa? Beautiful! Amazing! Then I said to Osa, “I hope my old truck can get us out of here!”

 

We had a rousing time driving through the snow with Little Lotus in tow. We finally made it to the gate, where the ranger was waiting for us in his booth. I was wound up by the adventure, and my words came out in short bursts. “Oh— my—goodness—I didn’t know if we would make it.” Just then I looked up to see him smiling, and also saw the sunny landscape just beyond the gate. “Oh.” I said. No snow. We had definitely been in our own little microclimate in the park.

 

Airstream rallies are a lot of fun. A Saturday-night potluck is standard at most of them, and this one was no exception.“ No dogs” at the potluck was also a rule, no exceptions. Darn. Knowing that Osa, a.k.a. “Houdini,” would no doubt try to bust out of the Airstream, I barricaded the inside, locked the door and barricaded the outside (after leaving her treats and fluffing up the bed covers, of course).

 

Fifteen minutes into the potluck (which was sited clear across the campground), a man named Paul who was also attending the rally came up to me and said, “Does this dog look familiar?” It was Osa. Paul told me he took one look at Osa’s dog tag and knew she was part of the Airstream group, so he brought her to the potluck and found me. I had never been so glad to be a jewelry designer who also makes Airstream style and dog jewelry!

 

Osa didn’t leave my sight that whole trip. She is the greatest co-pilot a girl could hope for. Super snuggler, she’s also good at giving strangers the “stink eye” at 2 AM service-station fill-ups. I love her dearly. We are planning our next road trip soon. Looks like it may involve beaches with lots of room to run.

 

Look for us on the road … happy travels!

 

Culture: Reviews
Eco Dog Planet’s Doggie Waste Bags
Bark Likes This

Sometimes the most impactful innovations are those made to simple, every day acts — like picking up your dog’s waste. We were introduced to Eco Dog Planet’s Doggie Waste Bags at last month’s Global Pet Expo where they debuted their eco-friendly poop bags made from tapioca. The light but sturdy bags are manufactured from the starch of tapioca plants, a sustainable non-GMO crop that helps support small farmers in Indonesia. The material easily decomposes in soil or landfills when exposed to micro-organisms. Renewable resources, community farming — a great back story for sure, but how does the product … perform? Very well we’ve found. The bags have a slightly thicker feel to them than other starch bags we’ve tested, and a toothy surface that helps buffer the tactile experience. Plus, they don’t fall apart in your pocket after a few weeks as some other starch bags do. Bark loves Eco Dog Planet’s Doggie Waste Bags! A pack of 60 bags sells for $9.99 at ecodogplanet.com

Click here for a chance to win a box of bags.

Culture: Reviews
Found by a Lost Dog
The creators of the new movie Darling Companion have an eye and ear for real-life drama.
Mixed-breed rescue dog Kasey plays Freeway in the new film, Darling Companion.

Lawrence and meg kasdan wrote one of my favorite movies: Grand Canyon, a 1991 film about six people who find their lives intersecting in Los Angeles. Like other movies directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist), it contains a number of remarkable lines of dialogue. One, spoken by Steve Martin, stands out. “That’s part of your problem … you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”

One of life’s riddles about dogs is answered in the new movie Darling Companion, also co-written by the Kasdans. The riddle is this: how do dogs remind us of our own humanity? The film also shows how dogs bring us closer to one another.

The movie tells the tale of a longtime married couple who look just fine on the outside. Dr. Joseph Winter (Kevin Kline) and his wife Beth (Diane Keaton) have it all, including a gorgeous second home in the Colorado Rockies. But under the surface we see that, obsessed by his career as a surgeon, Winter is rarely fully present for their lives. The movie truly begins when Beth’s emptiness is accidently filled by a rescued dog named Freeway.

As Meg Kasdan says, “We thought of Dr. Winter as a distracted person, in this case, by his career. Their relationship was beginning to fray from it.” Lawrence adds, “We really wanted to make it about paying attention, being present. It doesn’t matter if it’s a wife, husband or anyone else … not paying attention is a metaphor.” And not paying attention is exactly what happens when Beth’s beloved Freeway runs off into the woods and gets lost. This is based on a true story from an episode in the Kasdans’ 40-year marriage.

The couple spoke to me from their office in Los Angeles; it was a breezy conversation among three complete dog fans. As soon as I told them I believe dogs take us to our higher selves, they knew we would connect on this film … and share the joy and gratitude dogs bring to our lives. Lawrence believes that “the world changes when you love a dog, or a pet of any kind. You have a sensitivity you didn’t have before. You identify at the vet with others … you see the worry, the comfort, the control. It all opens a whole new world.” Meg, a true partner in doggie love, goes on. “We spend a lot of time with three dogs. We have our own rescue mutt — a Cattle Dog/Shepherd mix, Mack — and our son’s two dogs. We all walk together in the woods … they give us the best, fullest way to experience wilderness.”

They had their dog-centered story to tell, but how would they find just the right dog to take center stage? Lawrence realized that there’s no casting couch when looking for a dog star in a movie. “With this movie, I knew a trainer would be as important as finding the right D.P. or actor. We needed a great dog and a great trainer.” After interviewing many trainers with dogs, Meg said they were thrilled with the work done by Steve Solomon and Sarah Cole and their dog Kasey, a mixed breed with Collie and German Shepherd in his background. Lawrence looked for the quality in a dog that he most cherishes in an actor: “the ability to be in repose … to listen. Kasey can just sit or lie down and be contented to be there. He also looked so right; he is a rescue dog playing a rescue dog … He had nicks and scratches.”

With a few welcome exceptions like The Artist, Beginners or Our Idiot Brother, dogs in movies too often are exploited, reduced to props used for cruel laughter or a character’s neglect or abuse. Darling Companion not only keeps the dog love sweet and soulful, it drives both the plot and the characters. According to Lawrence, “The search in the film for the dog is a metaphor for people searching for their own connections to each other.” In the movie, Russ (Richard Jenkins) and Penny (Dianne Wiest) have found each other later in life, while the younger characters (played by Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass) are beginning the search for caring and commitment. They all are searching for the dog and for each other.

Carmen (Ayelet Zurer) is on a discovery of self, forming and listening to her intuitive visions. Meg Kasdan found Carmen’s perceptions in their real-life story when they lost Mack for a number of days after he freaked out on a mountain trail. As Meg remembers, “we had allowed a friend to watch over Mack and they were on a walk together. A mountain-bike rider whizzed by and our dog just took off after it; suddenly, he was nowhere to be found. We conducted a massive search as you see in the film, though we’ve taken artistic and a few comic liberties. Through it all with Mack, we had a friend who kept up our spirits with the certain knowledge that the dog was all right, providing clues she somehow knew as to where he was going. When we finally found him by the river, Mack had lost seven pounds and was filthy, but he was absolutely fine.” Lawrence believes that “this search was a good catalyst about relationships, a way to fight to reach a place of what is, hopefully, inner contentment.”

Contentment, satisfying conclusions, kindness of heart and joyful simplicity are not seen in mainstream Hollywood movies these days. Lawrence knows it too well. “It’s hard to make any movie about people anymore, anything that isn’t an action-comic-book piece or extremely dumb comedies. You know, the kind of movies we loved are hard to get made. I was 14 when I saw Lawrence of Arabia and it changed my life. That was it for me. It had everything: personal details mixed with gigantic story and sweep. It made me want to make movies and tell stories that way.” Meg “flipped out” when she saw Some Like It Hot, noticing not only the warmth and wacky fun, but Marilyn Monroe’s heartfelt performance. The three of us agreed that movies have changed our lives. And that dogs enrich, inspire and connect us to each other. In fact, my dogs, Duke and Ella, are staring at me as I write this. Lawrence and Meg told me they wrote the screenplay with three dogs surrounding them.

Dogs: they are indeed our darling companions. sonyclassics.com/darlingcompanion

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Horse Sense
The whys and hows of the canine-equine bond

He’d been a birthday present for my mother. The Artful Dodger, we called him. A broken-coated Jack Russell Terrier, he sported a lopsided look, with one ear soft and dropped, the other starched upright in full salute. From the moment we brought Dodger home and posed him atop my old Paint horse, Clyde, for a quick photo-op (Dodger’s markings made him look like Clyde’s Mini-Me), it was clear that this dog was born to be around horses.

During his 14 years as Head Stable Dog, Dodger led the charge on morning and evening chores. He was frequently underfoot and escaped more than his fair share of flying hooves. But he also knew his job, and was tireless in his efforts to purge our stable of marauding rodents. And whether playing chase with the yearlings or lounging in the sun with the seniors, it was obvious that Dodger not only loved being close to the horses, he also had an innate sense of just how close was too close. Horse sense just seemed to be in his genes. After all, Jack Russells were bred as fox-hunting dogs, designed to run with the horses and follow the fox when it went to ground.

Years later, while working as a horse trainer at a ranch in northern Colorado, I witnessed a different level of interspecies interaction as I watched the cowboys, their horses and their dogs—Border Collies, Heelers and a few “ranch-bred specials”— at work sorting cattle. Whenever a wary bovine decided to make a break for it, the team of three intensely focused individuals would begin an elaborate dance of ducks and dodges designed to guide the wayward cow back into position.

As I continued to observe these working dog/horse teams, I began to suspect that the nature of this interspecies interaction was far more complex than what could be described by the classical predator- prey analogy. While both dogs and horses are, at heart, social animals who readily form long-lasting attachments to specific individuals, their reasons for forming social groups are fundamentally different. As prey animals, horses rely on each other for survival. Something you may have noticed if you’ve ever seen a group of wild (or domesticated) horses at rest in a field: While most of the herd sleeps, there is always one individual who remains alert and watchful, ready to sound the alarm at a moment’s notice.

Most wild canids, on the other hand, form packs to better bring down prey, living as a group to hunt more successfully. Hence, for dogs, membership in a pack is desirable but not necessary for survival. As domesticated animals, however, dogs are forced into a constructed social hierarchy that might include one or more dogs, at least one human and, in the case of the working dog, a whole host of other creatures.

Indeed, since their domestication, interspecies relationships between dogs and other animals have become not only possible, but also relatively commonplace. Part of the reason has to do with an evolutionary process called neoteny, in which particular aspects of a species’ development slow to the point where adults retain many traits previously seen in juveniles. This process has been at work in dogs since their wolf ancestors first began lingering around human settlements, and is responsible for producing the type of canine we all know and love: that cuddly, playful creature we bring into our homes and often allow to share our beds.

Not surprisingly, this perpetual juvenility curbs the majority of dogs’ most aggressive predatory instincts. Herding dogs, for instance, utilize predatory tactics to control their flocks, but fail to follow through on the instinct to bring down an animal in their charge. It is also what allows dogs’ work to seem an awful lot like play, and what frequently makes the line between playful pursuit and aggressive harassment more than a little bit blurry.

Merle and Sandi Newton of Crystal Rose Cow Dog College in Red Bluff, Calif., have been professionally training stock dogs for over a quarter of a century. Perennial champions at regional and national cow dog competitions, the couple knows a few things about identifying that fine line between playmate and predator, and what it takes to foster a good working bond between canines and equines.

Teaching a stock dog to work cattle alongside horses—something that’s crucial on vast Western ranches—begins with asking the dog to distinguish between types of prey. “We’re actually controlling and curbing a strong predator instinct,” explains Merle.

For this reason, establishing the human as the leader is a prerequisite for work with both horses and stock. Once the dog learns to act on his herding instincts only when given the go-ahead, the introduction of horse and dog usually proceeds quite smoothly. “The first time that our dogs see a horse, we want to be aboard [the horse]. That way, the dog starts to think of the horse as part of the human,” says Merle. Once the two become accustomed to one another, dogs quickly form bonds with “their” horses. “If someone was to get on my horse and ride off,” says Merle, “my dog would follow that horse until I called him away.”

Provided neither party is threatened by the other’s presence, and especially if there is some mutual benefit like play (or, as in the case of stock dogs, a working activity that feels like play), both horse and dog can certainly begin to view each other as just another member of the pack/herd.

“But, they’re predator and prey, fundamentally,” says Anne Dickens, director of publicity for the British Carriage Dog Society, “so why do they get along? I’m convinced it has more to do with the human than with the dog and the horse. Dogs see that the horses are a part of our lives, and therefore a part of their lives as well. And it works both ways. The horses trust the dogs because we trust them.”

Whether it is that trust, a working relationship, or simply mutual curiosity, there is little doubt that dogs and horses do form some remarkable bonds. Dickens was witness to one such partnership during the 2008 Carriage Dog Trials in Worcestershire, England (an endurance and obedience event designed to both demonstrate and test the Dalmatian’s traditional role as a companion to horses and carriages).

Midway through the 25-mile course, half of her two-pony team had to be retired due to a high heart rate. Having been declared a “jolly fit little pony” by the vet on call, the remaining pony (named Polo) was left to run the second 12 miles on his own. As the team of two dogs, one driver, and now only one horse struggled to finish the course in time, Dickens watched as all began working—for the very first time—as a genuine team.

“With about three miles to go, my dog Fenris picked up on Polo’s energy and concentration and fell in beside him, where his harness mate would normally have been,” says Dickens. “He stayed there for the next couple of miles, every few moments glancing up at Polo, seemingly urging him on. It was quite extraordinary—especially from a dog who usually keeps his distance from the horses.” Eventually, Fenris’s sister Freya noticed what was going on and fell into place on Polo’s other side. “Now, it might be that they just got excited by the speed and thought it was a jolly game,” says Dickens. “But the way they behaved and the look on their faces made me think they knew the stakes were high and we all had to pull together as a team.”

Such partnerships, whether fleeting— like that of Fenris, Freya and Polo—or lasting a lifetime, are a perfect illustration of the depth and breadth of our animals’ capacity for understanding and emotion. Doubtless, our ability to enjoy these complex relationships may forever eclipse our capacity to understand the precise evolutionary and behavioral mechanisms that make them possible. But this much is clear: In their openness to the unknown, their tolerance and their willingness to trust, animals may have a thing or two yet to teach us.

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