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News: Guest Posts
Big Love
Living the poly-dog life

“Babe, how do you think Skipper felt about me bringing home Leo? I mean, do you think he feels like...inadequate, as a dog?”

  “What on earth are you talking about?”   “Maybe he feels like I got another dog because he wasn’t enough for me? Like if maybe he had a bigger personality, or liked to snuggle more, I wouldn’t have had to go elsewhere for it?”   My most recent TV obsession is “Big Love,” which was introduced into my home after my boyfriend Jason impulse-bought three seasons on DVD. For those of you not hooked on the drama, I’ll fill you in: Unlike other cable shows about vampires, serial killers or suburban drug dealers (“Weeds” or “Breaking Bad,” take your pick), “Big Love” is about a clean-cut Mormon family living in Utah. Oh, yeah, and they’re polygamists. The show has provided the kind of escapism that keeps me hooked, especially since polygamy remains a subject with which I don’t foresee myself becoming more intimately acquainted. I mean, obviously Jason isn’t going to take any more girlfriends in (at least, he wouldn’t live to tell about it if he did), and it’s not like I’m going to take in another boyfriend.   Maybe I’ve become too invested in the show and can’t separate fiction from reality, but all of the sudden I feel really guilty. Perched on the end of the sofa, staring out the window, is Skipper, my faithful first dog. We used to joke when I first adopted Skip that he thought he was my boyfriend, not my dog. He followed me everywhere and slept on my pillow at night (which for a 15 pound dog is quite a feat). Whenever Jason would come over and sit next to me on the sofa, Skipper would look at me like “You’re going to let this fool take my seat? Tell him to move!” and would eventually disappointingly concede when it was clear Jason wasn’t going anywhere.   As if my human boyfriend wasn’t enough (sorry, Skip), imagine how he felt when I brought home a younger, more outgoing canine without real warning. And what’s worse, the latecomer is a total attention-fiend. Skipper’s a little like Big-Love-first-wife-and-total-control-freak Barb, who was dragged into a plural marriage by her husband when he married second-wife-and-compulsive-spender-and-liar Nikki. Like Barb, Skipper must have tried to maintain composure those first few days, but the jealousy probably was overwhelming. When the second dog was not sitting in my lap or getting combed or doing fancy tricks, he’d be misbehaving: Peeing on the curtains, eating my favorite Lady Gaga headband, barking at the heater. Meanwhile, there’s perfectly faithful Skip, a paragon of good behavior, often going unnoticed because he doesn’t ask for much other than the occasional pat on the head or a quiet whispering of “Who’sagoodboy?”   I figured with a second dog, the more the merrier. But after marathon “Big Love” sessions, I have my doubts. What does Skipper think? Is a new dog a replacement? A competitor? While Skip and Leo get along famously whenever they’re interacting—wrestling, cleaning one another, even sharing the same dog-bed—like the wives on “Big Love” the stakes are raised when they’re vying for the affections of one person—in our case, me. Even though there are still minor squabbles from time to time over who gets to sit next to me on the couch, the dogs have worked things out among themselves and seem happier for having one another. As for me? I’ll just have to get over my guilt, stop watching “Big Love” and take the dogs out to the park together.   What about you? Is one dog enough or do you have a poly-canine family?

 

News: Guest Posts
Every Dog Has His Day
A birthday bash for Leo

It’s August, and that means one thing around here: Leo’s birthday is coming up. Maybe it’s because I like to throw parties or I’m obsessed with my dogs (or both), but it’s a priority for me to acknowledge my dogs’ birthdays. Leo’s big day is the day before my best friend Carrie’s, which means a dual birthday party to ensure a better turnout. (For some reason, Carrie is more popular than Leo; she always draws a crowd.) Last year’s celebration combined their interests: Carrie’s abiding love of Elton John and my dog’s passion for dancing. We picked a perfect party playlist, invited all of our friends (both human and canine), and baked two cakes, one for dogs and one for humans.

  I should mention to those of you who are rolling your eyes at me as you’re reading this, I know throwing a birthday party for your dog is borderline ridiculous. But here’s my rationale:
  • I love parties: I’m not talking about the kind of parties where someone brings an plastic jug of Montezuma Gold tequila and you end up with 10 people passed out in your living room, or awkwardly poking your friend awake and asking them to remove their head from the kennel so you can hose it out before putting the dogs to bed. That kind of fun isn’t fair to the dogs or to my post-party cleanup efforts.
  • Parties at home mean I don’t get home late for the dogs. As a dog parent, I can tell you that every party is less enjoyable on some level if I’m sitting in a corner looking at my watch, wondering how much longer I can afford to stay without the dogs wondering if I’ll ever come home. A party at home means I can see that my friends and my dogs are all having a great time: Everyone wins.
  • The dogs can be where they’re comfortable—in the spotlight. If you were to use one word to describe my dogs and me, it would be gregarious. Two words: attention hounds. My dogs’ favorite thing about parties is the abundance of laps to sit in and pant legs to sniff. We appreciate a captive audience for our hilarious party tricks (guests who come over all know about the incredible Hula-hoop of Fire….don’t worry, it’s actually just a Hula-hoop with orange streamers attached!). Best of all, the dogs can let me know when they’ve had enough fun and want to be put to bed, even if the party is still going (although Leo usually manages to stay awake longer than even me).
  • Using a dog’s birthday as an excuse to throw a party might be seen as ridiculous to some, but to me it’s a great for our social life. Plus dog poop is easier to clean up than vomit.   What about you, thinking of throwing a dog party?  

     

    News: Guest Posts
    Dog Receives Communion
    Kinda, sorta.

    Here’s another for the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished annals. It seems an Anglican priest in Canada, recently, slipped a holy wafer to a congregant’s dog during communion. Most witnesses were unfazed by the gesture. But a displeased parishioner complained up the church hierarchy creating a tempest in the temple. The result: No more communion for dogs. But, happily, the dog can still attend services.

      I’m no expert on these things, as terminally lapsed Catholic, but that hasn’t stopped me before: I just can’t believe that a divine intelligence credited with conjuring dinosaurs and glacial lakes, redwood trees and, yes, wonderful wagging canines would be small-minded enough to begrudge a dog his treat—whether it be a sacred host or a liver snap.

     

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    People Remind Me of Dog Breeds
    This includes my children

    My oldest son reminds me of a Greyhound. He seems to have two speeds: super fast and resting. He likes to curl up on the couch next to anybody or anything warm. He loves to run and is so into rabbits that he says that when he grows up, he wants to be a rabbit scientist. My other son is very high energy, physically adventurous and amusing in his unpredictability. Nature has seen fit to give him an angelic face, perhaps in the hopes that not everyone will notice that he has a little of the devil in his eye. In my mind, I can best understand him by comparing him to a Vizsla-Irish Setter cross.

      Other moms don’t always appreciate my views, but dog people often get what I am saying. I love my sons for who they are and I enjoy having such diverse personalities and attitudes in my own family. Comparing them to dog breeds is done with great love and tremendous respect, and it’s just my own personal way of describing them and understanding them. I realize that these comparisons only explain a small part of who they are, and that there is much more to them than the few similarities I see between them and some typical qualities of various dog breeds.   Does anyone else think of people in terms of their similarities to dog breeds? And has anyone ever criticized you for this view of the individuals in your life? Please share who the people in your life are like in dog terms!

     

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Helping One Another
    Homeless dogs help injured soldiers learn a new vocation

    The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. is on the forefront of using the human-canine bond to help soldiers. Previously, I wrote about research being done on the effects of service dogs on post traumatic stress disorder, but recently I found about Dog Tags, a partnership between the Walter Reed and its neighbor, the Washington Humane Society. 

    Developed by the Humane Society, Dog Tags is a program that teaches soldiers the basics of dog training, while providing homeless dogs with training and socialization. Dog Tags gives soldiers the opportunity to pursue a future career in the field of animal training, care and welfare while increasing the dogs’ adoption rate and retention in their new homes.

    Participation in the program is voluntary and requires the solders to come across the street to the Washington Humane Society’s Behavior & Learning Center twice a week. The certificate based program has three tiers, each lasting eight weeks. Even better, the certificate based educational curriculum uses all humane, motivational training methods.

    I saw a presentation last year at ClickerExpo about a similar vocational program done in prisons. Listening to some of the participants, it was amazing to hear the life transformations they had from working with dogs and caring for another living being. The inmates learned compassion and empathy, while developing an optimistic outlook on life. Learning a career skill is only a small part of what participants receive from these types of programs. I can only imagine the benefits Dog Tags has for soldiers who have gone through so much trauma in their lives.

    To learn more about Dog Tags or to donate, visit the Washington Humane Society website. The program is entirely funded by the Humane Society. 

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    National Pet Fire Safety Day
    Free stickers and tips to protect you and your pets

    According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 1,000 house fires each year are accidentally started by pets.

    I never really thought about it before, but between my cats jumping on the counters and my dogs zooming past tables, I can see how this can be more common than I’d like to think about. I pretty much avoid candles for this reason, but I had no idea how easy it is for a cat or dog to turn on the stove.

    To create awareness on this topic, the American Kennel Club (AKC), ADT Security Services and the National Volunteer Fire Council have teamed up for this Thursday’s National Pet Fire Safety Day.

    The AKC has provided the following tips to help protect your home and loved ones from accidental fire:

    • Extinguish open flames - Don’t leave your pets unattended around an open flame and make sure to thoroughly extinguish any open flame before leaving your home.
      • Remove stove knob- Be sure to remove stove knobs or protect them with covers before leaving the house.
      • Invest in flameless candles – These candles contain a light bulb, rather than an open flame, and take the danger out of your pet knocking over a candle.
    • Avoid glass water bowls on wooden decks – The sun’s rays when filtered through glass water bowls can heat up and ignite the wooden deck.  Choose stainless steel or ceramic bowls instead. 
    • Keep pets near entrances when you're out – Keep collars on pets and leashes at the ready in case firefighters need to rescue your pet. When leaving pets home alone, keep them in areas or rooms near entrances where firefighters can easily find them. 
    • Secure young pets- Especially with young puppies, keep them confined away from potential fire-starting hazards when you are away from home such as in crates or behind baby gates in secure areas.
    • Consider using monitored smoke detectors - Monitored smoke detectors, which are connected to a monitoring center, allow emergency responders to be contacted when your pets are trapped. These systems provide an added layer of protection beyond battery-operated smoke alarms.
    • Affix a Pet Alert Window Cling – Write down the number of pets inside your house and attach the static cling to a front window. This critical information saves rescuers time when locating your pets. Make sure to update the number of pets listed.

    If you need a Pet Alert Window Cling, the National Volunteer Fire Council is distributing them for free through local volunteer firehouses nationwide.  The clings are also free online through ADT and will be available this September at your local AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Day.  The ASPCA also distributes free alert stickers on their website.

    News: Guest Posts
    More Than Property
    Shared custody agreement recognizes dogs as family members

    At the risk of a little too much information, I’ve been divorced. I mention it because when my husband and I split, we had two dogs. We also shared an attorney who advised us against negotiating shared custody. He told us: It will just create opportunities for conflict down the road. At that time, more conflict was the last thing either of us wanted. In the end, my husband took the dogs. Separating them was inconceivable. I eventually ended up moving from New York, first to Maine and then to Seattle, knowing, all the while, the dogs enjoyed a consistent, stable life with my husband. Still I missed them terribly and sometimes I wish our attorney had been a little more creative in his thinking. I bet we could have shared the dogs successfully. I know several ex-couples for whom alternating dog custody works quite well.

      When I read about a judge’s decision to award shared custody for a Lhasa Apso in Calvert County, Maryland, I was happy to see it. I was also horrified to discover that if they could not agree on terms, the dog could have been sold leaving the ex-husband and wife to split the proceeds. It’s that old saw about pets being property and not children. Still this decision is pragmatic and compassionate—and maybe will help establish a precedent. What I can’t understand is the six-month term. Six months! Why so long?

     

    News: Guest Posts
    The Name Game
    The unpredictable art of pet naming

    My first dog was named Cricket. A number of explanations were offered as to why she had that name, though none of them seemed very good. My mother told me, “As a puppy, her bark sounded like a cricket!” Well, as an adult she sounded like a woman wailing whenever she barked. My dad told me, “We named her that because she’s good luck, like a cricket!” Not great luck, considering this dog had kidney stones by age two. I came to accept that there might not be a rhyme or reason for every dog’s name, which was all right with me as long as it suited the dog.

      When I was old enough to consider getting my own dogs, I was determined to give them fantastic names. These names would have purpose and dignity, and make other people say, “Oh, my goodness, what a fantastic dog name!” I began to keep a small notebook on me at all times, with a few pages reserved in the back for jotting down dog names. I met a dog named Loretta once, I thought this was a phenomenal name. I also considered Greek gods as inspiration—Apollo, Hermes, Zeus. Or there were those classic names, which had gone out of fashion, but now were ironic and clever: Rocket, Fido, Sparky, Rex.   Eventually, I became convinced that all of my dogs from now until perpetuity would be named after U.S. Presidents. I’ve always thought the concept of dogs with human names was wildly funny, yet I wanted to be sure that my dogs had names that commanded the utmost respect. Presidents’ names seemed to be a good compromise, funny in a tongue in cheek sort of way, yet commanding that same gravitas I wanted. Skipper was absolutely going to be named Truman. Then I met him and he already knew his name, and he was just so happy when you said it. It seemed cruel to change it, he looked like he had already been through a lot in his life and a name change was added stress he didn’t deserve. So with dog number one, my naming scheme was already thwarted.   Leo, who was called “King Skip,” absolutely needed a name change. I couldn’t have two Skips, and calling him King just seemed like outright favoritism. I wanted to try to stick to my Presidential theme, so I considered calling him Ulysses, or perhaps Lincoln. Then I met “King Skip” and he was just so downright silly and rambunctious that giving him a name with such clout was impossible. So I did what most people probably do. I buckled and gave him a name on the spot that I thought suited him. Forget the list in my notebook.   I should tell you that in my family, when we’re not giving dogs completely inexplicable insect names, we have this odd habit of naming pets after relatives and relatives after pets. For example, my great grandmother was named Zoey. We had a dog named Zoey. My parents had an Irish Setter named Lucy. Then they named my sister Lucy. My name was supposed to be Samantha, but ended up being Kate. Soon after I was born, our nameless cat became Samantha. I named Leo after my father, who’s middle name is Leon (coincidentally after King Leopold II of Belgium, who owned several Schipperkes in his life).   Whenever a new name is introduced into the family, like Toby, the name is usually voted on by all of us and taken with the utmost seriousness. This is most likely because we subconsciously acknowledge that this new name is going to get recycled at some point, so we’d better really love it. Though none of my plans for naming have worked out to date, one thing is certain: Whomever I name in this life, whether dog or human, is inevitably going to be called Lucy, Leo or Toby.

     

    News: Guest Posts
    Twilight vs. Harry Potter
    Leading ladies put on the dog

    We don’t have much call to do celebrity blogging a la Gawker here at Bark, so I couldn’t resist an opportunity to drop two “it” girls (with video!) into a dog-themed post.

     

    Twilight’s Kristen Stewart recently told David Letterman that her family has wolf-dog hybrids, including one named Jack with yellow eyes that looks like something right out of the blockbuster series—and I mean that in the best way. Jack is a stunner. After launching into the wolf tale, Letterman cheerfully takes Stewart down a conversational road that must have had her press rep biting his or her nails. Check it out:

      Meanwhile, Harry Potter ingenue Emma Watson gets furry in a new alt-rock video. In “Say You Don’t Want It” by One Night Only, Watson plays a stylishly disheveled dog alongside lead singer/boyfriend George Craig. Watch to the end for the big reveal.  

      What’s my takeaway? Dogs are so brilliant even movie stars can get a little reflected glimmer off them.  

     

    News: Guest Posts
    Extreme Pet-Proofing
    Beyond bitter spray and baby gates

    Before adopting my first dog, I did what any soon-to-be dog parent would do, I pet-proofed my home. I was vigilant. Exposed electrical cords were tucked out of sight, my favorite white shag rug was Scotchgarded and put in a room where my dog would never go without supervision, and I bought a baby gate for confining him in the kitchen when I was out. I felt extremely satisfied with my preparation, and thought about what an excellent dog parent I would be. Perhaps it was hubris, but God or the universe or whoever decided that no matter how hard I tried to pet-proof my home, I would be given a dog that would constantly prove me wrong.

      My first dog, Skipper, was a breeze to pet-proof for, although he did show me he could easily jump over the 3-foot baby gate. Then came Leo. Problems that had never seen imaginable suddenly needed to be addressed immediately, such as the fact that Leo can scale vertical chain-link fences like Spiderman. Or the reality that even though my fence goes several feet underground, Leo will dig like he’s Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption until he is free. Containing Leo has been like plugging a cartoon water leak: Once one rupture is stopped, another pops up out of nowhere, then another, and I’m left scrambling to fix them all at once.   Leo seemed to know no limits or bounds, until finally he went too far. One rainy afternoon, he tried to follow me outside and down the stairs leading to the garage. I closed the wooden gate at the top of the stairs, and told him to stay. When I got into my car, Leo was in the backyard and I assumed he would use the dog door to go back into the house. Instead, he scaled the gate (with his aforementioned Spiderman abilities), slipped and fell down the flight of stairs. I returned home an hour later, entering through the front door and not immediately seeing Leo. It seemed strange. I couldn’t find him anywhere in the house, so I panicked and went to the backyard, imagining he had escaped. Then, I spotted him. Leo was at the bottom of the stairway to the garage, shivering. My heart broke. I felt that in spite of my efforts, I had failed. Though Leo wasn’t seriously injured, he sprained three ankles and scraped the front of his face. We were lucky, as his injuries could have been much worse. After taking him to the vet and confirming he would make a full recovery, Leo spent the next few days curled up in a ball on the couch, seeming to consider what he had done.   Though it’s been challenging to pet-proof my home, I think we’ve finally reached an understanding. For me, pet-proofing is not about creating impossible challenges for the dogs to defeat (because my dogs have proved time and again that nothing is impossible for them) and it’s not really about protecting my property (no matter how much I love that rug), but instead it’s about ensuring the protection of what is truly important—my dogs. And they seem to recognize I put in place to keep them safe and comfortable, even if one of them had to learn this the hard way.

     

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