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.


News: Guest Posts
Celebrate Canine Roommates
Help a dedicated dog person win $10,000+

Two wonderful pups—the delightfully verbal Charlie and a trick-happy rescue named Abby—have made it into the group of ten finalists in Apartments.com’s Roommate of the Year Contest. I blogged about this video competition in May because, well, I was impressed by the more-than-decent prize—your rent paid for one year plus $10,000. You could raise a lot of dog-centric fun with that kind of dough. And I figured since dogs really do make fabu roommates, who wouldn’t want to tell the world about it?

  What I love about the submissions by Kathryn McGonigle (with Charlie) and Suzanne Marshall (with Abby) is how well cared for and engaged their dogs appear to be.   Check out all the finalists—there are pitches for two-legged roommates as well, whatever—and vote once daily for your favorite through July 30.


News: Guest Posts
A Girl and Her Dogs
Karaoke vs. hula hoops

Even from a young age, I was convinced my life would not be absolutely complete until I had a dog to call my own. Now, at 24 with two dogs, I can tell you that in many ways it is complete and also complicated! My rite of passage into adulthood began when I adopted my first dog a few years ago, a small Schipperke mix who the rescue aptly named “Skipper.” To me, Skipper meant I never would have to come home to an empty house, I would always have someone to take to the park, and perhaps most importantly, I would always have someone to secretly watch Lifetime Original Movies with who wouldn’t judge me when I cried (or at least wouldn’t say anything). Nearly a year later, Skipper’s rescue contacted me to let me know they had another Schipperke, which is how Leo joined our family.

As a young adult, my social life has changed dramatically as a result of being a dog owner. I don’t have the same “freedom” I once had. I can’t just crash at a friend’s house in San Francisco. I can’t be gone all day and then head out for the night. I have to be home for my dogs. Initially, it was painfully apparent that I had sacrificed something to be a dog owner. If I were invited out to karaoke, before I could even consider which sequin dress to wear, I’d realize that I had been at work all day and probably should stay home. Some might say I’m punishing the world by not sharing my life-changing rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody with the public. So be it. Sometimes it’s more important to stay home and teach your dogs to jump through a hula-hoop. 

Today, I have adjusted fully to being a dog owner. A typical Saturday afternoon now consists of my boyfriend and I lounging on the sofa with the dogs after a long hike. We ponder important and life-altering questions like: If celebrities were dogs, which dogs would they be? Meryl Streep would be a Saluki. Tom Hanks would be a Cocker Spaniel. Fabio would be an Afghan Hound—no question. To our friends who don’t have dogs, these types of afternoons seem pointless and borderline insane, but to us it’s just part of being a dog lover.

Though there are drastic lifestyle changes that come with having dogs, there are major benefits too—we have a lot more dance parties at my house after we discovered Leo loves dancing! I don’t need to invest in one of those robot-vacuums, because the dogs will immediately inhale any scraps of food I drop (except those which are poisonous to dogs, of course!). And I didn’t know it was possible to have that much fun at a beach until I got the dogs. This is my life now; while it involves scooping poop and often staying in on Friday nights, the amount of joy and fulfillment these dogs have brought into my life has changed me more than any number of Toga parties could. It took some getting used to, but now I can’t remember life before the dogs and I don’t know if I care to.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs on Campus
More and more colleges allow pets in dorms

As the school year comes to a close, graduating high school seniors are busy getting ready to depart for the next step in their lives. This year more students than ever are planning to move on campus with their dogs. At Stephens College, 30 incoming freshmen will be coming this fall with family pets, a 20 percent increase over last year. The students will be welcomed to a special dorm, called Pet Central, that has a makeshift kennel with temporary boarding services.

Stephens College has allowed pets since 2003 and believes that animals ease the transition to school life. And they’re not alone. Other schools that welcome pets include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Eckerd College, and Washington & Jefferson College.

However, some worry that taking a pet to college could actually have the opposite effect, serving as a Band-Aid for social or mental problems. Others are skeptical that teenagers are responsible enough to care for an animal in a dorm’s crazy environment.

To compensate for the later, colleges have come up with many checks and balances. For instance, Stephens, Eckerd, and Washington & Jefferson have groups of students and faculty members who enforce guidelines that ensure proper care. Last year two students at Stephens College lost their dog privileges after the Pet Council decided that they were not taking proper care of their pets.

I have mixed feelings about allowing pets on campus. I know many people who decided to live off campus in order to keep their dogs and I would’ve loved to have had a dog at school. However, a dorm may not be the best home for a pet. I wonder where those two dogs went that were evicted from the Stephens College dorm.

Certainly there are many college students capable of handling the responsibility of an animal, but there are many that are not. It would be wonderful if these colleges required obedience or agility classes to ensure that the dogs are getting enough mental stimulation, but it sounds like they’ve put a lot of thought into their pet programs, which are still evolving.

What’s your take? Did you have a pet at school?

News: Guest Posts
Lady and the Tramp Mentality
Washington Post article reinforces purebred vs. mix debate

When Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse contacted me about my AKC/mixed breed blog post, I was flattered and eager to share my thoughts on this controversial decision. Unfortunately, Hesse was on a tight deadline and we never connected for a formal interview. After reading the piece, I was surprised at its "Lady and the Tramp" mentality. From the first sentence, she paints lovely images worthy of any literary novel, yet they reinforce an ignorant stereotype that purebred dogs are superior over mixed breeds. For example, while attending a dog show where both purebreds and mutts, ahem, mix, she compares the "sly Border Collies, whose owners plaster their cars with bumper stickers reading, 'My Border Collie is smarter than your honor student,' to mixed breed Otis, who "might lick his rear end." Talk about a cheap shot! I've got news for Hesse and the general public--purebreds lick their rear ends. And they probably drink out of the toilet, too. It is my fervent hope that the mingling of purebreds and mixes at AKC events will remind us that they are all dogs, regardless of pedigree.