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The Smell’s the Thing
Discovering the thrill of grass and other earthy delights with a guide dog.

Day One
If you spend as much time as I do with a dog (the only perk of blindness, eh?), you have the privilege of living a sort of dual citizenship. My yellow Labrador, Nira, and I fly together and go to classes together. We enter supermarkets and museums, amusement parks and churches (those yins and yangs of the spirit).

Now, I resolve that henceforth whenever Nira stops to sniff I too shall drop to the ground and follow suit. I hereby announce that I’m throwing off my anthropomorphic and shallow notions of “ergo sum” for a new kind of “cogito” driven by odor and fragrance and all the declensions in between.

Yes I’m going to learn about Nira’s world. I will keep you posted dear reader. And yes of course the pun is intentional. I shall hold nothing back. I will not fear gawking strangers. (Indeed the public “already” gawks at the blind guy anyway.)

I'm going to undertake graduate study with Nira who is, after all, a $45,000 dog.

Day Two
Yesterday I announced I’d follow my dog’s lead and drop to the ground, or lean in close, to know more fully the whirligig of doggy nasturtiums and nosegays. Clearly I’m having a vague and occupational dementia—the kind of thing that happens when it’s very hot. The Iowa sun has mastered my wits. And the dog is just a dog. She does not know I’m officially crazy.

This morning Nira plunged her head and shoulders into brush that grows along a stone wall in my backyard. It was early and there was dew on the grass and drops of water fell from the disturbed leaves of the bushes. Nira’s whole body was in lockstep with her nose, her broad back trembled and the long leash whipped back and forth in my hand, all the motion driven in accord with the dog’s nostrils. There is not a word in the English language for attenuated motion driven by a dog’s nostrils. I imagine the Swedes have a word for this, something like “hundt-flenken” and I’ll have to look it up at some point. If the Swedes have such a word it will likely prove to be ancient. All the important words are ancient.

So, Nira was really in there and “working it,” as they say at the gymnasium. Her nose was alive and wide open like the soul of a Sufi dancer. She was receiving news of something bosky and yet plangent—a thing both rich and low, a thing dark and yet still capable of flight. I could feel the intelligence of Nira’s nose deep in my hands. “The thing” behind the wall of sylvan camouflage was alive and breathing. Its exhalations were going straight into the dog. The dog was zithing like a wire. “God Almighty,” I thought. “Now I’m going to have to go down on all fours and scent this trapped but living fragrance for myself.”

It’s not so easy to muscle your way into the shrubs alongside a quivering dog but I did it. I was suddenly at the heart of a Mexican standoff under the folds and spills of the elderberry and lilac bushes. I knew I had to be fast. Dogs don’t think twice about scenting living things. This wasn’t a formal affair with multiple forks and knives: I had to plunge and sniff. I was aware that my ass was sticking out of the leaves. My brain was oddly fast and slow. I was simultaneously throwing my blind, naked face into the dank unknown while worrying that the neighbors might see my “plumber’s crack” pointing from a wall of greenery. I tried for just a second to concentrate on my shorts. Were they up? Yes, they were up. No plumber’s crack. The only thing my neighbors could see (supposing they were positioned in accord) would be my khaki shorts shining like a bleached sail far away on the sea.

I had to go faster. Forget my shorts. Nira was snuffling like a torn accordion. The thing was right in front of me. I inhaled and tried to ignore the scratching sounds. The thing was at the wall. It smelled like a wet haystack. It smelled like a moldy rug. It smelled like leaves in a dead fountain. That’s when it began to dawn on me. Yes friend, the dawning was starting to happen. It was moving from my nose to the richly folded and tiny nautilus of my brain’s odor center. The odor brain knew what was going on but the cross circuits from the scent district to the conning tower were out of shape. Yes, the dawning was taking too long. Wet haystack, clogged aqueduct—what “was” that scrabbling thing?  All the important words are ancient.

It so happens I know the Old English word for “the thing” that Nira and I were smelling. You can look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary if you wish. The word is out of use these days.

Yes, my friend, we (man and dog) were smelling a “fud”—a rabbit’s rectum.

Getting out of the bushes was harder than getting in. Nira didn’t help. She was undergoing some kind of transfiguration and I left her to it.

I staggered to my feet. My Neanderthal Man’s nose was getting reacquainted with the post-modern language center.

I owe it all to my dog.

I shall take thought for this canine-centric exercise anon.

Day Three
Kind friends have written to check my sanity. Bill points out that his Labrador has an affection for cat feces—a matter that is presumably tied to the olfactory predilections of canines. My pal “Bibliochef” points out the sheer improbability of the word “fud” but I swear that’s what we were smelling yesterday and I further swear that that’s the word for the hindmost netherpart of a rabbit. I am, of course, a fool. But to further split the point, fools can be sane. Shakespeare’s fools are invariably the sanest people on stage. So in truth I must declare (as if we were in a court of law) that I knew full well what I was doing when I proclaimed I would follow my dogs nose wherever it may point. The thing is: Fools can and “do” take vacations. Again, if you look to Shakespeare you’ll notice that the fools never get run through with poisoned swords or undergo a serious splitting from nave to chaps. Nope. Your true fool knows when to get the heck out of Dunsinane.

Accordingly, I let Nira nose her nose this morning and I kept to the upright, stolid, Lutheran posture that my Finnish grandmother would have approved. When Nira checked out the jetsam and flotsam of the roadside I thought of Cotton Mather. I thought of Duns Scotus. I kept a fierce detachment. I held my nose aloft like the late William F. Buckley interrogating a Liberal. I was just another dog walker moving slowly among the red winged blackbirds and the yellow finches.

If I had a moralistic streak I would say something about the wisdom of letting fuds hide in the buds. But the fool in me knows better. Life is life wherever you find it.

News: Guest Posts
Adopt-A-Pet’s “Social Petworking”
Inspired use of the Internet or peer-pressure with a downside?

On the Internet, good ideas (and I guess, lousy ideas, as well) spread like viruses. In the January issue of The Bark, we wrote about how Dogs Trust in the United Kingdom found a home for a shelter dog using only a brief message on Twitter, the social networking service. It was the first Twitter-assisted placement for Dogs Trust, and maybe a first-ever.

That was followed in February by a Tweet Blast masterminded by Animal Rescue Online—24 hours of  Twitter messaging (no more than 140 characters each) all aimed at finding homes for homeless companion animals.

But these were mere flashes in pans compared to Adopt-A-Pet.com’s new scheme, cleverly branded as “Social PETworking.” The idea is to encourage regular MySpace, Facebook and Twitter users and bloggers “to advertise adoptable pets to their friends as a way to help homeless pets get seen and adopted.”

The campaign kicked off at the beginning of June, with a goal of networking at least 30,000 homeless pets in the first 30 days. Essentially animal lovers find and share Adopt-A-Pet profiles of shelter animals (dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and more) with friends who might provide good homes or who know others who might.

When I checked the site on June 12, more than 35,000 links had been shared. That’s definitely something. Whether it leads to successful adoptions remains to be demonstrated. I hope it doesn’t increase impulse decisions. It’s one thing if someone who understands the responsibilities of adoption and is looking for a new friend learns about a wonderful animal in need of a home. But I know how hard it is to resist the sweet mug of a doleful puppy with a sad story. I worry that this sort of widespread friend-to-friend “advertising” inspires people to commit to animals when they aren’t ready.

Am I just being a buzzkill? 

News: Guest Posts
King of the Dogs
Must-watch Iggy Pop "dog" video!

If Iggy Pop had a dog, what would it be? As a fan of the shirtless punkster this is not a question I have ever asked myself—despite my passion for his rocking anthem, “I Want To Be Your Dog.” And so, I was surprised, not only to discover that he has a dog, but that—not unlike fellow lapdog-loving, tough-guy Mickey Rourke—he’s head-over-heels for a small fry, more precisely, a 12-pound Maltese named Lucky.

“He’s all dog,” Iggy Pop told Terry Gross in an interview earlier today. “He’s got a butch attitude. He’s fearless and very strong for his size, but he’s still 12 pounds.”

The revelation of his lil’ canine co-pilot came as part of the promotional tour for a new album, Préliminaires, which features a knock-it-out-of-the-dog-park original called, “King of the Dogs.” Before you read on, you have to watch the delightful Patrick Boivin-directed video.


This jazzy tune was inspired by the character of a little white dog named Fox in The Possibility of an Island, a novel by Michel Houellebecq. Iggy Pop is a fan of the novel and wrote the music for a documentary about Houellebecq’s effort to translate the book to film. “King of the Dogs” describes “how cool it is to be a dog and how much it beats human life.” When Gross asked the 62-year-old rocker what it is about dog life that captivates him, he answered:

“I enjoy watching all the things animals do that are just like the things I like to do, such as, I don’t like to wear shoes, I hate wearing clothes. I didn’t even take a shower before I came over to do this interview, why should I? … Sometimes I see animals and I wish I was them … because they are free and because they can be satisfied and happy. That’s not possible for a human…it’s fleeting, hard to achieve.”

It’s a delightful moment in the interview when Gross sort of lets the comment hang out there—I suspect she’s not a capital-D dog person—she doesn’t offer her quick, encouraging “uh-huh” of recognition. But I totally get what Iggy is saying. And I’m guessing most of you reading this do too.

News: Guest Posts
Tip Sheet: Choosing a Daycare or Kennel
Eight questions to ask before leaving your precious pup with strangers.

The world is not a dog’s oyster— unfortunately. The majority of offices, restaurants, hotels, museums and even national parks fail to welcome our canine companions with open arms. Until a major paradigm shifts, we’ll have to leave our dogs behind, sometimes, for work and travel. Happily, many dog-loving entrepreneurs are creating wonderful boarding and daycare environments for our furry friends. There are many and they aren’t all created equal, so we’ve pulled together some questions to help guide your selection process.

One note, while dog daycares and kennels serve different functions, we combine them for this tip sheet because they have many issues in common, several facilities offer both daycare and boarding options, and it all comes down to the same difficult decision—where to leave your best friend for a few hours, days, or longer.

1. Does the facility pass the sniff test? Follow your nose. A kennel will obviously smell doggy but it shouldn’t be stinky nor should it smell like a bleach spill. Daycares and kennels should be disinfected routinely. Ask about cleaning procedures and products, especially if your pup is sensitive.

2. What about the non-negotiables? In addition to a sanitary environment, there are a few other essential criteria for leaving your dog in the care of others. Dog daycare expert Robin Bennett, CPDT, says facilities should require proof of up-to-date vaccines; provide enough space (70 to 100 square feet per dog for off-leash play); segregated areas for large and small dogs; and employ knowledgeable employees and enough of them (around one person for every 10 to 15 dogs). She also recommends asking if employees have education in behavior, positive training and first aid. (Read Bennett’s advice for The Bark, “10 Things to Look for When Selecting A Dog’s Daycare.”)

3. Can I observe and visit? Don’t just hit and run; hang around. Drop by when you aren’t expected, and be sure you have a chance to observe your dog in the mix. Most facilities require trial runs and some sort of temperament evaluation if dogs will be mixing. If they don’t, that’s not a good sign.

4. Is the joint escape proof? You’re leaving your dog behind, and he may want desperately to get back to you. Some dogs can be ingenious about launching their own incredible journey. The Pet Care Association of America recommends looking for sturdy, well-maintained fencing, gates and dividers between runs. Don’t rely on staffers to realize Houdini has special skills. If he’s an escape artist, fess up so they can take extra precautions.

5. How did my dog perform? Engaged supervisors will be happy to provide a report when you pick up your dog (and they’ll pay more attention to your dog in the future). You’ll learn a lot about attentiveness based on what they tell you and you might discover if something is amiss. Some facilities will send emails while you’re vacationing with information about your dog’s status.

If your dog just isn’t herself in group-play or when she returns home—something might be going down when you’re not looking. Bark columnist Karen B. London, PhD, says bullying can be a problem in off-leash daycare and boarding environments, especially if supervision is lax. Learn to recognize the signs and sources of bullying in “Daycare Difficulties,” The Bark, May/June 07.

6. What do other clients say? Phone or Internet directories are just a starting point, you need more information than a listing or an advertisement can provide. Some facilities are accredited by the Better Business Bureau, which is a good start. You can ask for references, but honestly, is a daycare going to give you the name of someone who might report a bad experience? Your best bet is asking your friends in Agility, obedience class, at the dog park, your pet supply shop and so on. Also, tap other folks in the know via Twitter and Facebook.

7. What’s my emergency plan? Line up your kennel before you need it. Don’t make such an important decision when you’re under pressure. Also, if you know you don’t have friends or family who can help you out in a pinch, it’s good to be ready with a local kennel you’ve thoroughly checked out in case of emergency. If you need to leave home quickly, the last thing you need to fret over is this important decision.

8. What do I need for my peace of mind? A color TV and ocean views may not really matter to your dogs, but they matter to you. It’s perfectly normal to want your dog to have the just-like-home experience when you are boarding them. These days, kennels go the distance to alleviate your worries, especially about whether your dog is getting enough human touch. You might find (and pay a little extra for) bonus options, like “cuddle services,” massage and bedtime stories. (Read more about the frontier of high-end boarding kennels in “The Suite Life” in The Bark, July/Aug 2007.)
 

News: Karen B. London
Pets Are Expensive
Some animals are more costly than others.

Money is on everyone’s mind lately, and that interest extends to pets. A few months after starting to write a weekly animal column for my local newspaper, I asked the editor if there was anything particular that he wanted me to cover. His first request was a column about the expense of having pets, which we both agreed was relevant in these troubled times.

For people who have had certain types of animals for years, the costs of buying and maintaining them come as no surprise. However, it’s easy to be startled by the expenses associated with animals that we have not had the pleasure of having in our lives. For example, unless you’re experienced at keeping birds, it may be news that you can easily spend thousands of dollars on housing for your avian companions. Similarly, unless you have competed seriously in Agility or know someone who has, it might be hard to fathom the way money flows in torrents from each paycheck, going directly to lessons, equipment, matches and travel.

What’s your biggest canine expense?  Have you figured out strategies to trim your budget without compromising your dog’s quality of life?

News: Guest Posts
Wanted: Tips on Local Fun

UPDATE, 7/01: Our July/August issue is now on the newsstands, but there's plenty of summer left and we're still interested in hearing from you about your fave places for dog-friendly fun. Please add yours here. For those who so kindly sent in their tips in May, our most sincere thanks—alas, space was so tight that we weren't able to include them after all. But never fear: With this post, they're available to Barkers everywhere!

 

Summer’s on its way, and so is our summer travel feature. We’d like your help tracking down places around the country that offer big fun for dogs and their people, places you’d suggest to visiting friends and their dogs for a day trip, or perhaps a weekend outing. From a terrific dog park that’s especially welcoming to visitors or a local dog-friendly celebration to a mountain retreat and anything in between—if you and your dog think it’s a good place to have fun or just get away from it all, we want to hear about it.

 

What are you waiting for? Hit “Post a comment” and share your insider information!

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
The Dog Seen Around the World
Bo Obama inspires an international surge in PWD requests.

When the Obama family announced their new addition, animal groups around the nation braced for Bo-mania. In just three short weeks, Bo already has a book deal and a Beanie Baby on the shelves, catapulting the Portuguese Water Dog from a fishing breed once on the brink of “extinction” to an international sensation. 

Global demand has spiked, resulting in people clamoring for a breed with little to no presence in their own country. A German breeder reports that there are only three or four people whelping Porties in the nation. Since the Obamas introduced Bo, she’s received over 100 calls from people inquiring about dogs. 

Pet stores in India have been inundated with requests for the breed, which have to be imported from the United States, Europe or Thailand. Animal activists there are worried about the impact, but remain hopeful that the increase in dog ownership by the wealthy will create awareness for the treatment of homeless dogs as well.

Purebred groups, such as the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America and the American Kennel Club, are trying to educate newly interested people with information on choosing a responsible breeder and fulfilling the energetic Portie’s need for a job. I hope that new owners will take advantage of these resources and become involved in an activity like Rally or Agility.

While I believe it’s a legitimate and personal decision to buy from a responsible breeder (and I fall into this category myself), I have to admit that I was disappointed the Obamas didn’t adopt, given their level of influence. I'm alarmed at the thought of Porties being imported en masse and hope this doesn't further fuel the inevitable puppy mills capitalizing on Bo's popularity.

What’s your take on the First Dog's international influence?

News: JoAnna Lou
Wheels with Dogs in Mind
Honda unveils a dog-friendly version of the popular Element.

Whether it’s a visit to the park or a trip to an Agility trial, I mostly drive with the dogs in tow. So when I’m in the market for a new car, I always keep them in mind. 

 

When it comes to the perfect canine vehicle, the Honda Element always comes up in conversation. From rave reviews on dog sport blogs to being named DogCar.com’s Car of the Year, the Element’s washable floors and spacious interior make it the clear winner among pet owners.

 

Earlier this month, Honda unveiled a dog-friendly version of the Element at the New York International Auto Show that will be available for purchase in the fall. The car features bone-patterned floor mats, a built-in crate, a load-in ramp, a rear ventilation fan and a spill-resistant water bowl. 

 

Honda has long recognized the need for dog friendly travel options and became a front runner in the market when it designed a minivan with built-in crates for the Tokyo Motor Show in 2005. 

 

Although the dog-friendly Element seems like more of a marketing ploy, since it’s really just the Element with dog-themed add-ons, I’m happy to see one of the big car manufacturers cater to pet owners.

 

To learn more about finding the perfect car for your perfect pup, check out “Dog & Driver” in the current issue of The Bark.

News: Guest Posts
And The Winners Are…
America at Home cover dogs revealed

No book about how Americans live, work and love at home would be complete without exploring the important role of dogs. So why not put a pup on the cover? As part of a contest to celebrate the publication of America at Home, a close up look at how we live, four Bark readers have won copies of the book with their very own photo of their very own dog on the cover.

Frani Pisak’s photo of Neo and Dazee Mae; Michele D. Leek’s of Hobbes; Saeran St. Christopher’s of Capote; and Sherri Earnst’s of Sophie were selected from among many wonderful photographs. An honorable mention went to Lucy Aron for a photo of Joey, owned by Gail and Richard Pope of Bright Haven Animal Sanctuary.

Sherri Earnest captured 11-year-old Sophie watching squirrels at her parents’ house. She explains, “The windowsill is literally covered in drool by the time we leave!” Michele Leek’s dog, Hobbes, is her “miracle dog.” Diagnosed with osteosarcoma in November of 2003, he lost his back right leg and underwent four months of chemotherapy. “He is the bravest soul I know and to this day remains cancer-free,” Leek says. “Every day is a gift. He brings joy to our lives.”

Frani Pisak’s Golden Retriever, Neo, is from a breeder in Pennsylvania. His pal Dazee Mae is a two-and-a-half-year-old Golden Retriever-Bassett Hound mix, who was rescued as an eight-month-old puppy. “Dazee Mae sure came a long way from a life of being tied to a tree, to a pampered life in the Pisak house,” she writes, “and now having her photo published in a national magazine!”

Congratulations to the America at Home contest winners--and all the rest of us lucky folks who share our homes with dogs.

News: Guest Posts
Nanny Scores with Dog-Wash Discord
Why not wag your dog’s tale?

Do you find yourself making up stories about your dogs that you think would make a good children's book? I have a million. Like the one about the girl who creates a very, very, very long leash so she can sit on the couch watching Millionaire Matchmaker, while her dog wanders the neighborhood creating havoc. Or the adventures of two black mutts called the The Licorice Twins, who track down missing food.

I didn’t say they were good and I never imagined these little riffs could really lead some place but for Shellie Braeuner that’s exactly what happened. The Nashville nanny recently won the first-ever Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories New Author Contest for her tale, The Great Dog Wash/El gran lavaperros. A special, English-Spanish edition of the book, illustrated by Robert Neubecker, is available free inside 1.5 million boxes of Cheerios. A standalone version, published by Simon & Schuster, goes on sale in July.

I caught up with Shellie Braeuner on her cell phone in a parking lot outside a Nashville grocery store last week, just hours after tornadoes touched down nearby. She was shopping for the special Cheerios boxes with the book inside to give away at the fifth birthday of Elizabeth, the youngest child for whom she is a nanny. The book is dedicated to Elizabeth and the dog they share, Fluffy.

How’d she do it? “It was the last day of the contest, and I really didn’t have anything finished that I wanted to submit that felt right,” says Braeuner, who has long written for personal pleasure and enjoys telling stories to kids. She was washing Fluffy, when she noticed Elizabeth singing, “dog wash, dog wash, dog wash.” “I thought, ‘you know, if she’s having this much fun just singing dog wash, there’s got to be a story in here somewhere.’ It all kind of came together that day, and it was the day it needed to come together if I was going to enter.”

I was happy to discover Fluffy might inspire future Braeuner-penned stories, including one based on the day Shellie and the kids brought him home from Happy Tails Humane, a no-kill animal shelter in the Nashville area. “We all came down with stomach flu the night after we adopted him,” Braeuner says. “And I’m thinking, ‘five-and-a-half-month-old puppy, new house, everyone feeling awful—gonna be crazy.’ And this dog just lay with us, just happy to be with us.”

The other big news for the fledgling author is Cheerios’ donation of 10,000 copies of her book to R.E.A.D., the reading assistance program that provides therapy dogs as reading companions for children. The largest single book donation in the organization’s history marks its 10th anniversary.

“To me that’s the best thing,” Braeuner says. “If I won the lottery or something and I kept all that money to myself, I wouldn’t be happy. But knowing that this is helping dogs and this is helping kids and that someone could go in with their WIC card and come out with a brand new book before it even hits the bookstores—that makes me feel so good.”

The key gap between me and a $5,000 grand prize? A good idea for starters. But that shouldn't stop others. Watch your dog for greatness and pick up your pens, the third New Author Contest runs through July 15, 2009.

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