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Putting More Bark in the Woods
Plant a tree for your pup this Arbor Day.

So many of my best dog memories are set in the pine forests of the Northwest. Here Lulu and Renzo thread thick groves and leap over downed trees like agility champs. They eagerly truffle at the base of venerable snags and devour fallen branches with the gusto of canine wood-chippers. So, I totally get the Arbor Day Foundation’s Trees for Pets pitch. For every dollar given through Trees for Pets, one tree will be planted in our nation’s forests to help replace the old giants that are lost each year through fire or disease. (Out where I live, bark beetles are wreaking havoc.)

I like the Foundation’s spin: Trees given in memory of a pet will provide food and shelter to wild critters for decades to come. Of course, you can also simply plant a tree on your own this Arbor Day, the last Friday of April, but it will probably end up costing more than a dollar.

News: Guest Posts
Why Tributes?
A chance to remember, celebrate and learn.

We recently launched Tributes, an online section dedicated to stories about our beloved dogs past. I’m glad we’ve set aside a space for celebrating our best friends and commiserating over their loss because I believe it’s another rich facet of our lives with dogs.

A few years ago, I worked on a proposal for a book about pet loss. Nothing came of it, in part, because publishers felt it was a downer. But I thought differently. Talking to a variety of people about their dog’s illnesses and deaths, and the grief that follows, gave me a special appreciation for this relationship. I discovered that a dog’s death allows us to be independent and hands-on in a way we can’t be with human beings. When the people we love die, a tsunami of regulations, infrastructure and commerce comes between us and them. Not so with our dogs.

We brush out their fur, wrap them in blankets and bury them in holes we dig ourselves. We freeze them until the kids come home, so everyone is home for a burial. When they are in severe pain, we release them through euthanasia. Sometimes we cremate our dogs; sometimes we preserve them through taxidermy. We spin their fur into wool or keep a small bundle as a keepsake. We make video slideshows, host memorials at dog parks, make contributions to shelters and animal welfare organizations in their name. The quirky and deep relationships we have with dogs find some of their most epic expressions in this endgame.

And because dogs’ life spans are usually a fraction of our own, we are often called upon to take these steps—making choices that touch on the raw edge of our own mortality—over and over again. We enter into these relationships with an awareness of this responsibility, and it seems to me, this honor. It’s not like having a child, when we can tell ourselves we’ll outlive our son or daughter. And it’s not like falling in love, when we tell ourselves it might never end.

In the same way our dogs persuade us to walk into a cold, foggy night, when we’d rather stay warm by a fire, they pull us into the big mystery.

I hope you’ll visit our Tributes page and contribute your own story either as a comment or a memorial of your own. To include a photo with your tribute, send story and image to webeditor@thebark.com.
 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Award Show Fit for A Dog
Winners announced for the 2009 Canis Film Festival.

These days, there seems to be a film festival and award show for just about everything. So it’s about time we dog lovers got a piece of the pie.

Last weekend the winners of the 2009 Canis Film Festival were announced at ClickerExpo in Providence, R.I. Although there were no swag bags or paparazzi, the films starred talented and furry actors showcasing dog training at its best.

The Grand Prize went to Chaos, a Border Collie whose owner taught him to blow bubbles in his water bowl. Not only is this trick just plain cute, it’s refreshing to see training that has no set agenda. Often times I get caught up in training only “useful” behaviors, such as heeling or waiting at the door. But this video inspired me to remember the fun of dog training, particularly with shaping. 

The runner-up was a film on using positive methods to get a dog to use a treadmill and the second Runner-up, my personal favorite, was a touching story on the life changing effects of clicker training from the point of view of an adopted shelter dog.

Conceived by Karen Pryor Clicker Training, the Canis Film Festival showcases the art of animal training. The entries, all less than seven minutes, are judged for clarity of instruction, innovation, entertainment value, positive methods, usefulness and production quality. 

Feeling inspired to feature your dog in a winning film? Details will be posted shortly on the festival’s web site for 2010 submissions. Fire up your camcorders!

News: Guest Posts
Blind Date Faux Paw
Rule #1: You can’t fake dog love.

This story comes from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous on the off chance her former blind date reads this. (We are hoping enough time has passed that said Blind Date will no longer be Googling my friend). They didn’t hit it off, you see, because Blind Date committed the unpardonable act of pretending to be a dog person. He knew my friend loved dogs, and he knew my friend was gorgeous, and single, so he lied—all in the name of trying to get into her pants. We are not impressed.

The setting of the story: a holiday party, last December. My friend loves holiday parties, so she readily accepted an invitation from a man she barely knew. She had just moved to a certain rural town near a certain hip city, and had not, to date, made any new friends. She thought this party would be a grand and fun entry into her new life. Plus, the man claimed that he loved dogs.  

The evening included bluegrass Christmas music, nutmeggy eggnog spiced with cognac, and cool hippy-types who wore their grey hair long.  But let us fast-forward to the moment when Date invited Friend to sit next to him on a sofa near the fire. He patted a cushion, which prompted the host’s dog—a shaggy, little Wheaton-mix—to run over and leap onto the vacant spot. Friend said: “How cute!” Date? He pushed the dog to the floor. Roughly.

As you can imagine, Friend made a decision right then and there never to see Date again. He tried to snuggle with her on the couch, but Friend snuggled with the dog instead. Date repositioned his body on the sofa so that his legs and arms touched Friend’s, but she kept moving further and further away, to the point where she was almost sitting on some fiddle player’s lap.

It was a long night for Friend. She’s typically not a grudge-holder, except when someone roughs up a puppy.

On the drive home, Date—perhaps sensing Friend’s disappointment—tried to regale her with what he thought were amusing dog stories: the time he tried to put his own dog to sleep and it took three days for the poison to kick in; the time a farmer shot his daughter’s dog and how he and the farmer ended up becoming good friends. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but my friend found none of this funny. (Date concluded the evening by telling Friend she had no sense of humor and that she needed to ‘loosen up,’ but that she was still a hot babe and he’d be interested in sleeping with her. I love the ‘but’ part.  As if being hot somehow made up for all her perceived character flaws.)

Anyway, quite a few novels and movies have been written about such scenarios—about men who pretend to be dog people just to get into a woman’s pants. But in those fictional accounts, the men usually end up falling in love with the dogs and everyone lives happily ever after. In this case, a true fraud was exposed. But my friend was at least grateful her date had exposed his true self before the relationship progressed any further. Dog love is not something you can fake. So fellas, don’t even try.
 

News: Guest Posts
Oprah Opts to Adopt
UPDATED. Shelter pups get another shout out from the talk-show superstar.

[Editor's Note: One of the two dogs Oprah adopted from her local shelter has died of canine parvovirus.]

After Oprah Winfrey’s beloved Cocker spaniels, Sophie and Solomon, passed away last year, she announced that she would adopt her next dog when the time was right. Last Friday, March 6, she kept that promise and introduced new family member Sadie on her show. Oprah and her partner, Stedman Graham, adopted the adorable 10-week-old Cocker spaniel puppy through PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) Chicago, the city’s largest no-kill shelter. Sadie was one of 11 puppies in the litter. Three of her siblings still needed homes and also appeared on Friday’s show. They quickly found new homes by that afternoon thanks to the extra attention. Hopefully, other shelter pups around the country also benefited from Oprah’s example.

News: Guest Posts
Future First Dogs
Are Sasha and Malia’s future best friends—yes, plural—waiting in Colorado?

Best Friends Animal Society has gone one better than talking the talk when it comes to the Obama family’s new dog. They’re pitching a pair of Golden Doodles (one for each of the girls?) rescued from a Missouri puppy mill raid through National Mill Dog Rescue. Currently living with a Colorado foster family, the four-month-old Stella and Susie have overcome infections, including pneumonia, and are healthy and ready to answer the call, even if it comes at 3 a.m.

 

News: Guest Posts
The Language of Euthanasia
What’s the alternative to “putting him down”?

(Editor’s Note: We received this letter from Bark reader Donna Kane of Portland, Oregon. She writes so honestly and forthrightly about an experience many of us have faced and stumbled over, we thought we’d let her open a conversation about the language we use to describe this difficult passage.)

My husband and I had a rough year and a half starting in June 2006 when we made the decision to euthanize our 16-year-old deaf and nearly blind dog. His quality of life was limited to a very small window of time on sunny and warm afternoons; the rest of the time, he paced and would flinch if you tried to comfort him. After that, our nine-year-old cat’s kidneys failed and we found ourselves in another round of grief, only to have our second cat of 15 die of a stroke six months later.

We are recovered now and have good memories and a great little rescue dog, who is delightful. But the words that come back, not only through our own loss process but throughout other conversations I’ve had the last couple of years, are “put him down.” Just as I’ve never considered myself an owner, but merely a guardian for the animals that I’ve adopted and taken the responsibility for, I’ve never thought when making the decision to euthanize them that we were “putting them down.” I find this term somehow offensive even when it comes out of the best of mouths with the best intentions.

“Putting him (or her) down” feels abusive and not something a loving person would want to happen to their beloved pets. “Putting him down” needs a compassionate replacement, nothing too cute or too blunt, but something that makes you feel as though you have done the right thing by your pet who has loved you unconditionally, given you years of pleasure and then relied on you to make a choice for them that is very hard for to you make.

News: Guest Posts
Where’s A Pup to Poop?
What's proper etiquette for neighborhood walks?

While returning home from a dog walk one night, I spotted a woman loitering outside of my house. Since I didn’t have my glasses on, it took me a moment to realize she had a Shih Tzu on an extendi-leash pacing back and forth across my lawn, as he chose the perfect place to poop.

I called out to her just as her dog squatted down to do the deed. “Excuse me, is he going to the bathroom on my lawn?”

I had to repeat this a second time before the woman turned to acknowledge me. “Oh, this is your house?”

I was incredulous: Did it really matter whose house it was? It was my house. In fact, I’m a new homeowner still busting with pride—and I was right there! I never allow Truman do his business on people’s lawns, especially not in a neighborhood like mine, with all kinds of public parks. In fact, my own house backs onto a large park, and if she’d turned the corner, her dog would have had blocks of greenery on which to do his thing.

“No harm, no foul,” she said dismissively, pulling out a plastic bag. I paused for a second, hoping for an apology, before correcting her.

 “No,” I said, attempting to be diplomatic. “This is my home, this is my lawn, so don’t ever do this again. I don’t let my dog do that on someone’s front lawn. That’s really rude!”

“I’ve picked it up, relax,” she spat.

I felt my grip tightening on the leash as she slowly sauntered down the street. Truman, my Shepherd-cross, growled in solidarity.

My neighbor and I aren’t the first to get into an altercation over dog doo. Last fall, a 47-year-old Washington woman named Linda May Johnson went to trial after being charged with trespassing, harassment and disorderly conduct. She had allegedly allowed her two miniature poodles, Ollie and Hershey, to poop on her neighbors’ lawn, repeatedly. The neighbor, who’d frequently asked the woman to let her dogs poop elsewhere—and who’d been verbally berated as a result—was also a dog owner, but disagreed with Johnson’s assessment that the first few feet of her lawn were actually public property.

Unfortunately, the judge dismissed the case. During an interview with The Washington Post, Johnson said she’s considering filing a formal complaint against the police service and suing her neighbor.

These struggles aren’t limited to regular folk. According to TMZ.com, comedian Dane Cook was evicted in September from a West Hollywood apartment after failing to pick up his Miniature Pinscher’s droppings. That same month, Adrianne Curry—of “America’s Next Top Model” fame—filed a restraining order against a woman whose dog was decorating her lawn. Of course, the woman—whom Curry accuses of stalking her—had also allegedly posted creepy messages on Curry’s MySpace page and even sent her a pair of designer shoes in her favorite colors. (I hope she checked inside them before putting them on.)

If you raise the subject of dog-break etiquette in a mixed crowd, you’ll probably hear everything from moral outrage to tolerance. But whatever side you’re on, it’s probably best to err in the direction of the curb. Next time Mr. Boggles yanks you towards your neighbor’s begonias, why not give the leash a tug and lead him toward the road or sidewalk? Better yet, reward your dog for pooping in a particular spot, and he’ll quickly comprehend that there are some places he can go and others he can’t. Conflict averted.

And for those who suffer rage blackouts when your neighbor and her canine companion dump on your turf, take a deep breath and zip it. Do you really want to make an enemy out of the nut-bar next door?

Bark Off: Is scooped poop different than no poop at all? Is the edge of a lawn better than the middle? Be honest, as a dog-person, a lawn-lover or both: Share your best and worst neighborhood pet waste experiences.

 

News: Guest Posts
The Wrestler Goes Soft On Dogs
Mickey Rourke's Chihuahuas feel the love

If you stayed up for the full Golden Globes celeb-u-thon last night, you were treated to a salty, sentimental canine thank you the likes of which we've never seen. Formerly down-and-outer Mickey Rourke put it out there for his pups, saying "sometimes when a man's alone, that's all you've got, is your dogs, and they mean the world to me." Watch the authentic, profanity-rich delivery here. Below, Mickey and Loki on the red carpet in Venice last year.

News: Guest Posts
My Pack's Plans for 2009
I asked my dogs if they had any New Year's resolutions, and to my surprise, they did.

The thought of New Year's resolutions makes me want to eat ice cream ... preferably a pint of chocolate chocolate chip from Oberweis. There's just too much pressure and I have yet to reach any goal through resolution. So I asked my dogs if they had any plans for 2009 and, to my surprise, they did (see below). Have your dogs resolved to make some changes this year? I'd love to hear from them!

"Eat more peanut butter, herd more sheep, chomp more Kongs to bits, and continue teaching that sassy little whippersnapper Ginger Peach to respect her elders." - Desoto, 11 yrs., Catahoula

"Pass my Canine Good Citizen test, persuade more people to rub my belly and under my pits, and go lure coursing at least three times this summer. I also want to go on more summer skunk hunts, but Mama does not approve." - Shelby, 7 yrs., Pit Bull mix

"Earn an agility championship, bruise fewer shins with my whip tail, ignore those new freckles or 'age spots,' go running with Mom for conditioning, play ball more often with Dad, and remember to play nice with others." - Darby Lynn, 6 yrs., Dalmatian

"Seriously? Well, I resolve to be less shy around new people and in new situations, work hard to perfect those darn weave poles, and continue to be the best mouser in the house. Oh, and eat my weight in raw turkey necks." - Jolie, 5 yrs., Dalmatian

"Catch as many frisbees as possible, compete in more Disc Dog competitions with Daddy, practice agility with Mommy, be less of a nuisance to my elders, continue showing Bruiser Bear the cat that it's okay to play with dogs, learn to walk on a loose leash and not jump up on people, no matter how much I so badly really, really want to." - Ginger Peach, 18 mos., mixed breed

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