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Thursday Night Suppers
Kansas City couple honors their dog’s memory by inviting strangers to dinner.

When Tricia and Mike Smith put their dog Molly to sleep earlier this year it left a big hole in their lives. They missed their Boston Terrier’s zest for life but weren’t ready to adopt a new pup. So they decided to pay tribute to Molly’s love for parties and socializing by entertaining—with a twist.

Tricia, a 35-year-old deputy in the office of the Platte County Recorder of Deeds, and Mike, a 40-year-old business analyst for a local telecommunications company, created Thursday Night Suppers, which is essentially an invitation to bon vivants in the Kansas City area to dine chez Smith. There is no fee.

Of course, a Thursday Night Suppers website (with a blog) outlines the details and how to make reservations, but the Smiths’ ambitions are not about building virtual connections. They’d like to be hosting sit-down suppers for six once a week.

Tricia Smith talked to The Bark about opening her heart and her house--and the dog who inspired it all.

How did Molly come into your life?
Molly started her life as a pet store puppy. When the pet store let all the animals get ill a rescue group from Conway, Mo., stepped in and rescued them. The people at the rescue group affectionately named her Phat Girl. From there, a couple adopted her and renamed her Molly. Later, they wanted to get rid of her because they were moving. From my point view, they obviously never understood what a wonderful creature they were living with because if they did, they never would have let her go. I found a posting for Molly on my company’s intranet site and we bought her for $90—the best money we ever spent!

Why did you have to put her to sleep?
Molly was diagnosed with Glomerular Kidney Disease. It hit her really fast. One week she was fine, the next week she started throwing up. It took about a week to determine her immune system was mistakenly attacking her kidneys. We tried a couple of medicines to slow down and halt her immune system, hoping it would give her kidneys a chance to recover enough to function, but the medicine failed. Our veterinarian then had to tell us there was no cure and Molly would only get worse. By the time we decided to put her to sleep she had stopped eating and we were carrying her outside to go to potty. From the time she got sick to the time we put her to sleep, it was only about a five-week period. We knew the kindest thing to do, no matter how difficult, was to put Molly to sleep before she suffered. I’m positive that we made the right decision, but not a day goes by that I don’t wish we could have had more time with her.

Why host dinners in Molly’s honor?
Before our veterinarian came into the room to put Molly to sleep, Mike and I promised her that we would live a life that would make her proud. I believe that the most important thing a person can do in life is make a difference in another person’s life so if through Molly’s death and because of our tribute to her—the website, the blog, the dinners—two people become friends or if one person is comforted then Mike and I will have accomplished everything we hoped.

If you hope for a little grief-relief from your guests, what do you hope they will get out of the experience?
It’s funny you asked this question. My next blog entry is going to describe what my dream is for Thursday Night Suppers. I’m hoping that through the Thursday Night Suppers people will connect with one another and friendships will develop, maybe someone who’s lonely will take a chance and come to a dinner and find a friend.

How many dinners have you hosted?
So far we’ve hosted two dinners. For the first dinner it was just Mike and I, but somehow we found it fitting that it was just us. Our second dinner attendance increased by 200 percent. A couple that we had met at the park came to dinner and they brought their Pug, Stanley. Molly had loved playing with Stanley at the park. After I told my mother about the second dinner, she said Molly would have had a wonderful time. I think the nicest thing about our second dinner was that we got to spend more than 10 or 15 minutes together with these people. We had the opportunity to sit down and have real conversations about our dogs, our families, our experiences. We were able to connect not just as dog owners, but as friends.

Are you ever worried about inviting strangers into your home?
When I told my dad what we were doing he said, “You’re crazy. You’ll have every nut at your house. You’re going to get knocked over the head and robbed.” Seriously though, yes, we do worry about inviting strangers into our house, but we don’t want to live our life afraid of doing something good because something bad might happen.

What has been the biggest challenge?
So far the biggest challenge has been getting people to come to dinner. We’ve gotten quite a few e-mails telling us what a great idea this is, but not many reservations to dinner. I understand how scary it would be to go to a total stranger’s house for dinner, but I tell people to put themselves in our shoes, we’re inviting six strangers into our home—we’re outnumbered six to two. We are starting to get a few reservations for the fall dinners. Hopefully, Thursday Night Suppers will continue to grow.

What has been the biggest gift?  
It has been a great way for us to work through our grief.

Is there another dog in your future?  
We’ve talked about it and we’ve come close a couple of times, but we’re just not ready. I don’t think we can put a timeframe on when we’ll be ready for another dog, but I know someday we will.

Who’s the cook?
That would be me. I love to cook, but I can’t bake to save my soul. I make a great roasted chicken, a pork lion with plum sauce and a baked salmon topped with macadamia nuts and fresh herbs.

We’ll be right over.

News: Guest Posts
Dogs in Stores
Greater acceptance or backlash—where are we on the curve?

The title says it all, “Oregon Wants ‘Dog-Friendly’ to Be Less So.” The piece in today’s New York Times continues a conversation we’ve been having on the blog about service dogs and access. (See related links, below.) The focus here is dogs in Portland food stores. Not only was I surprised people were bringing their dogs into food markets, I was horrified by reports that dogs are doing their business in the aisles. No advocate for access can think that’s a good thing.

Then there’s the expanding debate over what constitutes a service dog—and from the sound of things, people are stretching the term so far as to threaten its true meaning. Passing out faux “service dog” cards or arguing that because your dog makes you feel better he’s a service dog only creates larger hurdles for individuals with true physical, mental and emotional challenges.

 

News: Guest Posts
Bar Owner Takes Stand Against Vick
Patrons are urged to join Eagles boycott.

Steve Coffman, who owns Slate’s Prime Time Grill & Sports Bar in Northern Idaho, told patrons he will no longer show Philadelphia Eagles games or sell Coors beer (an Eagles sponsor) until the team releases Michael Vick—even though Coors is his best-selling brew. NFL fan blogger Shane Bacon has more details. If you’re in the area, dog rescuers urge you to visit Slate’s and order a Budweiser in support of Coffman’s pro-Pittie stand. Not local? Show your support by sending $3 (the cost of one Bud) and a thank you note to Coffman at Slate’s Prime Time Grill & Sports Bar, 477272 Hwy. 95, Ponderay, ID 83852. The phone number is (208) 263-1381. 

 

News: Guest Posts
Runners and Dogs
Do you run with your dog … on leash?

I run with my dog—in my neighborhood, a nearby bike path and mountain trails. It is an essential ingredient in our lives. So I read with interest an old column from Runner’s World, forwarded to me by my editor. In “Unleashed Emotions,” John Bingham writes about reader reaction to his advice on what runners should do if they are greeted/charged by an unleashed dog. It’s a good question. Unless you are fluent in doglish, it’s not always obvious if a barking dog wants to nip your Achilles or slather your face with kisses.

Bingham’s answer, stop and yell at the dog (what I call the mountain lion strategy), earned him a healthy pile of email. Not so much for his advice but on the general subject of dogs and runners, especially the leash question. It’s probably no surprise to Bark regulars that the subject of leashes—pro and con—would provoke a big reaction. His follow-up column about that response engendered similarly passionate comments—as interesting as the column itself. From the sound of it, for many runners, dogs are a menace pure and simple, and that’s too bad.

I get why some runners don’t like to see an off-leash dog on a trail but I’m usually cheered by the sight whether I’m alone or with my own running buddy, and the only dogs ever to run after me were hanging out in a front yard not running on a trail. I use a leash attached to my waist most of the time, except on steep downhill trails where I worry about my dog getting too much momentum or leaping over a rock or tree and pulling me down. Then he’s paw-loose and fancy-free, and I have to say in those moments he bounds with a little extra joie de vivre.

What's your experience running with or meeting dogs while you run?

News: Guest Posts
National Dog Day
This year I'm celebrating kids who walk the bark.

Tomorrow, August 26, is National Dog Day. I know this because I read about it in a press release for natural and holistic pet care. I’ve never actually celebrated Dog Day (I sort of figured every day is dog day), and I wonder if anyone really does.

According to the National Dog Day website, “premier pet lifestyle expert” Colleen Paige is responsible for the designation. I can’t argue with Paige’s bottom line—encouraging adoption of rescue and shelter dogs—but there’s an awful lot of Martha Stewart-esque styling and PR around that mission, which makes me a little skeptical about who’s helping whom.

 

When I think about doing good for dogs, my cogs turn to all those people quietly doing good for dogs every day of the year, including, but not limited to, many of the folks I meet and talk to in my work for The Bark. I get especially goosepimply when I learn about youngsters going the extra mile for dogs.

So in honor of this National Dog Day, I raise the dog dish to all the young adults out there who’ve gotten a jumpstart on a lifetime of loving and supporting animals.
    
Like Sofia Gigure, a seven-year-old animal lover who created a website/blog, Blondie’s Gift for Gregory’s, and video to help raise awareness and money for Gregory’s Gift of Hope, a no-kill rescue in Wisconsin. “Sofia has always loved animals. When her little brother was born, I wanted to find something we could do together that not only gave us time alone but taught her about giving back,” says her mother Karen Gigure. “We started volunteering at Gregory’s Gift of Hope back in January of this year. When her school hosted a penny drive for a local food shelf, she thought it would be a good idea to have a penny drive for Gregory’s.” Sofia set the ambitious goal of raising $10,000, along with awareness about the need for adoptions and not breeding animals.

Sofia has also adopted two cats from Gregory’s—Mario and Casey, who are featured in the video. She doesn’t have a dog but helps foster dogs for shorter periods. Nicknamed Blondie, Sofia is a self-assured and informed presence in her video, preaching the gospel of responsible ownership with an irresistible wink.


And she’s only one of many youthful purveyors of random acts of kindness. Have you heard of Monica Plumb? After the 11-year-old saw a news story last year about how a firefighter saved a dog rescued from a house fire with a Pet Rescue and Resuscitation Oxygen Mask, she asked if her local Powhatan County, Virginia, fire station had them. The answer was no, so she decided to try and raise money to donate the masks to them. The result is PetMask.com, a website focused on raising money for the purchase of mask kits for fire departments all around the world. So far, she has donated donated 75 pet mask kits to 27 departments in 13 states and even one province in Canada. She has several other donations in the works and should be over 80 kits in the next week or two. In July, firefighters in Bonner Springs, Kansas used a donated mask to save a three-year-old cat named Cracker.

At only eight-years-old, Ian Cahr launched a beaded jewelry company to support dog rescue. Kristen Uyeoka, a 17-year-old from Aiea, Hawaii, developed interactive lesson plans to teach pre-school-age children responsible and compassionate care for animals. Mimi Ausland is the 13-year-old founder of freekibble.com, an online trivia game that provides pet food to shelters. And on and on….

With kids like these our dogs have a reason to celebrate.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Boy or Girl?
Study finds that men and women differ on the perfect dog.

In the world of dog sports, I’ve often heard people say that men work better with female dogs and women work better with male dogs. That statement has yet to be proven, but a study by Monash University has begun to research how gender effects how we choose our furry friends. 

According to their study of 877 Australian dog lovers, women prefer male dogs and vice versa. Researchers also found that women tended to look for calm, obedient pups and men sought large, impressive dogs, more often opting for purebreds.  

While gender may predict how we choose our next furry friend, it may not influence how we interact with them. A study by Italian researchers showed that there is little difference in how men and women interact with their pets. Women tend to be more verbal, but both genders play similarly with their dogs. 

I do think there is some truth to gender’s effect on how we choose our dogs, but they’re pretty wide assumptions for which there are many exceptions. One only has to look at my old neighbor in Manhattan -- a 6 foot tall rocker guy with a tiny Chihuahua, though I have to admit chuckling to myself  anytime I saw them walk together on the street.

Have you noticed any gender differences in how we choose and interact with our pets?

For thoughts on gender’s effect on canine learning, check out Patricia McConnell’s article, The Gender Gap.

News: Guest Posts
If I Were A Philadelphia Eagles Fan…
Could I still support my home team?

Michael Vick’s reentry into professional football, the latest update in his life story, has me wondering how I would feel if I happened to be an ardent Philadelphia Eagle fan. Honestly, I’m not altogether sure. Would I believe that everyone is deserving of a second chance? Would I boycott the games, or choose to watch but cheer every time Michael Vick fumbled the ball or threw an interception? Would I hate Michael Vick for his heinous actions, or could I muster up compassion for a guy whose upbringing allowed him to think that treating living creatures in such a horrifying fashion was perfectly okay?
 
As a resident of California with no real interest in professional football, I’m thankful that I don’t have to decide how to support my home team. However, as someone who devotes a significant portion of her life to the wellbeing of animals, I certainly feel conflicted. Here is my strategy. I’m going to try to temper any outrage and anger with hope for the goodness that might arise from the Michael Vick saga. Yes, I do believe there is some potential for some sweetness in this sour situation. Dog fighting has made it to center stage in terms of media attention. This increased awareness will hopefully be accompanied by greater action to vilify and stop such ugly exploitation of animals. Vick now has phenomenal opportunities to utilize his celebrity stature for the benefit of animals. I hope he will become a sincere (I’ll settle simply for believable) high profile champion of organizations, activities, and legislation that support the welfare of animals. Michael Vick cannot undo what’s been done, but he certainly holds much positive potential in his hands, above and beyond merely a football. Michael Vick now has the opportunity to change his legacy.  For the sake of animals everywhere, I hope he does exactly that.

News: Guest Posts
His Name’s Not Reggie
How you can help a soldier's dog in need.

If you have an inbox, then you’ve probably heard about Reggie. The fictional tale reminds us that military dog owners face difficult choices when called to war. Unless they can find a temporary home for their dog, the shelter is the only option.

Military Pets Foster Project matches soldiers with people willing to foster their pets while they’re away on duty. It’s impossible to thank a soldier for his/her many sacrifices, but imagine giving the gift of their dog or cat upon their return home. Charitable donations are also welcome.

News: Guest Posts
Man’s Best (and Most Energy Efficient?) Friend
Dogs join the fight against global warming.

My cousin Mark is a pretty smart guy who reads widely. (All my cousins are above average.) Here is what Mark sent to me in an e-mail about dogs:

“Professor Temple Grandin says that dogs are genetic wolves that have co-evolved with humans for 100,000 years, maybe more. Hence dogs and humans have complementary advantages and deficits. Humans used to have a better sense of hearing and smell, now dogs are better than us at those. Humans walk upright and have better vision and organizational skills, so dogs depend on us to see things and try to find them. Both are social creatures. So the lesson is that Nature has bundled the hardware and software for these skills and abilities between the two species. Unbundling them carries certain risks, so you should try to live with a dog if you can.”

I agree that dogs and humans are a pretty good combination. We’ve had a dog for about a year now. Cooper is a medium-sized Labradoodle, which is a Labrador Retriever and Poodle mix. He’s a great dog and we love him a lot. He’s heartbreakingly cute and cuddly. He has a Lab’s great disposition and a Poodle’s smarts. We think he’s the best dog ever.

But, along with being a good partner, is Cooper an energy efficient addition to our household? Are pets, and dogs in particular, a step in the right direction in the battle against global warming and the fight for energy security? Is Underdog more than a cartoon?

I think “bundling” ourselves with animals is a good idea for lots of reasons, but here is why I think dogs are energy efficient:

1. Dogs add warmth in the winter and stay outside most of the time in the summer, so they don’t add much to a house’s cooling load.

2. Dogs add fur in the winter and cool themselves using their tongues. Try that, humans!

3. When he has nothing to do, Cooper lays down flat as a pancake and barely moves, thereby conserving energy.

4. Dogs are great alarm systems and don’t even need batteries.

5. Dogs eat stuff that humans throw away. They will clean your plates if you let them, saving water and energy.

6. Because dogs need to be walked, they cause their owners to exercise, reducing their owners’ appetite and therefore their food intake (that’s how it’s supposed to work).

7. Dogs give you unconditional love and so you don’t have to drive your car to visit family and friends.

What’s your dog’s energy pawprint?

News: Guest Posts
The “D” Word
Don’t miss your chance to howl with Lily Tomlin.

Actress, comedian, dog lover and animal welfare do-gooder Lily Tomlin headlines in Provincetown, Mass., on August 29 in a one-night-only show to benefit Pilgrim Bark Park, a new, nonprofit, off-leash dog park and animal welfare resource. Did you think Tomlin's Edith Ann and Buster the dog routine was pure shtick? Think again, and read about  Tomlin’s passion for animals in The Bark interview.)

 

The fundraiser will help park organizers pay off a $30,000 loan, which was taken out to make the park wheelchair accessible, and also to fund much-needed shade pavilions.

Opened in 2009, Pilgrim Bark Park was established to reflect the town’s love of dogs and provide animal welfare resources to the community. Reflecting Provincetown’s history as an artist colony, the park is dotted with benches and doghouses designed and painted by local artists. The park is supported exclusively by volunteers and private donations.
 
DETAILS: Saturday, August 29, MacMillan Pier on Provincetown Harbor. Look for Ernestine, who will be wandering along the pier during the silent and live auction, which begins at 5 pm. Tomlin’s show, “The ‘D’ Word,” hosted by Kate Clinton, begins at 8 pm. Tickets are $75-$250 and available online at www.onlyatthecrown.com.

 

For those of us too far away to make the Tomlin show, here’s the classic clip of Edith Ann describing the go-for-broke sandwich she made for her dog, Buster:

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