Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Guiding Miss Ellie
It was a few years into my post-corporate, stay-at-home freelance life that I had the brainstorm. Feeling lonely and useless, I had been driving my husband, Andy, nuts. My life felt small. And the smaller it felt, the more impossible I became. Disgusted by my self-loathing, and sick of taking it out on the one guy I loved, I realized that it was time to pull myself together and focus my energy on doing something positive and worthwhile.
I decided that the perfect solution would be to raise a guide dog puppy. Andy couldn’t object. Though our loyalty to our now deceased old mutt, Lucy, had made it difficult for him to commit to another dog, this would be different, I pointed out. It was only temporary — just a one-year stint. It would be fun. And think of the good we’d be doing!
“Go for it,” he said without hesitation, much to my surprise. I made the call the very next day.
I was excited. So what if I was a basket case at the Guide Dog Foundation’s orientation meeting, the thought of giving up a pup I hadn’t even met driving me to tears? I would be fine. I’d be doing good!
During those first few sleep-deprived weeks, I’d slap on Cathy’s little yellow “Future Guide Dog” vest and head out into the world, looking for some acknowledgment. This was no mere pet, that vest would scream. This was a dog with a purpose. She had a goal. We both had a goal!
There were plenty of times when I’d be rewarded with a “Good for you!” or a “Thank you for doing that,” from a total stranger. But more often than not, I’d be faced with the same reaction — one that made me feel like a low-life, or a criminal. Instead of being lauded for my selflessness, I found myself being lambasted for my heartlessness.
“You mean you’ll have to give her up? How can you do that? I know I couldn’t,” people would snort. My own sister questioned the whole setup. “It’s like giving up your adopted daughter!” she claimed, as she covered the phone’s mouthpiece to reprimand her adopted daughter.
At first I’d nod in agreement, eager for approval. “I know,” I’d say. “I don’t know how I’m going to handle it.” Sometimes I’d even point to the puppies’ 50 percent failure rate as a twisted sign of hope. But it didn’t take long for that to wear off. “Don’t say that to me,” I began to snap when people would ask the question. “I really don’t want to think about it.” And if I really wanted to end the conversation I’d add, “Besides, think of all the good she’ll be doing.”
The truth was, the thought of giving her up was starting to loom over our relationship with Cathy like a wobbly construction crane over a busy Manhattan street. In the privacy of our own home, Andy and I would often compare notes about how we felt about her. “She’s so bossy,” I’d say, stroking her velvety black ears. “And did you ever notice how clumsy she is?” sounding an awful lot like the me of the early stages in our relationship. “He’s too blond,” I’d try to convince myself, a wary child of five divorces. “And he wears white socks!”
“Stop being so critical of her,” he’d say. “She’s just a puppy! And speaking of puppies, have you seen my socks anywhere?”
One day, as I watched him endlessly lobbing a contraband Squeaky Monkey to a tirelessly leaping Cathy, I barked out a warning. “Be careful,” I cautioned. “I think you’re falling in love.”
He continued to toss. “You know?” he said. “I really do enjoy her. But I just don’t feel like I’m anything special to her.” “You mean you don’t think she’s special?” I asked, assuming he was referring to her rather generic Lab-like personality. “No,” he corrected me. “I mean I’m not anything special to her. I just don’t feel like we’ve bonded.”
I did wonder, and not for the first time, if this notion of feeling special might have been the missing link for Andy in his past relationships, specifically his first two marriages. But then again, I suspected that this might simply be his own way of keeping his heart a safe distance away from disaster. I wasn’t sure. Nevertheless, that night Cathy and I went out to sit on the front stoop, waiting to greet Andy when he came home. “There he is,” I whispered in her ear, as soon as I recognized his lopsided gait a half a block away. “It’s your pal!” I repeated, as her tail became a blur of motion. “Go get him!” I urged, letting go of the leash as he reached the bottom of the stairs. “Hi, honey. I’m so happy you’re home. Did you have a good day?” I asked, brushing his cheek with my lips as I took the grocery bags from his hand.
As the months passed, we both struggled with our growing affection for Cathy and with the increasing frequency of the dreaded question about giving her up. One day, as I caught up with the two of them after a run in the park, I heard Andy responding to a couple dressed in matching “I Love NY” sweatshirts. “You know,” he said, as he bent down to pat Cathy’s head, “we’re just enjoying every day with her.”
At first I had to laugh, recalling his reaction as she jumped on the bed at 5:15 that very morning. Barking. Loudly. But later I thought about how much truth there was in what he said. We were enjoying every day. And the longer she had been with us, the more in the moment we had become. There was no more judgment — she could do no wrong. And if she did? What was the big deal? It was only temporary, right? (Though I do offer apologies in advance to the blind person who may someday find themselves being dragged on their belly in pursuit of a squirrel. We did our best — honest.)
I tried out Andy’s line the next day at the dog run. “We’re just enjoying every day with her,” I claimed to the curious huddle of dog people. “And besides,” I added with a flourish of my own, “aren’t all relationships temporary?” Heads nodded, and voices mumbled, “True, true.”
And, of course, it was true. Didn’t my friend Judy’s husband literally get hit by a bus two summers ago? And what about my other friend, Amy, whose husband walked out on her, with no warning, after 24 years, leaving her sitting at the kitchen table, stunned, over her morning cup of coffee? Then there was Beth, who had married a guy who, 15 years later, decided he wanted to be a girl.
I took the lessons learned from Cathy to heart. But while I focused my efforts on a more mindful marriage, my little canine polygamist remained loyal to no one. Or everyone. It didn’t matter if you were a mail carrier, a garbage collector, a veterinarian or a homeless drunk resting on our sidewalk. All you’d have to do is smile at her, or utter the words “cute” or “puppy,” and she’d burst into her own little St. Vitus dance. It became clear that she’d just as soon go home with the super next door as with me. I couldn’t help but think of my niece as a toddler, when she first came over from Romania — constantly wrapping her arms around strangers’ knees in the mall. “Attachment disorder,” my sister had explained. “It’s a common bonding issue with adopted kids.”
In Cathy, however, I was reluctant to label it as a disorder. She was just a happy dog. As a hard-core pessimist, I admired her ability to remain ever hopeful that a forbidden chicken leg might fall off the counter, or that the neighbor’s cat might suddenly admit that he actually liked her. Whereas I couldn’t speak before my morning coffee (which Andy, in self-defense, faithfully brought to me in bed), Cathy always woke up happy.
After she had been with us for about six months, I noticed Andy singing in the shower, a spectacle I hadn’t been subjected to in a really long time. And that stupid trick he used to do before bed, where he’d kick his underpants up into the air and catch them on his head? It was back. Despite her alleged failing at making him feel special, it was clear that Cathy was making him happy, just by being happy. The next morning I watched, through one open eye, as she wiggled her butt and licked his ears. I struggled to sit up and speak. “Good morning,” I croaked, forcing a smile. Andy eyed me warily. “You okay?” he asked.
Cathy is gone now, in training. True to her nature, the day we brought her in she yanked mercilessly on the leash, eager to join her pals in the kennel, and never looked back. It was a tearful parting, for some of us. “Stay happy,” I sobbed, as I bent down to kiss her nose. Andy’s tears didn’t start until we got to the parking lot, just as they had after the first time we dropped his daughter off at college. The difference was, we knew the daughter would be back.
But honestly? Cathy could be back too. Exuberant extroverts don’t exactly make the best guide dogs. I have my doubts. In the meantime, I keep her picture smack in the middle of our living room, the way some people do with inspirational icons like John F. Kennedy or Jesus. I’ll never forget those deep brown eyes or those chubby jowls, but I know there will be days when I just may need a gentle reminder of a different sort.
And in the meantime, there’s Tiffany. A five month-old counter-surfing, toilet paper-pulling, knee-nipping, garbage-stealing future guide dog. But that’s a whole other story.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
As we walk along the wooded trail, Sage, a one-year-old male German Shepherd, uses a neck bite to push Sam, a four-month-old Labradoodle, to the ground. Sam jumps toward Sage, who once again flings the pup to the ground. Sam lies on his back wildly kicking his legs in the air while Sage bites down on Sam’s neck and growls. Sam finally wriggles free, only to be pinned again a few seconds later. Sam and Sage repeat this pattern of interaction over and over for about ten minutes, until we realize that if they keep it up, we will finish the two-mile loop around midnight. We need a quick solution, so we let Sage carry a tennis ball — his favorite thing in the world. Eureka! It seems to work, except for one glitch. Sam keeps running after Sage and leaping on him as if to say, “Leave that ball alone and come play with me!”
Sam and Sage are friends — best friends, in fact. Although it might strike some as anthropomorphic to describe their relationship in these terms, scientists have been documenting friendships in wild animals for over 30 years. First described in nonhuman primates, friendships have now been reported in a wide variety of mammals, ranging from giraffes to bottlenose dolphins. Friends are defined as individuals who, by choice, spend a lot of time near each other and frequently engage in friendly behaviors. Behaviors vary by species: Baboon friends groom a lot, bonobo friends have recreational sex, female dolphin friends “hold fins” as they swim together, and dog friends tend to play.
Over the past decade, we and our colleagues have been collecting video data of dogs interacting with each other. We have filmed hundreds of hours of adult dogs, juveniles and puppies at dog parks, on walks and in backyards and living rooms, including our own. We code these tapes frame by frame in order to scientifically address questions about play and other social behaviors in dogs (findings to be discussed in future articles). Along the way, we have documented, on tape and in notes, a number of striking canine friendships.
The relationship between Sage and Sam illustrates several important features of dog friendships. To begin with, canine friendships, by definition, are mutually preferred and jointly constituted. Sam was a puppy when he first met Sage on that walk five years ago. Since then, Sage and Sam have been exposed to many dogs, and a few of them have become friends of one or the other, but their relationship remains very special — and it was special right from the start. Not many dogs can take Sage’s rough play style, and to some outsiders it might seem like Sage is bullying Sam, but Sam relishes it and is fully complicit in their lopsided play pattern.
We have noticed that close canine friends often play roughly and develop idiosyncratic games. For example, Safi and Osa (female German Shepherd and male mixed-breed who were best friends for five years) often chased each other through the woods until they ended up on opposite sides of some huge log. Then, facing each other, they would bark back and forth as loudly as possible, interspersing the barks with nasty, lipcurling snarls. After 20-30 seconds, one would leap over the log toward the other and the chase was on again.
To a naïve observer, the play of good friends might look or sound like mortal combat. In reality, their wild games reflect how comfortable they are letting go with each other.
The Sage/Sam and Safi/Osa relationships clearly have important benefits for the dogs and also for us. The friends don’t live together, but they often visit each other’s homes. This can offer a great alternative to a kennel or leaving a dog home alone all day. While together, they tire each other out and stimulate each other’s bodies and minds. At the end of the day, living with a dog who has some of his social, physical and mental needs met is easier and much more fun.
These benefits can be real for any two dogs who enjoy each other’s company, but dog friendships offer something above and beyond the play factor. For one thing, friends seem especially likely to come to each other’s aid when in trouble. For example, we were at a park when another dog approached us. The dog, a medium-sized mix, charged toward Sage and barked in his face. Sage turned and walked away, so the newcomer turned his attention toward Sam — first barking and then growling at him. These were not play growls. In an instant, Sage ran over and placed himself directly in front of Sam and faced the newcomer. Sage barked and walked toward him. The other dog moved back, and then took off in response to a call from a distance. Although it all happened very quickly, it was clear that Sage had supported his friend. Over the years there have been several similar incidents in which the bolder dog, Sage, supported the less assertive Sam during conflicts with other dogs.
Or take Bahati, a dingo-like female who is friends with Tex, a light-brown male sporting a black mask. Tex’s human friend, Tyson, was trying to help Tex overcome his fear of deep water. Standing on a dock with Tex in his arms, Tyson slowly lowered him into the water while Bahati watched from shore. Although the water was shallow enough for Tex to stand in, he panicked, paws flailing wildly. Before Tyson had a chance to do anything, Bahati sped up the dock and leaped into the water beside Tex. A strong swimmer, she immediately headed toward the shore, and a reassured Tex swam alongside her.
Although neither Sage’s defense of his friend nor Tex’s panic were life threatening situations, consider a video that hundreds of thousands of people have watched on Youtube. Cars and trucks were speeding along a freeway in Santiago, Chile, while a routine surveillance camera automatically filmed the scene. A stray dog was hit by a truck and lay injured on the road. Seconds later, another stray braved the speeding cars to cross several lanes to reach the other dog. Then this rescuer dragged the wounded dog backward, using forepaws, until they safely reached the edge of the road. Clearly, dogs enter the world primed to care about and for others, whether canine or human.
Friends can provide much-needed stability when change threatens a dog’s equilibrium. After Sage’s two canine housemates died within two weeks, he lost interest in going for walks, eating and training. It was clear that he was in mourning. People, when grieving, get solace by talking about their loss and spending time with close friends and family, but what’s a dog to do? Sage couldn’t exactly pick up the phone and share his feelings with Sam, but with our help he could visit his buddy. Sage began to spend several hours at Sam’s house a couple of times a week, and after each visit he seemed transformed. He would return home with his big, open-mouth smile, which always made us smile too; he would eat that evening and he seemed happier. As the visits continued, Sage slowly came back to life and, thanks to Sam, before long he was his old self again.
The fact that Sam, not we, could draw Sage out of his black hole indicates that dogs can give each other something we cannot. In particular, we can never chase and tackle the way another dog can, and we don’t speak their language. This raises an important question: If our dogs have canine best friends, does this detract from our relationships with them? In our experience, the answer is a definite “no.” Although our dogs routinely play and hang out with their canine friends, they still seek us out and adore our company as much as ever. We spend one-on-one quality time with each of our dogs, whether we’re having fun in agility, teaching new tricks, or playing hide-and-seek. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Dogs can have dog friends and still be close to us. Access to dog friends makes dogs happier, and happier dogs make for better human companions.
Can our dogs’ social needs be met through dog parks or dog daycare? For some dogs — the confident extroverts — perhaps, but others are more shy, and, as they age, many dogs lose interest in the company of exuberant youngsters. There also exist dogs who don’t get along well with other dogs but who can be friends with a special someone.
Human children and wild animals get to choose their best friends; sadly, most dogs do not. We may try to choose for them, but dogs’ preferences for other dogs are highly idiosyncratic and often difficult to predict. Instead, we can attempt to expose our dogs to many other dogs when they are young, and if we pay careful attention, we will notice which ones they like best. When such preferences are mutual, opportunities for prolonged canine friendships arise, and we should make the most of them. Who knows— we might make some new friends along the way, too.
Dog's Life: DIY
Do it yourself
Martingale collars are not just for sighthounds anymore—they’re also a good choice for dogs who’ve learned they can back out of their collars and head for the nearest dog park on their own. Martingales are modified slip collars; the large loop goes around the dog’s neck, while the leash is attached to the D-ring on the smaller loop. (Dogs should NOT wear this collar unsupervised, and it should never be used as a tie-out collar.) Here’s how to make one from scratch. My pretty little Vizsla girl, Jersey, is the model.
What You’ll Need
*Your local fabric store may have webbing, or check strapworks.comfor supplies.
Step 1: Measure your dog’s neck. To ensure that the collar fits properly and your dog can’t back out of it, you need to take two measurements: one directly behind the ears and one lower down on the neck, where you would like the collar to sit. When measuring behind the ears, make sure that the tape is snug.
Step 2: Cut the webbing. Cut two pieces—one for the neck loop and one for the control loop. Jersey’s “behind the ear” measurement was 14 inches, so I added 2 inches to that and cut a 16-inch piece of webbing. For the control loop, I subtracted the “behind the ear” measurement (14 inches) from the “neck” measurement (17 inches) and came up with 3 inches. This is the total spread that you will want on the control loop. I doubled this measurement and added 2 inches to come up with a length of 8 inches for webbing on the control loop.
Step 3: Sew on the first D-ring. Take one of the D-rings, insert the webbing through it and fold over about 3/4 of an inch (A). Sew a straight line up and down over the webbing. Triple-stitch this line for strength, using the reverse button on your sewing machine (B).
Step 4: Sew on the second D-ring. To get the correct size for the neck loop, you must take the length of the D-rings into account. Lay the webbing out on a flat surface and place the measuring tape next to it. Slide the second D-ring over the webbing and fold the webbing over the neck loop until it’s the length that you need (C). Pin the fold into place and sew two lines (as in step three). Make sure both folded ends are on the same side of the neck loop. Now that you have completed the neck loop, trim all loose threads.
Step 5: Thread the control loop. With the folds of the neck loop facing OUTWARD, thread the control loop through both D-rings. Slide the remaining D-ring on the LEFT side of the control loop webbing (D).
Step 6: Sew the control loop. First, put the control loop together so that the ends overlap by about 2 inches. Make sure that the D-ring is still lying to the left. Sew two seams as in step 3. Next, flip the control loop inside out so that the fold that you have just sewn is on the inside of the loop. Bring the D-ring as close as you can to the seam that you just finished and sew two new seams as in step three (E). Trim all loose threads.
There you have it, your finished martingale collar, which you made with your own two hands!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It’s easy to spend Superbowl Sunday glued to the couch, sucked in by the game, the million dollar commercials and all that food. Subaru reminds you to spend some quality time with your own MVP—your Most Valuable Pooch—this Superbowl Sunday. Take a time-out from the TV, grab a leash and join in on the Subaru Game Day Dog Walk. Kick off an annual tradition: just you, your dog and maybe a few fellow dog walkers enjoying a day free of the usual street noise and crowds—it could be your favorite walk of the year! Then head over to subaru.com/dogs and enter your dog to win one of 50 Most Valuable Pooch prizes. Even if your football team doesn’t win, you’ll still be a champion in your dog’s eyes.
Dog's Life: DIY
Immortalize your pup in yarn by following the patterns in Knit Your Own Dog by Sally Muir and Joanna Osbourne. Using just simple knit, purl and loopy stitches, capture a Bulldog’s wrinkles, a Poodle’s curls or an Afghan’s flowing mane— 25 breeds in all. Download the pattern below to try your knitter’s hand at the Jack Russell Terrier pattern.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog-friendly photographers, planners, wedding venues and accommodations
In our research for "Here Comes the Bride ... and Her Dog" (Bark, February 2011), we talked to many brides around the country about their big day. They had great stories to tell but also important advice. Among their discoveries were dog-friendly resources, which we list here with links to make your planning a little easier.
Accommodations and venues
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
With sled dogs as attendants
Shortly before Gay Salisbury was expected at her nuptials in Sun Valley, Idaho, a cacophony of barking washed over the 50 or so waiting guests. “My dad thought they were wild dogs and guests were thinking, ‘Poor Gay, that’s going to be distracting,’” Salisbury says. “Then, I come flying up.”By flying up, she means arriving atop an all-terrain vehicle pulled by a team of fine Alaskan Huskies. They raced up behind the guests and threaded a narrow lane between the audience and the unwitting groom and minister. “I never told my husband I had real live Huskies bringing me. It was just a big surprise,” she says. “Practically speaking, it could have been pandemonium.” But the dogs behaved beautifully, watching from the wings during the ceremony and dozing on hay beds during the reception. It was about more than making a big entrance. Salisbury had fallen for her husband, Dr. Terrence Cole, when they met during her research for a book on the 1925 serum run, when sled dogs delivered desperately needed medicine to a freezing and isolated Nome. A professor of history at The University of Alaska Fairbanks and a specialist in Alaska history, Cole shared Salisbury’s passion. Her book, The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, was published in June 2003, and Salisbury and Cole wed that August, so the wedding became a celebration of the book, the dogs and their love. Vintage sled dog themes carried through the wedding. The invitations featured an image of Huskies in front of the Sun Valley Lodge from a 1930s-era linen postcard. A vintage Marx & Co. toy sled-dog team surrounded the cake and guest book. (She bought it off eBay as a cake topper but turned out to be four feet long.) Each guest received View-Masters through which to view reels featuring Arctic images. “These dogs, in very many ways, they led me to my husband, into his life, and into his world, and that’s why I thought, this is perfect,” she says.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Restaged classics to the rescue
Since the dawn of advertising, lovely ladies have been used to sell everything from soap to pickup trucks. But the women of Pinups for Pitbulls are more than simply beauties or burlesque queens. Founder Deirdre Franklin, whose stage name is Little Darling, describes a modern burlesque artist as “a strong woman who’s expressing herself in an art form that’s liberating.” Part of a subculture that’s revived a classic American art, they’re also using their talents to save a classic American dog.
Franklin’s first encounter with a Pit Bull was a lesson in the lifeand- death consequences of breed prejudice.When a stray was brought into a shelter where she was a volunteer, policy not only dictated that she couldn’t adopt the dog, but also that the dog couldn’t be released to a breed rescue; the dog was later euthanized. Franklin’s response was to adopt Carla Lou, her first Pit Bull, from a rescue group; Carla Lou quickly became what Franklin calls “the love of my life.”
Carla Lou inspired Franklin to get involved in Pit Bull rescue locally, but she was pushed to another level by her experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Determined to help, she turned to MySpace, where Pinups for Pitbulls still does a lot of its networking. There, she says, “friends who knew I was into animal rescue and was kind of a loudmouth about it” contributed to a plane ticket so she could go to New Orleans. After persisting through a few days of being turned away from the rescue efforts, she got out on the street to find that a huge percentage of the dogs were Bully types. “That’s what lit the fire under me,” she says. “Seeing it as a national, not a local issue, changed my perspective.”
Using her talents and connections, Franklin was able to start something that helps in a unique way: Through benefit performances and sales of their calendar, Pinups raised about $20,000 last year for the Bully rescue cause.Now they’re planning to branch out into selling prints and more merchandise, and have just received nonprofit status. Franklin has big plans of her own as well: she’s studying for the LSAT so she can go to law school and gain new tools to further her cause, especially the fight against breed-specific legislation.
You might think that with such a specific theme, there’d be a limited pool to draw upon, but last year, 50 models applied to pose in the calendar with their own Pit Bulls. Could it just as easily be “Pinups for Poodles,” or Pugs? Maybe, but Franklin thinks there’s a special connection between the modern burlesque artist and the beleaguered Bully breeds. They’re both outsiders, used to being stereotyped, she says. And Franklin, a woman who isn’t easily kept down, seems to be a kindred spirit to the many Pits, who, like her own, have kept their loyal and loving characters despite adversity. Describing one big dog rescued after Katrina who wagged his tail so much that it had a bare spot where it hit the ground, she says, “They’re triumphant in the worst of times, and I appreciate that.”
Order the calendar at pinupsforpitbulls.com
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Safety first in the great outdoors.
Camping and hiking with your dog are two of life’s great pleasures, provided your pooch is well suited to the particular excursion and you’ve sufficiently prepared for the trip. The most important factor to consider is whether you truly believe your dog will enjoy herself. Is she well socialized and confident in new situations? Is she controllable around other people and pets? Does she bark at or chase birds, squirrels or other wild animals? Will the weather be too hot or too cold to ensure her comfort and safety? Naturally, you can’t predict the exact conditions of your adventure, but considering such matters might lead you to rethink or adjust your plans so everyone has a good time. Once you’ve decided it’s a go, here are some before-, duringand after-trip tips to make the experience more enjoyable.
Check the dog policies at the campground and/or hiking trails you plan on using to determine whether there are any rules you’re unwilling or unable to comply with. Learn about area hazards such as poisonous snakes, porcupines, disease-carrying ticks or waterborne parasites like giardia (the local ranger station is usually a good resource). Prepare in advance for potential mishaps by taking needle-nose pliers to remove porcupine quills, antihistamine for insect stings, or a sheet or nylon poncho to use as a two-person stretcher to carry an injured dog, and pack them in your dog’s first aid kit. Locate the nearest animal hospital at your destination in case of emergency.
Confirm that your dog is current on her rabies vaccine. If she’s due for other booster shots, consider having a titer done first to see if they’re really necessary. Make sure your dog is up-to-date on flea, tick and heartworm prevention if needed, and that her ID tags and microchip information are current as well.
Trim your dog’s nails to prevent them from tearing on rugged trails. Depending on the climate, you may want to bring along other outdoor dog gear, such as a jacket for cold weather or a cooling vest for hot weather. If you have a light- or pink-skinned dog, pet-safe sunscreen is also a wise purchase.
Take water from home or have bottled water on hand. Do not let your dog drink from streams or lakes, which can cause intestinal upset and the potential for ingesting bacteria or parasites like giardia. Other items to take include food and treats, toys, a collapsible dish, waste bags, a towel, any medications, a brush, first-aid kit, and an extra-long leash in case you need to tether her at your campsite. Decide where your dog will be sleeping and pack accordingly— a bed, soft crate, blankets or the like.
If you’re staying in a rented cabin, look around for rodent bait and traps, a common discovery in vacation rentals that sit unused much of the year. Check the closets, kitchen and hidden corners and remove anything that can harm your dog. If you’re camping in the great outdoors, make sure there’s adequate shade and shelter at your site.
On the trail, beware of heatstroke if it’s warm and humid. Provide frequent opportunities for her to drink water and rest, especially if she seems tired. Some dogs, in their desire to please, will overexert themselves to keep up with you, so it’s up to you to make sure she’s not overdoing it.
After your excursion, give your pooch a once-over, checking her ears, face, body and feet for any foxtails, burrs or ticks she may have picked up along the way. Check her paw pads for cuts, burns or stickers. Give her a quick brushing to remove the day’s dust and pollen. Then give her a well-deserved dinner, a belly rub and a good night’s rest. A bedtime story is optional!
Adapted from The Safe Dog Handbook, © 2009 by Melanie Monteiro; published by Quarry Books.Used with permission.
Dog's Life: Humane
Is there more violence toward animals in today’s movies?
Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed an unsettling trend: Almost every time a dog appears in a movie, that dog dies. American Gangster, I Am Legend, No Country for Old Men, The Brave One, Funny Games, 30 Days of Night, Year of the Dog, and even the family movie The Martian Child all either show the dog being killed or lead you to believe that is the case.
Whatever happened, I wonder, to that unwritten rule about not killing dogs or kids in movies?
“It’s the inverse of the basic advertising law—that if you put a beautiful animal on the cover of a magazine, it’s more likely to sell,” says Dr. Alan Lipman, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Violence in Washington, D.C.
“It creates three experiences in a person,” he explains. “First, everyone’s a little bit afraid of getting hurt—everyone is protecting their vulnerability. When people see an animal, it gives them that experience of unprotected vulnerability. Second, all of us are instilled with the basic instinct for attachment, to attach to something else and to provide care for something else. An animal instantly evokes that feeling in us. The third is intense empathy, the experience of feeling what it must be like to be that helpless … little … cute.”
Thus, because we identify so strongly with an animal’s vulnerability—particularly when it comes to dogs, who are increasingly viewed as family members— we feel more devastated when we witness an act of violence against that animal.
John McKelvie, PsyD, a psychology resident at the Denver Health Medical Center, concurs. “Innocence and helplessness: Those are the two issues. It’s a value of this society that you don’t commit injury, or assault those who are not capable of defending themselves,”McKelvie says. “We have special laws to protect vulnerable populations, and dogs fall into that category.”
This phenomenon makes perfect sense, and also goes a long way toward explaining why the death of a vicious dog, as in No Country for Old Men or To Kill a Mockingbird, doesn’t usually elicit the same response. Those dogs play the role of the bad guy, so we don’t project feelings of love or vulnerability onto them, don’t imagine ourselves to be the same witless victim of violence, and don’t imagine that their loss would be as upsetting as the loss of our own beloved pet.
Elliot Kotek, editor-in-chief of Moving Pictures magazine, feels directors have very strong reasons to break the taboo. “There’s a trick called ‘petting the dog,’” he says. “In screenwriting, no matter how evil the character, the rule is that if you want to show that they’re redeemable, either have them pet a dog or show them being nice to some sort of animal. On the flip side, when they say, ‘Don’t kill a dog, don’t hurt a kid,’ they’re really saying, ‘unless you want to have a true villain,’” Kotek observes.
Peter Debruge, associate editor at Variety, agrees. “It’s certainly the case where the killing of a dog serves the purpose of illustrating how heartless these villains are,” he says. “[I Am Legend] is probably the highest-profile example. I found it almost unbearable getting to that point because if you’re someone who has seen enough movies, you’re able to see through the formula. And you realize that the dog is an emotional symbol, and the filmmakers are going to manipulate us in the worst possible way to get us to sympathize with the Will Smith character.”
But in this case, as Debruge points out, the filmmakers literally have no other choice. “The one excuse I would give the movie, although I was pretty upset by it, is that that same fate would meet a human character if the movie weren’t about the last human. So instead it’s transferred to a proxy,” he says.
According to Kotek, this trend might not be so new. Recall, for example, 1939’s Of Mice and Men, 1954’s Rear Window and even the seminal Old Yeller (1957). “I think it’s an old adage. When a protagonist in a film has a dog, more often than not, the dog will die,” he says. The difference, as Kotek explains it, might not be what happens, but how it happens.“ Movies have become more realistic,” he says. Debruge concurs, pointing out an across-the-board trend toward not turning the camera away from the gore of reality. “It becomes this symbol, and everything that goes forward is in tune with that unflinching style,” he says.
Lipman also agrees with the cinema verité theory. “Rather than there being an overall shift in movies toward depicting cruelty or violence to animals, what happens is you have a certain group of filmmakers … [who] want to depict realism— they want to depict what they would see as actual human emotions as opposed to clichéd human emotions.”
Regardless of whether we dog lovers are just hypersensitive or that the movement toward realism simply challenges us more, it doesn’t appear that the situation is going to change any time soon. “The fact that it’s happening means that there’s not been enough of a vocal reaction on the part of audiences to discourage it,” Debruge says.
So audiences beware: If you see a dog in a preview, you might very well be getting the bad with the good if you see the film. As for me, I’ll still be going to the movies—I’ll probably just start carrying more tissues.
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