Culture: Stories & Lit
I Done Them Wrong
Caught in the act
Key hole with teddy bear

My  daughter, an only child, has been deprived of sibling rivalry, so she does what comes naturally: She takes it out on The Dog. “You love him more than me,” she’ll pout, and of course most times I protest that it isn’t possible.

But who could blame her for suspecting differently? When she was nine, Kelly even caught me singing her “special” song to the dog. That was a bad moment. I never confessed that her anthem was once her father’s particular song in our halcyon childless days, and I had just adapted it for her. Kelly also went to pieces whenever I called the dog by her affectionate nickname, “Tootsie,” and I admit that I sometimes did it intentionally— what fun is being a mom if you can’t glory in a bit of passive aggression?

Interspecies relationships are hopelessly muddled in any household, especially since a family usually gets a dog for a kid. That’s a big mistake, because young kids don’t really like to take care of a dog and tend to tire of them the way they lose interest in the newest PlayStation game. I ignorantly passed down the kid/puppy tradition from my own family: I had received a puppy as a gift when I was eight, so I promised my kid one at the same age.

At the time, I forgot that I’d never once taken care of my dog, even though my family lived in a rambling exurban community where dogs didn’t even have to be walked. Filling her water dish was my only responsibility, but I still couldn’t hack it—at one point, after paying rapt attention in fourth-grade science class, I tried to convince my mother that my dog’s water dish was empty because of evaporation, not neglect. And so it went with my kid, who foisted off the dog care on me on its second day with us.

Sitting every day with me in the home office, the little dog became inordinately attached to me, as creatures are wont to do when you walk and feed them. But I felt swamped with duties, and it was a terrible recipe for family friction, going on for years as I struggled to do my work, stay interested in my marriage, prepare meals, help my kid with her homework, and walk and clean up after the dog. The puppy, a pudgy, short-legged Jack Russell Terrier named Silver, became the most pleasurable part of the domestic equation, providing endless hours of writerly procrastination. But when it came to my other duties, I was frequently seething in that way only moms can seethe—in a deep Vesuvian mode where the steam coming from one’s head is always present, threatening imminent eruption.

I don’t mean to suggest that the dog was perfect, but he was certainly the least demanding member of the household, and, being smart, he caught on to the family dynamic right away. Silver the dog knew that the kid was important, and he had to pretend to like the young hairless pup, even though she moved quickly and unpredictably and mostly tortured him. As a canine actor, Silver rivaled Brando or De Niro—he was positively Stanislavskian—and any visitor to our house would think he adored the kid. He would let her pick up and fondle him while he fell limp in her arms and traveled to his Canine Happy Place, wherever that was.Maybe it was a mountain made out of rawhide, or, more likely, a wonderland with unlimited access to all of her stuffed animals. But after Kelly fell asleep or let him down from the couch, he would immediately go upstairs to her room and destroy whatever toy she loved the most. It was uncanny —he always knew, and he had puppy teeth that could cut through granite. In a way, he was a doggy Mahatma Gandhi, practicing an extreme form of passive resistance. Hold me, hug me, bug me—but in the end, I will destroy the material goods you hold dearest!

Once, when my kid was 13 and the dog was five, she started descending into her customary self-pity. “You love Silver more than you love me,” she said, waiting for the usual reassurances.

That day I’d had some lousy phone calls and, later, a few glasses of wine.My kid was a teenager, so I figured she might as well know the truth. “Oh yeah?” I hissed.“You think I love you more than The Dog? Yeah, you’re right—why wouldn’t I adore The Dog? Why not? He’s always happy to see me when I come home. He eats anything I put down, and he listens to anything I say. And I don’t have to put him through college!”

Even I felt crummy during the stunned silence. I still feel crummy. That’s why, now, four years later, I am offering an olive branch, an apology of sorts. Well, actually, I’m offering my daughter something I think she will enjoy:

However badly you feel about The Dog, and my attachment to him, and however much you might resent it, consider this: I once threw away our dog’s beloved sexual partner right in front of him. Be glad that I can never do this to you.

Yes, it’s true. When I was moving from the East Coast to California, I stood in my daughter’s bedroom, took a large plastic bag and threw a big carnival stuffed bear into it. As I turned around to take the bag downstairs, I saw Silver.He was sitting quietly, looking on, and I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but I could swear I saw a small tear roll down from his left eyelid and hit his furry snout. I was discarding the only animal he’d ever truly loved.

Some background here: Of course,my dog was neutered, as all good doggies should be, however traumatic it is for their human relatives.My own mother didn’t trust me to neuter my dog, so she offered to take care of Silver when he was five months old, and when she returned him, he was missing some gonads. I thought he was much too young, and was vaguely upset, but figured she was probably right—I might not have done anything until a fellow doggy-park regular showed up on my doorstep with a strange litter of half-and-half Jack Russell Terriers and German Shepherds. Because, from the beginning, Silver had sexual charisma, attracting girlfriends twice and thrice his size.He was a regular Don Juan/Napoleon type with a seemingly high libido for a puppy, and I have the bad back to prove it: One morning at the park, Silver’s earliest girlfriend, a Mastiff puppy named Gertrude, ran right through my open legs trying to get away from my dog’s advances, and I ended up on the operating table with a shattered disk. Silver always went for the tall girls.

We first noticed Silver’s secret sex life with stuffed animals about a year after he was neutered. He would disappear for about 45 minutes up the stairs and then come back in a triumphant rush, scurrying on his little legs as fast as he could down the stairs, then stopping on a dime and looking up with his eyes glazed over and his tongue hanging out. If he could have produced a human sound, it would have been “Ta-da!”

I knew he’d been doing something bad, but when I arrived at the crime scene, I still didn’t get that my little boy had discovered himself. I was confused that I didn’t find anything chewed up—no pencil shavings, no wooden toy cars half masticated. Instead, there was Kelly’s four-foot-long stuffed whale, marooned in the middle of her carpet.

It was always the same: To the dog, size mattered. Kelly had half a dozen oversize toys that suddenly became members of Silver’s bordello. No shelf was high enough to prevent him choosing a partner for the evening. I felt like a pervert, or Jane Goodall, following my dog stealthily up the stairs to spy on his sexual sessions with a stuffed whale, two giant teddy bears, a large swan and, his personal favorite, Cinnamon the Pony. First he would steal the thing off the shelf, using any guile necessary, and many jumping gymnastics. Then he would arrange it carefully facedown, and then…well, he would go at it. If I yelled at him, he would leave the room for a bit and then return furtively. I have to admit that I even experimented with positions, seeing if he would “do” an animal if it were lying face up. Despite his small stature, if Silver found one of the animals that way, he would spend as much as 15 minutes flipping it over and arranging it “doggy-style.”Mind you, most of his sex partners were at least twice as large as he. But he was filled with shame if I should interrupt his session, and would walk around painfully, dragging his erection behind him. I felt badly for him—he had been robbed of his sexuality and was only practicing a charade that allowed him to establish his masculinity. For all I knew, maybe he thought that the sex menagerie was there for his use.

I should have stopped all the madness much earlier, especially since he eventually slipped a disk in his back and had to be rushed to the veterinary emergency room after a particularly strenuous tryst.

“Umm, I suppose I should mention this,” I said to the veterinary student doing triage. “He was having sex with a large stuffed teddy bear when this happened.”

The vet I was talking to looked all of 12 years old and pretended at first not to understand what I was saying. I went on, explaining that Silver had a habit of pleasuring himself with giant stuffed mammals.

“You better put those away right now,” he said sternly, although I could imagine him telling the story over beers later that night. “You cannot leave the toys around, or your dog could suffer serious consequences. Do you want him to be unable to walk?”

And so Silver’s sex life ended, I thought, that day. It was just as well. I hadn’t intended to actually illustrate sex for my child, but I found out a while later that she had often hung out in her bed watching the little dog romance the fake fur. “Eeew,” she said when she admitted it. I was horrified. What kind of a mother was I?

A bad one, it seems, for both my human and canine progeny. For although I put away the giant stuffed animals, hiding them on high shelves in locked closet around the house, I forgot one chintzy big bear, a very cheap, stiff old carnival prize that Silver had chosen only once in a pinch—stuffed with cardboard or newspaper, she was not cushy like the others, and her butt was a bit flat for a guy like Silver,who preferred some junk in the trunk.Yet he had certainly dallied with her at least once, and now, in the process of moving, I had unearthed her, only to throw her away again as he looked on.

Silver and I were both celibate for a long time in California until I decided he needed a new toy and got a stuffed Labrador Retriever that was certainly not life-size, but a bit larger than his other chew toys. Evidently size no longer mattered to my little dog, who was now middle-aged, and I returned from an errand one day to the familiar huffing and humping I’d heard in his halcyon days. He was doing it again! I watched and let him do what he needed, and then took the new dog and threw him away, too.

Sex partners come and go so quickly in doggyland, don’t they? But whenever I feel guilty, I think of how simple Silver’s breakups were, and how it might have been better if a few of my lovers had been kicked to the curb in a garbage bag. It would have been especially great to be able to do that with my daughter’s first boyfriend, too.

“I Done Them Wrong” ©2007 by Cathy Crimmins, included in Howl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit, From The Bark Ediors; forthcoming October 2007 from Crown Publishers. Used with permission.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Out of the doghouse, into pajamas.
Man & Dog Sleep - Illustration Phil Marden

"This", my dad said, emphatically pointing to the small pink and lime-green house with gingerbread trim located in the middle of our cement patio, “is for dogs. That’s why they call it a doghouse.”He leaned over so far that his unlit cigar tumbled out of the center pocket of his overalls. Cursing, Dad snatched up the cigar and blew on it. Once satisfied that it was free of dog hair and dirt, he resumed his lecture. “A place where dogs reside.Where canines dwell.Where fourlegged creatures slumber.”

“Geesh, I get your point,” I told him, offended that he needed to state his case so unequivocally even though I had been pestering him nightly about our dog Fritz’s inadequate sleeping quarters.

“Dogs outside. People inside!”Dad stared at me for a good five seconds to make sure he had gotten his point across. I threw my hands up in the air to show him that I understood what he was saying, but not why.He stomped off to the garage to enjoy his cigar in the only building in which he was allowed to smoke it.

For centuries, Fritz’s ancestors had trekked miles in the snow to dig wayward travelers out of avalanches in the Swiss Alps, but I was convinced he couldn’t withstand the nippy winters on our small farm in Washington State. I pleaded with Dad to allow our St. Bernard to sleep in my bedroom, but he remained steadfast.

My room overlooked our pastel, pinstriped, two-story garage; a cement mixer; and a burn barrel.However, it wasn’t without its luxuries: It was the only bedroom with a door leading to the outside. Thus, Fritz could climb in bed with me any time the temperature dropped below 70 degrees, and no one needed to be the wiser.

Seduced by this taste of indoor life, Fritz took to bolting into the house whenever the opportunity arose. Crouching low by the side of the house, he’d patiently wait for his chance to shotgun through the door. By the time his victims picked themselves up off the ground, Fritz would be comfortably settled in the center of the living room floor. Dad would try to roll Fritz over and pick him up. This often took numerous tries. When he was finally able to get Fritz up on all fours, he’d drag him across the floor in what we called Fritz’s “ski position.” Once Dad managed to get Fritz outside, he’d triumphantly slam the door shut and lean against the wall to catch his breath and enjoy his victory. Then my mother would open the door.

It might have been the physical toll the struggle took on Dad, or perhaps it was his secret admiration for Fritz’s stubbornness and persistence—whatever the reason, he eventually relented. Fritz slept by the wood stove on a piece of carpet Dad cut especially for him.

Heidi arrived shortly after Fritz passed away. A German Shepherd/wolf mix, Heidi never bounded up to greet us or allowed the cats to sleep on her stomach like Fritz did, but she let us throw our arms around her, enduring it until we lost interest and wandered away.While Heidi actually enjoyed the doghouse, Dad reasoned that she was far too independent; fearing she might run away during the night, he allowed her to sleep in the living room. Although we consistently found dog hair on the couch, no one could catch her in the act. And because no one was willing to get up at two in the morning, we turned a blind eye and ran the lint brush over the couch cushions daily.

Dad had a purebred German Shepherd as a boy, and constantly told us tales of his blinding devotion and intelligence. To him, the German Shepherd was the pinnacle of the canine world.When he heard through the work grapevine that a co-worker was getting rid of her German Shepherd, J.D., he couldn’t resist. My older brother and I were skeptical— Heidi adored our sister Wendy’s dog, Barney, a Husky mix, but showed absolutely no interest in other dogs. Thankfully, however, she got along fine with J.D. And while the woman at Dad’s office gave us a long list of J.D.’s dietary needs, she failed to mention the fragility of his emotional state.

J.D. would sink into bouts of depression and seek refuge in the only place that brought him comfort: behind the toilet. If we had had more than one bathroom, we could have worked around this, but we didn’t. So, at least once a week, we’d find J.D. sandwiched between the toilet and the wall, nipping and growling at imaginary threats.

Company posed a problem. Mom’s assurances that they could just ignore the large snarling dog didn’t seem to comfort our guests. It was only when they looked as though they were ready to straddle our nearest potted plant that Mom would relent and coax J.D. out of the bathroom with her soothing voice and a loaf of bread.

In a moment of desperation, Dad took J.D. to a dog psychologist, who informed us that J.D. had emotional issues. “Are you kidding me?” Dad yelled. “For $75, I could have told you that. I’m the one who has to turn around every time I sit on the toilet!” J.D.’s self-imposed bathroom exiles became part of our family routine and continued until his death. Heidi took J.D.’s death as she did his arrival, in stride. But shortly after, my parents went to my sister’s house to help her bury Barney, who’d succumbed to pneumonia.When they returned,Heidi went up to my mom and sniffed her, then went into the doghouse and refused to come out. She died a few days later on the morning of her vet appointment; my dad was prepared to load the doghouse on the back of the truck to get her there. Heidi was the last dog to ever use the doghouse.

The doghouse wasn’t even an option for Bodie, a black Lab I adopted from the Humane Society when my parents were on a trip celebrating their retirement. My mother made Bodie colorful bandannas to wear, and every morning he’d walk up and down the hallway barking what was referred to as his “I am the world’s greatest dog” proclamation. A proud dog with visions of long beach walks and mountain-climbing adventures, he was in and out of the vet clinic during his relatively short life with broken bones, arthritis, hip dysplasia and, finally, bone cancer.My parents said they wanted to keep Bodie close to them, so he slept in their bedroom.

Some years later, I moved to New Orleans and finally acquired my own dog, Dixie, a black-and-white Pit Bull. When Dixie was five months old, I started working longer hours and learned that the building I lived in was being sold. I called my parents and asked if Dixie could live with them for a few months until I got better situated. They adamantly refused. I pleaded. I promised. Finally, Dad shouted, “We’re not getting a Pit Bull. No way! That’s final.” Dixie flew out the next week.While my parents might have envisioned a snarling beast, they were surprised to find a very small, very happy puppy waiting in a carrier at the airport. Bodie was wary of her at first because of his fragile condition, but Dixie attached herself to him with such devotion that even he was won over.

The first warning sign that Dixie was going to become a permanent Northerner came when Mom said she was too busy to talk because she was making matching bandannas for Dixie and Bodie. The second sign was when I came home for a visit to find Dixie snoozing on the furniture—this was furniture I wasn’t allowed to sit on. My grandmother’s recently reupholstered antique couches were now covered in sheets with circus clowns and polka dots.

The third sign was Mom dressing Dixie in homemade flannel pajamas with pigs and hearts all over them. “You know we like to sleep with the windows open, and Dixie gets so chilled,” she explained. The final sign came when Dixie took to sleeping in my parents’ bed. While Bodie was the first dog to sleep in my parents’ room, no dog had ever breached the sacred ground of their bed. Dixie started at the foot of the bed, then moved to the middle, and now sleeps shoulder to shoulder with my parents.Mom argues that this is perfectly acceptable, since they never allow her under the sheet. “She’s a snuggler,” Dad brags.

My sister is perplexed by this gradual turn of events, but sums it up as emptynest syndrome. Except, she says, instead of the dogs being mere replacements, they’re more like upgrades.When I was a child, our dogs ate generic dog food dumped by my father into an old kettle that served as a dog bowl. Now, before my dad’s morning coffee is hot, he’s already cooking Dixie her meal: hamburger, oatmeal, veggies, brown rice and powdered milk. “That’s my little sensitive- tummy girl,” he coos, pouring the feast into her monogrammed bowl. The only time we had hot food in the morning was when we stuck our Lucky Charms in the microwave.

Did we wear our parents down, or was it time and circumstance that allowed them to become the dog owners they were destined to be? Without children to raise and a clock to punch, did they finally have the opportunity to truly appreciate the souls of these multifaceted creatures? Or, perhaps, just as older siblings pave the way for the youngest child, Dixie has Fritz,Heidi, J.D. and Bodie to thank for paving the way from the ramshackle doghouse to the middle of a luxurious king-sized bed.Whatever the reason,my parents learned with age that dogs don’t just fill time in our lives; they fulfill our time of life.

During one of my recent visits home, I awoke to find Dad asleep in the recliner and Mom camped out on the couch. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“Oh,”Dad said, pulling himself out of his chair and stretching his stiff body. “Dixie was kicking a lot last night.” I was appalled. I loved Dixie too, but this was too much. Dad had just had knee surgery; Mom was getting over a cold. There had to be limits. I loudly expressed my opinion. “Shhh,” Dad scolded. I looked down at Mom, still asleep on the couch, wrapped up in one of her afghans, and apologized. Dad gave me an irritated look, then tiptoed down the hallway and quietly closed the bedroom door.“Don’t you know better? Dixie likes to sleep late on weekends.”And then he went out to the garage to smoke his cigar.

Culture: DogPatch
How to sing to your dog
Hummed or howled, tunes find a receptive audience.
How to Sing to Your Dog - Illustration

YES, IT’S EMBARRASSING, but many people have the urge to sing to their canine companions. Don’t worry about it—it’s natural. In fact, singing to your dog can be a lot more fun than crooning to a baby or toddler. For one thing, your dog will never develop the capacity for irony or satirical thinking so annoying in humans, so any stupid or caustic lyrics you make up won’t be understood. And your doggie will never fling these songs back to you in a family counseling session, or years later as you lie on your death bed.

The guidelines for satisfying canineoriented singing are not stringent, but you might want to consider a few strategies for making the most out of your warbling sessions with your pet.

>When choosing a name for your pooch, consider making it five letters. This enables you to use the famous song B-I-N-G-O as the base melody for special songs you can make up for your dog. For example, my new dog’s name is Nimby. I really didn’t choose it for that reason (long story—he’s named after a fairy character I created for my daughter), but WOW, what a boon! And Nimby was his name-o!

>Dig back into your past and find the songs you really enjoyed performing as a child, including perennial chestnuts such as Old MacDonald Had a Farm (for which you can substitute the repeating verses with a BARK BARK here, or a GROWL GROWL there…)

>Never underestimate the power of a narrative song, such as Little Rabbit Foo-Foo. For the uninitiated (bless you), Little Rabbit Foo-Foo is an involved tale about a little bunny who seems to go into the forest, where he scoops up all the field mice and inexplicably bops them on the head. And then a fairy descends—well, you kind of get the warped idea. So you only need to substitute your dog’s name, and perhaps his prey of choice (squirrels? moles?), and you have the makings of a really fascinating song.

>Classic folk songs are great. Consider the ballad John Henry, one version of which reads, “When John Henry was a little baby, sitting on his papa’s knee…” Think how wonderfully you can put your dog’s name in there: “When Mortimer was a little puppy, sucking on his mommy’s teat…” >Don’t discount the standards. You can adapt Cole Porter or George Gershwin pretty well to doggies. Consider “I’ve got you under my fur…” or “I get a bite out of you…” Or how about Irving Berlin? “God bless my doggie girl/Pup that I LOVE!!!/Stand beside her, and guide her…”

Well, these are merely guidelines. You must constantly look for inspiration in every facet of your past and present life—old Girl and Boy Scout songs and commercial jingles (gum, SpaghettiOs, Pepto-Bismol, late-night carpet advertisements, mnemonic bank lyrics, cereal ditties). Finding a suitable tune and putting your dog’s name into it, along with, perhaps, a few choice lyrics, is really the auditory equivalent of paint-by-numbers.

Singing to your dog is one of life’s simple pleasures. Just remember that, should you be caught doing it, you’ll have to act as though you’re warming up for choir practice. Once, someone came upon me as I was doing show tunes geared to my dog down at our community garden, and I had to pretend that I was an American Idol contestant.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“My Dog Ate My Masters Tickets!”
It’s not just about homework anymore

Russ Berkman was excited when he won four tickets to the Masters golf tournament. Even after his dog Sierra ate them, he was determined to go. The good news is that the Augusta National Golf Club reprinted his tickets and he was able to pick them up once he arrived in Georgia. The bad news is that in order to recover the tickets, Berkman induced Sierra to vomit. He got back about 70 percent of the tickets, and was able to piece together and photograph the 20-vomit-covered pieces well enough to explain his situation and convince officials that his story was true.

I have sympathy for Berkman, who found himself in a bad spot. Honestly, who among us has not, at least once, had a dog who ate something of great value that we really wanted to get back? Yet forcing a dog to vomit if the dog’s health is not at stake is questionable.

What do you think about it?

Culture: Stories & Lit
Dog of the Day
Day care diva earns her title.
Three Dogs Art

My dog Maeby has always gotten good grades.

Every evening when I pull into the driveway at the doggy day care center that she attends,Maeby, a fluffy Aussie/Lab mix, is waiting for me, along with her daily report card.

Although it is fanciful thinking that one day the center might provide classes in “The Mailman Is Only in It for the Pension and Not Your Territory, Therefore the Barking Looks a Little Silly,” “A Fart Is a Fart and Not an Invisible Stench Rocket, So Stop Looking for It” or “Picking Up Your Own Poop,”my dog consistently got good marks in areas of interest such as playing nicely with others and making new friends, and was apparently well-heeled in the saucy arts, since it was reported that the flirty miss had a new boyfriend every week. While I wasn’t exactly proud that my little Lady was shaking it up for the Tramps on the playground, I was delighted when she was promoted to the position of “greeter” at the center, which is a dog who is assigned to play with a new dog in the doggy day care pack to get them adjusted and make their transition easier. She was even asked to participate in a marketing video for the day care center in which, according to her report card,“Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.”

I mean, really. That one is still up on our refrigerator.

So, honestly, I was a little surprised when day after day, week after week, I would pick Maeby up from day care, get her report card and glance at the chalkboard of honor that stands at the entrance to the center, only to see that the Dog of the Day—the highest honor of distinction that any dog could receive—was proclaimed to be Blackjack.

Last week it had been Mossimo.

The week before it had been Sammie.

The week before that, Ziggy.

The previous week, it went to Hercules Wu, whose parents had once taken our leash because theirs looked similar and then returned it a week later with HERCULES WU written across the back side of it in black permanent marker, along with Hercules Wu’s phone number.

You know, I thought to myself as I drove home with Maeby fast asleep in the back of the car, I don’t know what’s going on here, but something’s got to give. Look at her, so busy greeting and teasing all the boys on the playground that she falls asleep the minute she gets in the car! My dog is a hardworking hussy, pouring her heart out, giving her all, and what does she get in return? A nice report card. A scratch on the ears. That’s not enough, I said to myself; that is not enough for my dog.

“I hate to break it to you,”my husband said that night at dinner after I had voiced my Dog of the Day concerns.“But I highly doubt Maeby is upset about not being The Chosen One. She is far more concerned at the moment with licking the floor where you dropped a hot dog yesterday.”

“That’s not the point,” I argued. “Do you not remember that Maeby was the one who stole the show with her playtime skills? Because if you’ve forgotten, I can show it to you.”

My husband sighed.“She doesn’t know how to spell ‘Maeby,’ ” he offered. “Just point to the sign the next time you’re there and tell her she is the Dog of the Day.”

I was stunned. “If that’s how you prefer to handle a crisis—with deceit and trickery—then I don’t even want you in this house when I finally have to tell her she’s adopted,” I stuttered.

“Did you ever think,” he finally said, “that maybe those dogs got the distinction because they earned it? That maybe they just gave a little bit extra?” I gasped, not knowing what to say, but my mind began to race.Was it possible that the other dogs got better grades than Maeby? Could it be it true that other dogs contributed more, were harder working? How could that be? Maeby was a greeter, showing new dogs the way, making them feel at ease, helping them with the introduction to the group. That was real dogitarian work.What could the other dogs possibly be doing that could outshine that? Was Sammie brokering peace accords between Indian and Pakistani dogs? Was Mossimo peacefully fighting for the rights of dogs not to be forced into wearing hats and sweaters if they chose not to? Was Blackjack removing land mines, making the playground safe for everyone else? Had Ziggy finally talked Mr.Winkle into retiring? And what was Hercules Wu doing, besides stealing leashes? Was Hercules Wu a greeter? I really doubted it. Was Hercules Wu asked to be in the video? Probably not. Did Hercules Wu steal the show with his playtime skills and his appropriated leash?

Not very likely.

So I decided to do the only thing I really could do, and that was ask. I wanted to know what the Dog of the Day criteria were, what the mitigating factors might be, and then tackle the problem from that angle. But when I went to pick Maeby up after her next day at the center, I was not at all prepared for what I saw.

It was an empty chalkboard.

No one had been proclaimed Dog of the Day yet. This was my—and Maeby’s—chance. I stood still for a moment, listening. I heard nothing, not the rustling of collars, or leashes, or barking.Everyone, it seemed, was outside on the playground.

Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.

Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.

I took a step forward toward the front desk.

Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.

Where they keep the chalk.

I took another step. And another. And another,my steps becoming quicker as I neared the desk. And the chalk. And my dog’s redemption.

And I saw it, a pink, slim tube of chalk, right there next to the computer keyboard. I was a step or two away from reaching over and grabbing it, because it was lying right there in the open, when I stopped.

Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.

It was true. But how would Maeby feel if she knew that I stole the title of Dog of the Day and gave it to her,with her name written all over the back of it in pink chalk? I didn’t take another step.

Instead, I waited there for Mandie, the center’s owner, to bring Maeby out with Hercules Wu’s leash, and then told her that Maeby would be coming in an extra day that week because I had finally made an appointment to have my terminally ill 19-year old cat, Barnaby, cross over into the Kitty Light. It would be better if she spent that day shaking her milkshake on the playground at the likes of Ziggy and Blackjack, I told Mandie, than to be at our house when something sad was going to happen.

And I was right—the day we sent Barnaby to a hereafter stocked with an all-you-can-eat buffet of Fancy Feast and Pounce was awfully sad, beginning with the moment we brought Maeby over to his cat bed to say good-bye to him. She nudged him gently, licked his head, sat and waited for Hercules Wu’s leash, and was off to day care.

When I went to pick her up later that day, I couldn’t wait to see her. Although Barnaby’s passing couldn’t have gone any smoother due to our sympathetic and patient vet, it was as emotional as any experience of letting a friend of 19 years go could be. My eyes were red and puffy when I arrived, and as I walked into the lobby, Maeby bounded in through the side door.

“What a good girl!” I said as I scratched behind her ears and she jumped and hopped around with excitement.“I’m so happy to see you!”

“That’s not all you should see,”Mandie said, and I looked up to see her pointing away from us.

I looked in that direction, and that’s when I saw it. The chalkboard, on which Maeby’s name was written in pink, swirly letters.

“You’re Dog of the Day?” I asked as she jumped and I jumped a little too, as I petted her head and she panted with excitement. “That’s wonderful! Look at that! Maeby is Dog of the Day!”

Mandie handed over the leash and we were just about to walk out the door when I realized I still had a question and was dying for the answer.

“So,” I said before I pushed the door all the way open. “How do you know who’s Dog of the Day? In what way do you judge who deserves it?”

Mandie laughed.“It’s not who ‘deserves’ it,” she explained as she smiled. “It’s who needs it the most.” “Oh,” I said as I smiled back. “I think that’s a great way. That’s really nice. Thank you.”

“Don’t forget her report card,”Mandie said as she pulled it from her pocket. “Maeby has two new boyfriends on the playground, you know.”



“Dog of the Day” © 2007 by Laurie Notaro, included in Howl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit, October 2007 from Crown Publishers. Used with permission.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Identifying Who Passed Gas
My dog never claimed responsibility

I’m not sure why, but I’ve reached a point where refined jokes don’t always cause me to guffaw but gas is always funny. Perhaps it’s just because I have two young boys, which means that a certain amount of potty humor is a part of daily life. Actually, the trend may pre-date having children because years ago my dog Bugsy could always prompt giggles when he passed gas.


It was his response that amused me. Even before the horrid smell had spread to the rest of the occupants of the room, he would sniff in the direction of his back end. His facial expression would show true disgust, and he would grudgingly stand up, look at the rest of us as if to say, “Really? Who would do such a thing?” and leave the room. It was rare for him not to want to be in our presence, but his own emissions were too much for him to bear.


It seemed to us he had no idea that he was the cause of the bad smell. Of course, we can’t prove that. He wasn’t the brightest of dogs, so I think it’s unlikely that he was purposely trying to feign ignorance of what he had done in a complex plan to deceive. In support of that, I should share that usually what he did was silent (but deadly) and on the rare occasions that he made noise, he would literally startle to the sound and then proceed with the behavior described above.


I know that Bark readers are a sophisticated group, but I’m hoping there are others out there who share my ability to enjoy lowbrow humor, too. Do you have a story to share about your own dog along these lines?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Perspective on Candidates
A humorous look at politics

People seem to oscillate between an insatiable interest in the presidential primaries (as well as the upcoming general election) and being absolutely sick of hearing about them. Just when I thought it was unwise to read one more political article or blog, unless I wanted my head to explode, I found this little gem. “In search of ponies: Dogs divided on candidates” considers the candidates from a canine perspective.

The article mentions Gingrich, Obama, Paul, Romney and Santorum—relating various dogs’ opinions based on such diverse events as Obama taking Bo out shopping for gifts, Santorum’s involvement with the Pet Animal Welfare Statute and the popularity of Ron Paul t-shirts for dogs.

As author Sharna Johnson concludes the article, “It’s going to be a long 10 [now, nine] months.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Idioms
Big truths in little sayings

Since dogs have been such a big part of our lives for thousands of years, it’s no surprise that they appear in expressions in many human languages.

In French, “between a dog and a wolf” signifies dusk or twilight. In Spanish, “like a dog in a canoe” means being very nervous and “little dog of all weddings” is a way to describe a highly social person.

In Italian, an admonition to stop beating around the bush is expressed as “stop leading the dog around the barnyard,” while the Russian expression for “like a fifth foot on a dog” refers to something useless.

In German, “a fat dog” is a startling piece of news and to say that people get on “like a dog and a monkey” in Japanese means that they are on bad terms.

Dog idioms show up in English, too, and I’ve always really liked the expression, “the tail wagging the dog.” It is used to describe either a situation in which a small part of something is controlling the whole of it or a reversal of the proper roles. Despite the actual meanings, it always makes me think of happy dogs who wag their tails so enthusiastically that their whole bodies, from the shoulders back, are involved in the action. It looks as though the tail is literally wagging the dog.

Do you have a favorite dog-related expression?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Yoga Dogs Calendar
So adorable I approached Nirvana

Dogs draw my focus in every situation. If I were at a dog park full of famous actors and actresses, my thought process would probably be along the lines of, “What a gorgeous Irish Setter! Look at that Greyhound run—how beautiful! And, ooh, a Havanese! You don’t see those very often. Gee, that guy with the Boxer looks familiar. . .”

So my experience last week when I tried yoga for the first time ever was not surprising. I did not immediately notice the new age music or the smell of incense. My awareness was not on my breathing or the feeling of my body relaxing in the present moment. Instead, what captured my attention was the calendar in the lobby that featured dogs practicing yoga. Honestly, it was so cute I could hardly stand it. It was the 2011 version, but the 2012 Yoga Dogs Calendar is just as charming.

At my next class, my intention will be to focus on yoga rather than on dogs. There’s always room to grow and improve, which is why I love it that people say they “practice yoga.” The dogs already look pretty experienced at it, though.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Beagle Is a Nose With Paws
How would you describe your favorite breed?

Capturing the essence of a breed in a short phrase is a challenge, and there are downsides even if you manage it. When an entire breed is described briefly, there’s the risk of missing the mark for many individuals. There’s the chance of explaining only a part of who these dogs are, and that doesn’t do them any favors. And, just as important, it’s easy to offend people who love a particular breed and don’t see them quite the same way.

That said, attempting to distill a breed’s fundamental nature down to a short phrase is just so fun that I can’t resist it. Here are some phrases that make me smile and refer to a few breeds I adore.

A Beagle is a nose with paws.

The Bichon Frise is mindlessly happy.

My Border Collie is smarter than your honors student.

The Labrador Retriever is the most willing play partner the world has ever known.

The Greyhound has two speeds: fast as a speeding bullet and fast asleep.

There are hundreds more breeds and so many ways to describe them as well as the few I’ve mentioned above. I find dogs’ personalities charming and I love hearing what other people have to say about the dogs they know best. How would you describe your favorite breed?