“Border Collies,” as a Scottish shepherd once told me, “have been bred for 300 years to work with us.” Bred to work sheep over difficult terrain to their humans’ faint whistled commands, Border Collies’ strong work ethic and trainability have made them excel in work shepherds could never have imagined. Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? tells of two littermates with important but very different responsibilities.
Carol Lea Benjamin is a native New York dog trainer who wrote the bestselling Mother Knows Best. Denise Wall breeds, trains and trials sheepdogs, and fondly recalls her grandmother’s farm, where every new stockdog was “Dolly.”
Two years ago, Carol took puppy Sky home to train as a service dog while Sky’s littermate, May, remained on Denise’s farm to learn the sheepdog’s traditional trade. In alternating chapters, each author shows us how her pup matured and learned its life work.
Taxis, buses, restaurants, gyms, street people, jampacked sidewalks, frantic dog parks, MANY odors, hooting horns, police strobes: that’s Sky’s Manhattan, where the young dog learns to anticipate and relieve his owner’s sudden, debilitating pain. Since Carol’s Crohn’s disease can flare up any time, Sky never leaves Carol’s side. Carol describes their connection: “The intimate relationship between me and my dog gave me back what having a disability took away.… Instead of feeling alone, with Sky at my side, I felt part of the human race, ready to face anything even when I was ill. There’s no prescription, no man-made pill that can do what a dog can do.”
From her Tennessee sheep farm, Denise writes: “It was important that I recognized that she [May] was trying to do the right thing, even when things didn’t go exactly right … the young sheepdog needs time to develop all her instincts and learn how to balance them with self-control in order to become a good worker.” May made the grade; at two years old, she qualified for the National Finals Sheepdog Trials.
After Sky was fully trained as a service dog, the littermates had a glad reunion on the farm where, for the first time, Sky worked sheep.
Carol and Denise have spent their lives training dogs, and Sky and May’s stories are lucid, insightful and sometimes surprising. The reader will discover two wonderful dogs.
As a child, I was enthralled by Jack London, Eric Knight and Albert Payson Terhune. Somehow, magically, the stray mutts my family took in became like White Fang, Lassie and Lad of Sunnybrook Farm. Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? stands comparison with those classics.
If you haven’t read Colter, you’re in luck, because you still have it to look forward to. Written by Rick Bass, Colter is the “true story of the best dog” he ever had, a German Shorthaired Pointer, the runt of the litter who blooms into a genius of a hunting dog.
When Bass adopts Colter, the dog is “bony, cross-legged, pointy-headed, goofy-looking.” But the ungainly young dog shows surprising potential. Bass engages a field trainer, who molds him into the great hunting dog he was born to be.
The “brown bomber” becomes a topnotch pointing dog, and Bass marvels in his flawless execution as he goes “on lock-solid, drop-dead point … head and shoulders hunched and crouched, bony ass stuck way up in the air, body halftwisted, frozen, as if cautioning us of some hidden deadly betrayal: and green eyes afire, stub tail motionless.”
However, Bass can’t hit a bird, which frustrates Colter excessively. He takes to shrieking when the shotgun fires and no bird falls. Bass can live with his poor aim: “In bird hunting … one little window of dog perfection, one wedge of success, thirty seconds of grace, is enough to obliterate al l the errors of a lifetime.” However, he hates his ineptitude for his dog’s sake. Occasionally—by accident, he says—he hits one; he finally enrolls in a shooting school in hopes of improving his aim. He does, much to Colter’s joy.
As all dog stories ultimately do, this one ends sadly. To love a dog entails the risk of loss. We pay this price, and dearly. However, anyone who has ever loved a dog will agree that the risk is worth taking, for the love of a dog is priceless. The same can be said of Colter: it may make us sad but is well worth the reading.
“You take in dogs?” Lonely after the loss of their 14-year-old German Shepherd, Barrie Hawkins and his wife embarked on rescue work, starting GSD Homefinders (gsdhomefinders.org.uk) in their rural English village with only the most general idea of what it would involve. Word spread quickly, and in no time, all manner of Shepherds in need of homes turned up on their doorstep. In Tea and Dog Biscuits, Hawkins chronicles the couple’s first year of rescue and fostering. He does a lovely job describing each dog and is candid about his general ineptitude, especially in the early days. This is a story of hope and healing, both of the dogs and of the couple who took them in.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sophia Yin’s advice book available free online
Sophia Yin has written another great book to go along with her popular Small Animal Veterinary Nerdbook and How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves. Her latest book is called Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats. The ideas and techniques in this book can improve safety at veterinary clinics, decrease stress in the animals, and make life easier for veterinarians, guardians and their pets. And best of all, an abridged version is available online for free through December.This book is all about helping animals who are nervous when visiting the veterinarian, those who dislike grooming or handling, and even those who feel uncomfortable with visitors at home. Specific issues in the book include getting dogs in and out of kennels and putting them on leash, different methods of restraint necessary for procedures, picking dogs up, the principles of classical and operant conditioning, modifying behavior through a variety of techniques, recognizing fear and understanding dominance. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and behaviorist, is an expert in behavior modification. Her book is a product of her knowledge of learning theory combined with her practical experience. With clear text, more than 1,600 photos and 100 video clips with informative narration, this book can help improve the lives of our pets as well as our relationships with them. There are sections on helping pets who already have issues with handling, and the book also covers ways to help puppies (and kittens) learn at an early age to take being handled in stride throughout their lives. So many dogs and cats struggle to deal with every day handling and care or completely freak out at the veterinarian. By modifying behavior—both that of humans and of dogs and cats, so much of the resulting stress can be eliminated or at least greatly decreased, and this book provides the sort of practical information needed to make it happen.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Finding the right dog
I still consider my one-time success at setting up friends who later married to be among the biggest accomplishments of my life. Matchmaking is a time-honored skill that has just as big a place in the dog world as in the human world. Adopting the right dog to suit your lifestyle is that first and oh-so-important step towards a happy relationship.That’s why I’m such a fan of Mutt Match, an organization dedicated to promoting adoption of rescue dogs into permanent, loving homes. Meg Boscov and Liz Maslow, whose love for dogs led them to found Mutt Match, are both Certified Pet Dog Trainers with a great deal of experience working with shelter dogs. The service they provide is to find the right dog for their clients to adopt. A lot of what makes a dog well suited to a particular family is not obvious to members of the general public. Even people who are very knowledgeable about dogs have been known to fall in love at first sight with one that would not ultimately be the best bet for a strong relationship and a happy life together. Mutt Match helps people find the right dog by providing a private in-home consultation, searching local shelters for appropriate dogs and conducting behavioral testing on those dogs, conducting a meet and greet for the shelter dog with the family, and offering a follow-up consultation. They suggest a donation of $200 for the combination of all these. Since becoming established as a business in January of this year, they’ve made 36 happy matches. When I asked Meg and Liz if they have a favorite story of a match, they shared this story. “We were walking through one of our local SPCAs when we saw a young couple standing by a kennel, and the woman was crying. We stopped to see if we could help, and she told us her story. She was diagnosed with MS a couple of years ago. The disease had progressed to the point where she could no longer work or drive. She (Susan) and her fiancé Carmen had been looking for a tiny companion dog to enrich Susan's life. “They were at the point of giving up when we met them. On their own, they were daunted by the task of finding just the right match for Susan. They had spent several frustrating months scanning Petfinder.com and visiting the local SPCAs. Tiny dogs are rarer in the rescue world compared to larger dogs, and when there was a small dog in need of a home, by the time Susan and Carmen would arrive at the SPCA, the tiny dog would already be spoken for.
“We arranged an appointment to meet with Susan and Carmen in their home. During our meeting we discussed their hopes and dreams for Susan's own personal therapy dog, a lap dog small enough for Susan to carry. After leaving, we reached out to our amazing rescues and shelters, and within a couple of days Susan was home with Lucy, a darling six-pound Manchester Terrier whose idea of the good life was loving and being loved by her special someone. Susan says that Lucy has brightened every aspect of her life."
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The pet-only airline began service this week.
Earlier this year, I wrote about my pet travel frustrations along with anticipation over the launch of Pet Airways, a canine and feline exclusive airline. This week, their first flight took off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y. The company has certainly struck a chord with pet lovers as their flights are already booked for the next two months.
Pet Airways, however, doesn’t come without its limitations. I’ve found that in order to use the airline, your timeline needs to be flexible. The company will operate out of regional airports near the five launch cities, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles.
This means an extra trip to drop off and pick up pets. In addition, you may arrive at your destination well before your dog or cat. Cross-country trips take about 24 hours, which includes an overnight stop in Chicago for bathroom breaks, dinners, and playtime. And, for now, flights leave on Tuesdays and Thursdays only.
One-way fees range from $149 to $399. The lower end is comparable to airline cargo fees which go up to $250 each way. The service, however, is unparalleled. Dogs and cats will fly in the main cabin refitted with about 50 crates. Pets will be escorted to the plane by attendants that will check on the animals every 15 minutes in flight. The pets are also given pre-boarding walks and bathroom breaks.
The limited flight schedule and out-of-the-way airports have made it difficult for me to take advantage of the airline so far. And I’m not crazy about having to take separate flights. Sending my dog on a 24-hour trip without me seems stressful (for me and the pup!), even if there will be pet loving attendants. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the alternative to cargo and I’m hoping that the demand for Pet Airways will encourage other airlines to expand their pet offerings.
News: Guest Posts
At last, a ride worthy of your furry co-pilot.
How does one describe the very cool tricycle created by Dublin Dog in Charlotte, N.C.? If we were in a pitch meeting with a movie producer we’d say it’s Breaking Away meets Easy Rider meets Benji—a wicked-cool pair of wheels with a dog-friendly sidecar that, with a donation to a good cause and some luck, can be yours.
Here’s the back story: The folks at Dublin Dog do more than create rockin’ canine hardware (leashes, collars, etc.). They also run a foundation to “foster the therapeutic and service roles of dogs in the development, support and inspiration they provide their human companions.” Putting two and two together, they decided to raffle this aquamarine beauty with the neon flames to raise $20,000. That money will pay for training, food and medical bills for a service dog for his or her lifetime. And that dog will help Terry, a Winston-Salem resident with Cerebral Palsy, maintain her mobility and independence.
On July 4, the Dublin Dog Dream Bike and Sidecar will be pedaled 400 miles in the 2009 Let Freedom Bark Ride, a charity ride from Charlotte to Washington, D.C.—where the winner of the raffle will be announced. Learn more about the Foundation and buy your tickets here.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Check out this great new book!
Veterinarian Jeff Wells has written a new book called All My Patients Have Tales about his adventures and misadventures as a mixed-practice vet. The vignettes about the lessons he has learned provide insights into what it takes to become an experienced vet. The highly amusing adventure of him chasing a client’s feral cat around his office and receiving multiple injuries in the process will ring true to anyone who has ever dealt with a feline escapee. It will also draw understanding from anyone who has ever had on-the-job training. Having to deal with a traveling circus requiring blood tests for its animals, he provides the zinger, “At no time during veterinary school had anyone mentioned how to go about finding a vein on an elephant.” From dealing with porcupine quills in a horse’s leg to a bizarre blockage in a puppy’s intestines, Wells’ love for animals is the link that ties these stories together. I’m excited about this book and equally excited about sharing it with others. Published about three weeks ago, it is on its way to making a big splash in the animal world. Wells has been inspired by the writings of both James Herriot and Garrison Keillor. The charm and humor that made these authors so popular also appear in All My Patients Have Tales. When I asked Jeff Wells what he thought of comparisons to the legendary James Herriot, he laughed and replied, “I’ll take that any day of the week.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Honda unveils a dog-friendly version of the popular Element.
Whether it’s a visit to the park or a trip to an Agility trial, I mostly drive with the dogs in tow. So when I’m in the market for a new car, I always keep them in mind.
When it comes to the perfect canine vehicle, the Honda Element always comes up in conversation. From rave reviews on dog sport blogs to being named DogCar.com’s Car of the Year, the Element’s washable floors and spacious interior make it the clear winner among pet owners.
Earlier this month, Honda unveiled a dog-friendly version of the Element at the New York International Auto Show that will be available for purchase in the fall. The car features bone-patterned floor mats, a built-in crate, a load-in ramp, a rear ventilation fan and a spill-resistant water bowl.
Honda has long recognized the need for dog friendly travel options and became a front runner in the market when it designed a minivan with built-in crates for the Tokyo Motor Show in 2005.
Although the dog-friendly Element seems like more of a marketing ploy, since it’s really just the Element with dog-themed add-ons, I’m happy to see one of the big car manufacturers cater to pet owners.
To learn more about finding the perfect car for your perfect pup, check out “Dog & Driver” in the current issue of The Bark.
News: Guest Posts
Next week, when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces the Oscar short list, it’s likely the lovely, affecting Wendy and Lucy will not be included. That’s Hollywood’s loss. This sensitive and restrained portrayal of the human-animal bond, starring Michelle Williams, cuts right to the heart of it. Reviewing the film for Bark (Nov/Dec 2008), Heather Huntington wrote: “Wendy and Lucy provides a fine, powerful and emotional experience.”
We say take in all 80-moody minutes in a theater. The girl and her dog roll into Seattle, San Diego, Philadelphia, and Boston theaters next week, and then San Francisco, Berkeley (Bark’s HQ), San Jose, St. Louis and Chicago the following week. Find the complete release schedule here.
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