Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
A Dog and his Girl
June 16 2014
Could be a first for a service dog—a photo of Taxi, Rachel Benke’s seizure alert dog, placed side-by-side with her photo in their middle school yearbook. 14-year-old Rachel and Taxi have been inseparable for the past four years. Taxi came into Rachel’s life when her mother, Teresa Benke had a chance meeting at a party with Cindy Buechner, who trains seizure alert dogs. It was Cindy who suggested that a dog like Taxi would be helpful to Rachel, who was born with an abnormality to the right side of her brain and had suffered epileptic seizures since birth. As a young child she would have as many as 200 seizures a day, and when she was six years old she under went corrective brain surgeries, but prior to that she had been completely non-verbal and could only eat baby food. While her seizures were greatly reduced after the surgeries, she still has them occasionally. So it was a great relief to her family that now she has Taxi, who accompanies her to class at San Antonio's Hector Garcia's Middle School, and has been taught to alert family and teachers when she is about to experience a seizure. That is something that he can predict up to an hour and half before it happens. He also orients himself so he can break her fall if that were to happen. An example of his ability to detect a seizure was how he averted a pool accident, Teresa Benke explains:
“Once, when Rachel was swimming in the family's pool, Taxi suddenly bolted up and began slapping at the water. Rachel's parents took her out of the water, and 10 minutes later she had a seizure. On another day, when Rachel was going to play on the trampoline in the backyard, Taxi put his paws on her shoulders to stop her because he felt a seizure coming. Sure enough, one occurred a few minutes later. And as always, he was right by her side.”
It meant the world to Rachel to have a photo of Taxi at her side in their yearbook—just as he is with her every day of her life.
For other stories on how service dogs have helped their people, see:
Seizure Alert Dog Walks at Graduation Parade
Autistic Boy and His Dog
June 5 2014
From celluloid reels and family classics to foreign cinema and indie flicks, The Bark presents its list of 12 favorite dog “father” movies showcasing a father (or a paternal figure) and a leading canine character. These movies explore familial bonds, rights of passage and, of course, love. Invite your dad, son or daughter for a night at the movies—all the films on our list are guaranteed to tug at your heart. Most can be seen on Netflix, hulu or youtube. If you have a favorite that didn’t make this list, let us know! (Be sure to click on the titles for trailers and videos.)Beginners Probably the only film that garnered an Academy Award for an actor, Christopher Plummer, who plays both a devoted dog “father” but also a father to a human son. This charming, true-to-life movie also costars Ewan McGregor, as the son, and a remarkable performance from Cosmo, a Jack Russell Terrier, who steals each scene. An understated story of self-discovery, life and love. See our interview with McGregor and Cosmo’s trainer too. - Rent or Buy Beginners on Amazon The Cave of the Yellow Dog This is a quasi-documentary that concentrates on a nomadic family in Mongolia—father, mother, three small children—and the impact made upon them by a stray puppy. The acting from six-year-old Nansalmaa Batchuluun is remarkable. As Bark’s reviewer noted, “this is one of the great joys of the movie-lover: to see a soul revealed, to witness a blending of part and actor so complete that we can’t distinguish where one emerges and the other disappears.” This is revelatory story about a culture in transition and the universality of the strength of the human-dog bond. See Bark’s interview with the director. - Buy The Cave of the Yellow Dog on Amazon
Sounder Let’s not mince words, this is a tearjerker, but one that is devoid of mawkish sentiment. A story of a black’s sharecropper family in the 1930s and their trusted dog, Sounder, a great hunter and loyal companion. He’s affectionate and joyful, and the pride of the family. With amazing performances from Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and the young, Kevin Hooks, this four-time Oscar-nominated film is a powerful story about racism and injustice, but also about how a family overcomes insurmountable obstacles and about the hope that is represented by their dog, Sounder. - Rent or Buy Sounder on Amazon
Babe While everyone knows this is the one of the two seminal movies about a smart pig so one might wonder what it is doing on this list. Babe, the piglet, not only has aspirations for sheepdogdom, but is coached along by a real Border Collie, Fly. So it has a well-deserved spot here—besides it is also one of the best movies ever made about animals. All the animals are beautifully crafted and fully realized characters, and James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett puts in a memorable performance especially in the scene when he takes Babe to the herding trial and the pair go on to prove to one and all that you can do just about anything if you put your mind, and snout, to it. As he gently intones to Babe at the film’s end, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” - Rent or Buy Babe on Amazon
Old Yeller This 1957 Disney classic is a coming-of-age tale set in the post-Civil War frontier. His father away on a cattle drive, young Travis must act as the man of the house, watching over his mother and younger brother. He’s initially mistrusting of a yellow stray dog who wreaks havoc and steals food, but the dog wins his affections and proves his loyalty by battling bears and boars to protect his new family. The tragic conclusion has overwhelmed generations of viewers, and the themes of love and loss resonate as clearly today as they did on the film’s first release. - Rent or Buy Old Yeller on Amazon
My Dog Skip Based upon a memoir by Willie Morris, one time editor of Harper’s magazine, My Dog Skip takes place in 1942. Young Willie has few friends and the prospect of a lonely summer, until his mother decides her son needs a dog. Skip changes Willie’s life forever. Best friend, talented performer, endearing dog-about-town … Skip introduces Willie to new worlds, new friends, seemingly the whole town. Moose (Eddie from Fraser) steals the film with his lively portrayal of Skip. - Rent or Buy My Dog Skip on Amazon
Where North Begins (Rin Tin Tin) Considered to be the first film starring Rin Tin Tin, this 1923 silent black and white reel has a the young German Shepherd puppy adopted by a wolf pack after being lost in transport across Alaska. As a grown “wolf-dog,” Rin Tin Tin comes to the rescue of a young trapper, Gabriel Dupré, who is attacked while transporting furs and left for dead. The young man and dog become fast friends, and Rin Tin Tin again proves his bravery by saving Dupré’s sweetheart when her life is threatened. Surprisingly realistic given the early age of cinema and the demanding feats asked of its canine star. - Buy Where the North Begins on Amazon
Because of Winn-Dixie One of the few “dog” movies featuring a little girl (the other is our pick, “Cave of the Yellow Dog”), in this case, a lonely 10-year-old named Opal. Having been abandoned by her mother when she was only three, finding a large scruffy dog at the supermarket, gives Opal another way to explore the world and her community and come out of her shell. Also because of Winn-Dixie, her father, played by Jeff Daniels, agrees to tell her ten things about her missing mother. Inspired by her attachment to her dog, Opal learns many things that summer. - Rent or Buy Because of Winn-Dixie on Amazon
Lassie Come Home This is the first film in the Lassie series, made in ’43 and starring Roddy McDowall and canine actor, Pal, in a story about the profound bond between the boy and his dog. When a poor Yorkshire family is forced to sell their beloved Rough Collie to a rich duke, the dog does everything to escape and make her way back to her “boy.” A lovely young Elizabeth Taylor plays the duke’s granddaughter who, sensing how much the dog loves her family helps Lassie escape. A movie classic that launched an industry, but its poignant and uplifting story is well worth your viewing. - Rent or Buy Lassie Come Home on Amazon
Umberto D This is one of the greatest films of all time and a classic masterpiece by Vittorio De Sica. This is a story about a retiree, played by a 70-year-old non-actor Carlo Battisti, who finds that the bond he has with his dog, Flike keeps him tethered to his own fading life. In fact, the dog shows him why he must continue to live. As Roger Ebert summarized it: “Umberto loves the dog and the dog loves him because that is the nature of the bond between dogs and men, and both try to live up to their side of the contract.” (This film was recently remade starring Jean Paul Belmondo, in a French version, “Mon Chien Un Homme et Son Chien.”) - Rent or Buy Umberto D. on Amazon
The Thin Man (any or all of this six-part series) Although it starred the sophisticates William Powell and Myrna Loy (as Nick and Nora Charles) it’s the performance of Asta that made this series from the ’30s all the more enjoyable. Adapted from the last novel written by Dashiell Hammett, Asta, the Charles’ dog/child was a female Schnauzer in the book, but in the movies the role went to male Wirehaired Fox Terrier(s). As a Bark reviewer noted, Skippy who played Asta in the first two movies, was “a consummate canine comedian who was the perfect counterpart to the socialites lushes the Charles.” - Rent or Buy The Thin Man on Amazon
My Dog Tulip This animated full-length feature film was adapted from J.R. Ackerley’s startling 1956 memoir that then, and even now, has a way of evoking either readers’ displeasure or intense admiration. Award winning-filmmakers Paul and Sandra Fierlinger codirected this film, and have done an artful job at bringing this eloquent study in love and adaptation to the screen. With the voices of Christopher Plummer, Isabella Rossellini and Lynn Redgrave this inimitable story of a man’s love for his dog showcases Ackerley’s determined efforts to ensure an existence of perfect happiness for his Alsatian, Tulip. See our review and interview with the filmmakers. - Buy My Dog Tulip on Amazon
May 22 2014
This is a touching story of a seizure-alert dog’s participation at a graduation ceremony at Idaho State University. This Pit Bull’s person, Joshua Kelly who was suffering from epilepsy recently completed his degree, but sadly had died in February. To honor his memory, Terrell Kelly, Joshua’s father, brought Cletus to walk the “stage” with him to pick up his son’s diploma, this gesture was met with cheers from all—a very moving moment indeed.
May 19 2014
Now here’s an innovative idea! Ikea and DDB Singapore (an advertising agency) teamed up with animal shelters in Singapore, Save Our Dogs (SOSD) and Animal Lovers League (ALL), to promote animal adoptions. Two IKEA stores feature 26 life-size cardboard cutouts of dogs available for adoption, and they are placed in prominent positions in their furniture showrooms. Each dog has a unique QR code, which will lead interested adopters directly to the adoption site.
with a dog as your muse
May 16 2014
There was a piece in the New York Times recently that provides us with yet another reason why living with dogs is so good for us. Gretchen Reynolds, their Phys Ed columnist, reviewed a current study that show how wonderful walking is to our creative process—a form of exercise that all dog people can relate to (at least 2 to 3 times/day). The salubrious effects of exercise, in general, have been found in “multiple studies that have shown that animals and people usually perform better after exercise on tests of memory and executive function, which is essentially the ability to make decisions and organize thoughts.”
But how about our more creative thoughts? So while we all have experienced thought-bubbles popping up while showering, it also seems that a leisurely walk can also stir creative juices.
Dr. Marily Oppezzo a researcher at Stanford studied this recently. She found that the students who were tested after a walk generated about 60 percent more uses for an object, and the ideas were both “novel and appropriate.” She thinks that “It may be that walking improves mood” and that perhaps creativity blooms more easily within a buoyed-up mind. Or walking may divert energy that otherwise would be devoted, intentionally or not, to damping down wild, creative thought, she said. “I think it’s possible that walking may allow the brain to break through” some of its own, hyper-rational filters, she said. (Bring on those doggies!)
Has a walk with your dog inspired any special creative idea?
May 16 2014
For Brody, who is 72 years old, her adoption of a puppy was something that she put a lot of thought into. Her first column (a must-read one) about young Max generated more reader comments than anything she had written before—and she has been writing this column since 1976!
Many of the comments came from older people who had adopted dogs, and one, from a retired judge, was especially poignant:
“At age 85, I begged my wife like a 7-year-old to let me have a dog,” he wrote. “We acquired a rescue dog we’ve since learned is a Lhasa Apso. If I leave him for a moment to take out the garbage, he greets me as though I had been at sea for years. None of my children ever demonstrated such love. Without him, I would just be some old guy walking the streets, but everybody stops me to pet him, ask his breed, and just be friendly.
“If I were in my 20s, I think I would be getting marriage proposals just because of him. Dog-owning has its burdens, as you’ve stated, but of all the decisions I have made in this life, next to marrying my wife, this was the very best.”
Brody also points out that having a puppy, especially as a senior, can also be challenging, especially during the housebreaking stage, and while the health and social benefits are easily touted, as she did so well in the first column, there can be the “burdens” as well. Wisely one of her readers chastised her for not suggesting that “older people opt for a dog who is already housebroken.”
I would like to suggest that a senior might a senior dog. I know that there are shelters that provide this kind of service, matching a senior with a senior, and offering discounted adoption fees too. Does your shelter have similar programs?
May 8 2014
"I believe in God the way my dog does" —Farley Mowat
Author Farley Mowat, chronicler of humanity’s relationship with nature, ardent environmental activist and dog lover, died at the age of 92. Mowat’s prolific writing ranged from the trailblazing Never Cry Wolf to People of the Deer and numerous children’s book. In Never Cry Wolf he recounts his experience studying Arctic wolves in 1946, living in a den close to them in the Keewatin Barren Lands in northern Manitoba. As The New York Times noted in their obituary:
He portrayed wolves as patient and gentle with their own, sometimes even fond of practical jokes. They adopted orphan puppies and babysat for other wolves’ pups. They never killed more than they could eat. In one passage he described the father of the wolf family, whom he named George: “His dignity was unassailable, yet he was by no means aloof. Conscientious to a fault, thoughtful of others, and affectionate within reasonable bounds, he was the kind of father whose idealized image appears in many wistful books of human family reminiscences.”
George, he added, was “the kind of father every son longs to acknowledge as his own.”
One of my favorite books of all times was his totally enjoyable, hilarious The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be a story of his boyhood on the Canadian prairies with a pair of owls for pets and a dog named Mutt who was an irrepressible playmate and fellow adventurer who could climb trees and road in the back seat of the family’s roadster wearing goggles. This is an unforgettable glimpse of country life in the 30’s where boys and their dogs roamed free. Many reviewers note that this is the most entertaining book they have ever read, I couldn’t agree with them more. Both of his classics, this book and Never Cry Wolf, are must reads for every dog lover. Even as recently as July, 2009, Nicholas D. Kristof, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, listed Mowat's The Dog who Wouldn't Be (first published in 1957) as one of the best children's books of all time.
Farley Mowat died only days away from his 93rd birthday, and was working on another book at the time of his death.
See a story in Bark about a young family's adventure to travel across Canada to meet with Farley Mowat.
May 7 2014
I was looking up “notable” (dog lovers) birthdays today (May 6) because that seems to be a favorite newsy item, and I saw that this date celebrates the birth of both Sigmund Freud and George Clooney. I knew that Freud was a huge dog fan with a partiality towards Chows, so checked to see what I could find about Clooney’s affiliation with our favorite species. And lo and behold, I found that not only does he love dogs, as attested to from this Esquire interview (conducted by Tom Junod, another great dog lover, whose own wonderful story appears in our book, Dog Is My Co-Pilot) but he adopted a rescue Cocker Spaniel mix, from LA’s Camp Cocker named Einstein.
From the Esquire's Dec. 2013 interview:
A few years ago, however, he lost one of his dogs to a rattlesnake. He is a dog guy—a little sign about men and dogs adorns a living-room wall otherwise dominated by signed photographs of dignitaries—and he set about to get another, preferably hypoallergenic. He saw a black Cocker-Spaniel mix on the Web site of a rescue organization and called the number. The woman who answered said she’d be happy to bring the dog to his house, but then she explained that the dog had been abandoned and picked up malnourished off the street. “He has to love you,” she told George Clooney, “or else I have to take him back.”
At first, he found himself getting nervous—“freaking out.” What if the dog didn’t love him? Then he responded. “I had some turkey bacon in the refrigerator,” he says. “I rubbed it on me. I’m not kidding. When she came over, the dog went crazy. He was all over me. The woman said, ‘Oh, my God, he’s never like this. He loves you.’ ”
As for Freud we published a great piece about him back in 2002, but here is a memorable quote from him:
"Dogs provide affection without ambivalence, the simplicity of a life free from the almost unbearable conflicts of civilization, the beauty of an existence complete in itself."
For a video of Einstein’s story see here .
For a People article on Einstein/Clooney see here.
A rescue dog and her little boy
April 14 2014
Grace Chon, a LA photographer, who has shot a few covers for The Bark, became a mom about a year ago. She tells us that she started to take photos of her rescue girl Zoey with her son Jasper, modeling the same head gear. How adorable are they? Definitely hard to pick a favorite, but do you have one? I think the co-pilot duo might be my fave.http://www.zoeyandjasper.tumblr.com
UPDATE: Through the power of social media, Grace was contacted by the woman who fostered Zoey in Taiwan seven years ago. Read about their virtual reunion.
Guess which one of us likes to work out? (Here’s a hint, it rhymes with Shmasper.) xoxo Zoey and Jasper
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Never go on adventures without your trusty sidekick. xoxo Zoey and Jasper
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Holla back! xoxo Zoey and Jasper
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Korean sauna is fun with your best friend! xoxo Zoey and Jasper
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All you need is a best friend and a silly hat. xoxo Zoey and Jasper
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Hey Polar Vortex people - stay warm. xoxo, Zoey and Jasper
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An abused pup's remarkable friendship with a boy with autism.
April 12 2014
April is both Autism Awareness and Prevention of Animal Cruelty month. This story of Jonny, the eight-year-boy with autism, and Xena, the horribly abused Pit Bull, present a powerful and heart-warming tale about survival and the indescribable bond we have with dogs. The pup was severely abused and starving to death when she came into the DeKalb (Georgia) Animal Services shelter, she was given only an one percent chance of survival. Jonny’s mom, Linda Hickey, had been following the pup’s story on Facebook and decided to take the chance that this pup would be the perfect match for her son. See how right she was!
Xena won the ASPCA’s Hero of the Dog Award in 2013, and is now in the running for the “emerging dog hero” award from the American Humane Association.
Linda Hickey poignantly tells their story in this video. Watch it to see why Xena deserves your vote.
For more, see this recent interview as well.
And watch Jonny sing “You Got a Friend in Me” to his best pal, Xena.
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