Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
The Majority Project needs your photos
June 15 2015
Talk about a great idea that can help combat negative stereotyping of Pit Bulls—presenting a photo collection of the people who love their Pitties, dogs who are just like every other dog after all. “The Majority Project” is taking action against Breed Specific Legislation by asking Pit Bull people to join in with snapshots of yourselves with your dog and a simple sign “signifying” that you are not the exception but are proudly part of the “majority” of Pit lovers. Watch this PSA video featuring actor Jon Bernthal with his young son, Billy and their dogs, Boss and Venice for more information. The PSA also features: Eric, a cancer biologist and his dog, Red, of Cambridge, Mass.; Nonny, a great grandmother and Ginger, of Washington D.C.; Father Humble, a priest and Aura, of Flowery Branch, Ga.; Rebecca, a teacher and Carmela, of Tucson, Ariz.; and many others. Add a photo of yourself and your Pittie—see how on The Majority Project.
This project is being spearheaded by the Animal Farm Foundation, a non-profit that advocates against breed specific legislation and whose director of operations, Caitlin Quinn, adds, “Discriminating against dog owners because of what their dog looks like will never make for a safer community. Holding reckless owners accountable will.”
The Majority Project PSA from Animal Farm Foundation on Vimeo.
Step aside dominance, hello to loving and caring
June 9 2015
The much over-used construct of “alpha” got a good roll over recently on the opinion pages of The New York Times. Carl Safina, the founder of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, writes in his insightful op-ed, “Tapping Your Inner Wolf,” about how the alpha notion is rather misguided and demonstrates a misunderstanding of what it really means to be a leader. Instead of the aggressive, snarling, chest beating male alpha posture that many see as being “top” wolf—or dog for that matter—he points out that true alpha wolves don’t need to be aggressive at all, and actually have a quiet self-confidence that is “not domineering and nor aggressive to those on his team.” Making them, in fact, an exemplary role model for our species.
Debunking of what it means to be “alpha” and how this plays out with our relationship to dogs, has often been the subject of Bark articles. Sadly there are still some trainers (especially ones with large TV followings), who still don’t get it and claim that dogs are trying to “dominate” us and it is up to us to show them who’s “alpha.” How often have you heard something along the lines of, “my dog is trying to dominate me by pulling on her leash,” or “he’s trying to be alpha by blowing me off when I call to him,” sadly the list of misapplied notions of dominance and what it means to be alpha, goes on.
As to why people still cling to this false alpha meme, even though leading experts have demonstrated that positive reinforcement is far more effective and humane, is anyone’s guess. A few years back Patricia McConnell, PhD offers a “simple” suggestion in her Bark column “Down with Dominance.”
“Perhaps another reason we are so susceptible to the fallacy of “getting dominance” over our dogs is that it makes dog training seem simple. One-step shopping — just get your dog to accept you as “alpha,” and voilà! Your dog will stop jumping up on visitors and will quietly walk through the neighborhood at your side, ignoring all the interesting stuff, like squirrels and information left by other dogs as they passed by. No training required, either for your dog or, as importantly, for you.” She goes on to note that, “although there are questions and quibbles about some of the finer points, experts almost universally agree that the concept of “getting dominance” over our dogs is, at best, not useful, and more often is harmful to our relationships with our best friends.”
And Bark’s behavior columnist, Karen London, PhD thinks that it might feed into our desire for control, which sadly can have far reaching consequences, as she observes, “far worse, it can lead, at best, to a dog who performs because he is intimidated, and at worst, to a dog who is abused. The fact is, dogs will respect us only if we are consistent, clear and fair. They will love and trust us only if we are loving and patient and are able to communicate to them in ways that they understand.” This is very much the same well-oiled family/pack dynamic that Safina describes about wolves.
So it’s great when someone with respected science chops like Safina takes on alphaness and it gets even better that he also points out that biologists are now suggesting that the wolf family/pack structure work with having shared leadership, with the females doing “most of the decision making.” This can includes “where to travel, when to rest and when to hunt.” As wolf researcher, Rick McIntyre, told him, “It’s the alpha female who really runs the show.” Which leads Safina to conclude that human males can definitely learn something from real wolves, and that includes a “respect for females and sharing responsibility” in their families. Proving once again, that we have a whole lot to learn from the ancestors of the species that we share our lives with.
June 9 2015
Drones are coming to the rescue for stray dog operations in Houston. This innovative program is spearheaded by Tom McPhee, executive director of World Animal Awareness Society (WA2S), he’s the pilot behind the drone controls too. WA2S is filming a new television show called “Operation Houston: Stray Dog City,” to examine the stray dog problem in that city and profile the community people trying to save the animals. What better way to get a true count of the scope of the problem by marrying technology, i.e. drones and GPS, with on-the-ground volunteers who provide invaluable help to the dogs? Drones, to many, are annoying, invasive buzzing “toys,” but in the able hands of McPhee and other animal lovers, they can be the perfect “search and rescue” tool giving a synoptic, eye-in-the-sky view of stray dogs. See this story of how Bobby, a stray who hangs around a local park, is helped by Martha Vasquez and her Clark Park Forgotten Barks and Friends. Many of the dogs they care for are victims of dog fighting. But the stray dog problem in Houston is so enormous that is has earned the reputation as being, “Stray Dog City 2015,” maybe even outpacing Detroit for that infamous “honor.”
Drone might turn out to be good tool for local shelter or rescue groups. Have you heard of similar operations using drones to maybe locate lost dogs, or to track strays?
The dog-human bond stars
June 3 2015
This has got to be one of the most touching PSAs of all times—speaking volumes for the enduring connection between dogs and people. The video, “The Man & The Dog,” was developed by the agency DDB Argentina for FATH (Fundación Argentina de Trasplante Hepático) an organ donation program in that country, and in only 90-seconds itells the moving story of the bond that all dog people can readily understand. See what you think, and be ready to shed a tear or two at the emotional, uplifting ending. Understandably it has become a viral sensation.
Wellness: Health Care
Bark speaks with W. Jean Dodds, DVM, co-author of Canine Nutrigenomics
May 27 2015
W. Jean Dodds, DVM, founder of Hemopet, the first nonprofit national blood bank program for animals, has built much of her considerable reputation on her work in the development of advanced comprehensive diagnostic profiles. She’s also passionate about Greyhound rescue, minimum vaccine protocols and nutrition. So it’s no surprise that in her latest book, written in cooperation with Diana Laverdure, she takes up the cutting-edge topic of nutrigenomics. In a recent email exchange, Dr. Dodds expanded upon some of the concepts she includes in the book.
Bark: What makes a happy, healthy cell?
W. Jean Dodds: One that is exposed only to healthy environmental stimuli, including a variety of wholesome, nutrient-dense foods.
BK: How are cells influenced?
WJD: The process of turning genes on or off inside a cell is called “gene expression.” It determines how cells look, grow and act. Gene expression is controlled by the epigenome, a structural layer that surrounds our DNA and the proteins they are attached to. The epigenome initiates chemical reactions within cells that control gene expression, determining which genes are turned on or off and which proteins are produced.
BK: How is this relevant to what we feed our dogs?
WJD: Environmental assaults on the epigenome can become too much for the body to handle, and the result is chronic inflammation and disease. Epigenetic signaling tools manage and prevent chronic inflammatory diseases by affecting the expression of pro-inflammatory disease-fighting molecules. This can be promoted by feeding functional foods that include certain botanicals, amino acids, vitamins and phytochemicals (plant-based nutraceuticals).
BK: How is this signaling determined, and how is it measured?
WJD: The epigenetic response is determined by measuring the number of expressed inflammatory cell markers, like cytokines and interleukins. When these inflammatory enzymes are expressed from cells after exposure to unhealthy food ingredients, additives or contaminants, the result is chronic inflammation and disease. By contrast, functional foods express healthy enzymic marker responses.
BK: Throughout the book, you reference “canine functional superfoods”—blueberries, coconut oil, honeybee products, probiotics and so forth. Why are they so important, and what are some of their healing powers?
WJD: Functional foods are nutritional ingredients that switch on gene expression to fight disease and switch off the expression to promote disease. The functional effect of a food is only as good as the sum of its ingredients. Functional superfoods [have] the most beneficial effects on health: they reduce chronic inflammation and promote healing; are powerfully antioxidant, antimicrobial and antitumor; and are even believed to delay aging.
BK: What’s the difference between junk carbohydrates and functional carbohydrates?
WJD: The so-called “good carbs” originate from whole, fresh foods such as fruits; vegetables; beans; and unrefined, gluten-free grains. Unhealthy “junk carbs” come from processed foods that rank high on the glycemic index (GI), such as bread, pasta and cereal. These high-GI carbs contain sugary, refined ingredients that cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly, which triggers the body to produce a chronic inflammatory response, contributing to a variety of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer.
BK: You write that high-glycemic carbs can negatively affect brain health; please explain this.
WJD: High-glycemic foods such as corn and wheat create mood swings in dogs as they do in people. After ingesting them, dogs experience a “sugar high,” with hyperactivity and lack of focus that can be mistaken as ill-mannered and uncooperative behavior. This “high” is followed by a “low,” which can cause dogs to become sleepy, lethargic, moody and irritable.
Impaired glucose metabolism caused by sugary foods may promote brain starvation, leading to memory problems like cognitive dysfunction in dogs. These foods can also lead to a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar concentrations, which may leave dogs feeling hungry again quicker.
BK: There are many reasons to keep our dogs trim; what do you consider to be the most important?
WJD: Obesity leads to chronic inflammation, which promotes diabetes and predisposes to joint problems and cancer.
BK: You note that obesity is an inflammatory condition; why is this, and how do functional foods fight it?
WJD: Being obese affects gene expression, and this results in disease. Poor diet doesn’t just lead to health problems by creating fat in our bodies; it actually changes the expression of obesity-related genes. Feeding your dog foods that suppress his genomic expression for obesity may, therefore, not only result in loss of weight, but also in the reduced risk of a whole host of obesity-related diseases.
Once the body becomes “programmed” for fat, it’s a never-ending cycle, because fat cells lead to more fat cells. The more fat cells there are in the body, the more these cells secrete a type of pro-inflammatory cell messenger cytokine and the more chronic, systemic inflammation that is created.
A key step in helping animals (and people) lose weight is to add lots of fat-fighting anti-inflammatory foods while removing pro-inflammatory foods. Fat-fighting functional foods include high-quality, bioavailable novel proteins, virgin coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids, L-carnitine, white kidney bean extract and anti-angiogenic foods that help shrink tumor cells.
BK: Why do you recommend novel protein sources, such as venison, buffalo and goat?
WJD: Because these are proteins that the body typically has not encountered before, sensitivity or intolerance is unlikely to occur, at least initially. Remember, however, that venison and related meats are considered as pro-inflammatory “hot” foods in Chinese medicine. Chicken and mutton [adult sheep] are also categorized as “hot” foods.
BK: Dogs require more fat in their diet than humans do; what is the best way to ensure they get the right amount?
WJD: Dogs are generally more active than many people, and dietary fat supplies them with the most concentrated and digestible form of energy. It also provides important essential fatty acids (such as omega-3 fatty acids) and promotes absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and a healthy nervous system. Functional fats include chicken fat or lamb fat (as long the dog tolerates chicken or lamb); fatty fish low in mercury and rich in omega-3s; novel meat sources; and oils, such as fish, krill, borage, coconut, olive, primrose, pumpkin seed, moringa and sunflower.
BK: Why is milk thistle so important?
WJD: Milk thistle (silymarin) is an important antioxidant for the liver; it acts as a detoxicant by scavenging inflammatory free radicals released from injured cells and stabilizing liver cell membranes. It also stimulates the production of new liver cells. (In addition to liver diseases, it has also been used to treat diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.) However, it should not be given routinely as a supplement for dogs with healthy livers, and is best not given during pregnancy.
BK: If a vet determines that it’s needed, what is the best way to add milk thistle to a dog’s diet?
WJD: Silymarin is available in powder, capsule and liquid extract forms from the seeds of the Silybum marianum plant. All milk thistle products contain 80 percent of the active compound.
BK: What’s the difference between food allergies and food intolerance/sensitivities?
WJD: This is one of my favorite questions. True food allergies, which are rare, produce immediate hypersensitivity reactions to certain foods that result in release of the antibodies IgE, IgD and IgG. By contrast, food intolerances or sensitivities, which are much more common, are delayed reactions to exposure to certain foods, and result in production of the antibodies IgA and IgM in saliva, feces and other body secretions.
BK: Why is it important to know the difference?
WJD: A true food allergy can result in a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. Food intolerance leads to chronic itching and/or bowel issues such as flatulence, abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhea and vomiting.
BK: What is the evidence for a connection between epigenetics and cancer? It’s interesting to learn that only 5 to 10 percent of all cancers originate from genetic predispositions.
WJD: That’s true—90 to 95 percent of cancers are linked to our environmental exposures and lifestyle. Scientific research has shown that 30 to 45 percent of cancers can be prevented or controlled by implementing dietary changes. Powerful functional foods for cancer protection include berries; pomegranates; cruciferous vegetables; curcumin; green leafy and yellow-orange vegetables; certain herbs, such as ginger and milk thistle; medicinal mushrooms; omega-3 fatty acids; probiotics; spirulina; and vitamin D. Anti-angiogenic foods starve cancer cells and are important dietary factors in cancer therapy.
BK: What about breed types such as the Golden Retriever, who seem to be genetically predisposed to cancer—how does this equate?
WJD: Other breeds are also at risk, but the facts point to the critical importance of reducing unhealthy environmental exposures and stress events, coupled with feeding a variety of wholesome, nutrient-dense foods. Controlling these factors should significantly reduce the expression of cancer-promoting genes.
BK: Given that, practically speaking, it’s almost impossible to totally detoxify our dogs’ (and our own) environments, what are the most important elements to work on eliminating?
WJD: I would focus on avoiding over-vaccination; herbicides; pesticides; GMO foods; food colorings; wheat, corn and soy; and preventives for heartworm, fleas and ticks (unless you live in a high exposure risk area).
BK: Many people are fearful of feeding their dogs a raw or home-prepared diet because there’s a chance that meals might not be balanced. What advice do you offer people on the importance of a “balanced” diet?
WJD: There is a large amount of misinformation pertaining to the benefits or drawbacks of raw or home-prepared diets. For the novice, it is best to consult an experienced and respected animal or veterinary nutritionist for advice. Reliable published books, articles and resources are also available and offer guidance. The resources section of our new book lists these options.
Pawsitive Partners Prison Program
May 6 2015
Seven years ago, in May of 2008, Monty’s Home in Southeastern North Carolina, received state approval to start its first Pawsitive Partners Prison Program (PPPP), in conjunction with the Pender Correctional Institution, in nearby Burgaw, NC. President and co-founder Barbara Rabb was on an educational mission to use her dog training skills to shelter dogs to make them more adoptable. Bringing her organizational skills to the task, she enlisted the services of other dog trainers and convinced the local correction facility to establish a prison pup program to provide basic companion dog training for pet dogs. Monty’s Home’s volunteers help train the inmate-trainers, and they select dogs who had met basic temperament evaluations from local shelters; they also assume costs such as vet bills, grooming supplies, food, toys, bedding, etc, all expenses associated with proper canine care and training.
The dogs are then spayed/neutered and brought up to date on vaccinations before entering the Pawsitive Partners Prison Program. They live at the facility with their specially screened inmate-trainers, the dogs go through an eight weeks training course. Inmates, under the guidance of Monty’s Home volunteer trainers, train the dogs in basic obedience and household manners. After graduation, the wonderfulness starts again for more shelter dogs! This is such a wonderful program, making it possible for thousands of wonderful dogs to find their forever homes. And when a Monty's Home dog joins his/her forever home, she knows basic commands, household manners, is microchipped and comes complete with own bed, crate, toys, leash, collar, a weeks’ supply of food and treats, and a training DVD for new owners. How perfect is that! Watch the video to see a graduation ceremony learn more and see what a positive affect this has on the inmate trainers and the new adopters as well.
April 28 2015
Making up part of the U.S. contingent that were deployed to Nepal on Sunday night were these six dogs and their handlers from the Search Dog Foundation from Ojai, California. The dogs and their humans will assist in rescue and recovery efforts in that earthquake stricken country. The six teams from the SDF are part of that amazing organization’s canine-firefighter volunteers who have assisted in numerous international and national recovery efforts since their founding.
Established almost twenty years ago by Wilma Melville, a retired schoolteacher from New Jersey, who with her Lab Murphy, in 1995 was one of the only 15 Advanced Certified teams in the entire U.S. who worked at the bombed Oklahoma City Federal Building. That experience gave Melville the “determination to find a better way to create highly skilled canine search teams,” so she established SDF the following year in 1996.
SDF is the only non-profit in the U.S. dedicated to finding and training rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters. They recruit dogs from shelters and breed rescue groups, then provide the dogs with professional training, and match them with firefighters and other first responders who then go on to find people trapped in the wreckage following disasters. They go to great lengths to find canines with the exceptional characteristics required in a search dog: intense drive, athleticism, energy and focus. The traits that can often make dogs unsuitable as family pets and land them in a shelter—intense energy and extreme drive—are exactly the qualities required in a search dog. SDF offers these talented animals what they crave: a job! The dogs (primarily Labs, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies and mixes) are recruited from animal shelters and rescue groups throughout the Western states—some just hours away from being euthanized. A happy ending for all… as these dogs are transformed from rescued to rescuer. The teams are provided at no cost to fire departments or taxpayers, and with no government funding. Do think of donating to this worthwhile organization so they can continue in their mission to help disaster victims.
Watch the video to see the teams walking up to their plane. We wish them, and the people of Nepal well.
Creams can sicken and kill animals
April 18 2015
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners who use prescription topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen to use care when using them (on humans) in a household with pets.
Pets are at risk of illness and death when exposed to certain pain medications applied to the skin of their owners. Even very small amounts of flurbiprofen, such as a slight amount left on a cloth applicator, could be dangerous to pets.
This advice follows reports made to the FDA of cats in two households that became ill or died after their owners used prescription-strength topical medications containing flurbiprofen on themselves to treat muscle, joint, or other pain. The pet owners had applied the cream or lotion to their own neck or feet, and not directly to the pet, and it is not known exactly how the cats became exposed to the medication.
The products contained the flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, as well as other varying active ingredients, including baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine. Flurbiprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
People are warned to keep all medicines out of reach from their companion animals. With any sort of cream, lotion, or ointment, keep any applicators or cloths with the drug away from pets and be mindful of any drug that falls to the floor. If your pet experiences lack of desire to eat, lethargy, vomiting, or tarry stools, and you suspect exposure to such pain creams, bathe the animal and seek veterinary care immediately. Inform the veterinarian of the potential for flurbiprofen exposure.
Forbes also reports that:
Not included in the FDA warning is that no topical prescription product exists with these combinations. While the drug combinations are still prescribed by physicians, they are formulated at compounding pharmacies. These tailor-made, individual products are advertised for treatment of neck and back pain, tendon inflammation, and myalgia (muscle pain). Applying them directly to the skin allows for greater concentrations of the drugs to penetrate to the desired site of action while minimizing the toxicity to the rest of the body if large doses were taken orally.
Veterinarians with patients suspected of NSAID toxicity should ask whether flurbiprofen-containing products are used in the household.
As our dogs, the FDA warning states, “Understand that, although the FDA has not received reports of dogs or other pets becoming sick in relation to the use of topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen, these animals may also be vulnerable to NSAID toxicity after being exposed to these medications.”
- Store all medications safely out of the reach of pets.
- Pet owners who use topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen should take care to prevent exposure of the pet to the medication.
- Consult your health care provider on whether it is appropriate to cover up the treated area to prevent your pet from being exposed.
- Safely discard or clean any cloth or applicator that may retain medication and avoid leaving any residues of the medication on clothing, carpeting or furniture.
- If you are using topical medications containing flurbiprofen and your pet becomes exposed, bathe or clean your pet as thoroughly as possible and consult a veterinarian.
- If your pet shows signs such as lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, or other illness, seek veterinary care for your pet and be sure to provide the details of the exposure.
- Pet owners and veterinarians can also report any adverse events to the FDA.
Note that even very small exposure to flurbiprofen can be potentially life-threatening to pets.
Sandra Roth and Lizzy with a showstopping performance
February 25 2015
Dog-dancing is taken to its heights and none display this better than Sandra Roth and Lizzy at The Open European Championships in Heelwork to Music and Freestyle 2014, held in Stuttgart, Germany. “There are no compulsory movements or elements, so each team can present their individual strengths and skills,” reads Dogdance International’s preamble. “No other dog sport offers that much flexibility to ... adapt each performance to the capabilities and needs of each team member (dog as well as human).”
Sandra Roth is a ballet and jazz dancer with a passion for dogs, so moving into dog-dancing was a natural for her and turned out to be the perfect sport. As for Lizzy, her dancing companion, Roth writes in her profile that “Lizzy has been learning tricks and freestyle moves since she was a puppy. But we’ve had many problems and she was not an easy dog. So our main focus for the first 3 years was on her social behaviour and not on dog sports.”
Roth continues that Lizzy “gets more and more confident and our relationship has improved a lot. She is also starting to enjoy the attention by the audience.”
And Roth adds that, “Other than dancing we also do some obedience training, we do Treibball, scent work, lunging, dog scootering and whatever is fun for both of us.”
Don’t you agree that their performance takes your breath away? And by the time Lizzy is doing her front-leg-crossover, I couldn’t stop the tears, this was oh so lovely.
Culture: The Daily Show
Take this job and love it
February 12 2015
Here at The Bark, we’re always looking for stories that examine the really big ideas affecting the lives of dogs. Our mission started 15 years ago, when we created the magazine in order to cover the burgeoning dog-park movement.
Recently, we had the opportunity to take our mission indoors — to see how dogs add harmony, fellowship and an atmosphere of well being to a very active and creative workplace. This particular lead came to us, unexpectedly, late last year. The email subject line read “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Dogs,” and it came from Renata Luczak, vice president of corporate communications for Comedy Central. Dogs had joined the ranks of The Daily Show, and staffers and others thought it would make a good story for The Bark to cover, and, oh, yes, they are “huge fans of Bark and would be so thrilled to be in it.” At Bark central, we were thrilled and flattered, of course, but we also took the story to heart. We were curious if these dogs could have it that much better than other office dogs throughout the land.
To find out, in early spring, I spent the day at The Daily Show offices in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where I met the dogs, sat down with the people, watched a photo shoot and generally saw for myself just how good the show’s dogs have it. Here’s my report.
This dog-friendly workplace started about 15 years ago with Georgia Pappas, then the show’s production manager, and her Tibetan Terrier, Cosmo. Fortunately for Pappas and Cosmo, Jon Stewart is crazy about dogs. Double fortunate, the show’s offices and studio are in a building managed by Adriane Truex, who shares Stewart’s canine appreciation. Permission was quickly granted, and it didn’t take long for more dogs to follow.
These days, the first thing new employees, show guests and visitors notice are the dogs. Free-ranging and ubiquitous, they have become an integral part of the office landscape: roaming, playing or lying about, with toys scattered everywhere. They attend staff meetings, share office chairs, charm the celeb guests — in short, The Daily Show is pretty much dog nirvana.
How else would you define a place where dogs get attention from almost everyone, visit their friends, climb on couches or snuggle up in one of the numerous spare beds that people put in their cubicles to entice doggie visitations? Lunch is a particularly busy time. Christy and Vilma in the accounting department observed that the dogs often start in Stewart’s office (which they can freely visit), hit all the “tidbit” spots, then make their way upstairs to accounting for one more morsel and a nap on their couch.
Meet the Dogs
For co-executive producer Jen Flanz, whose family has always had dogs, this inviting atmosphere inspired her to adopt Parker, a Lab mix, from Manhattan Animal Care & Control. Parker seems to win the hearts of everyone she meets, both dog lovers and those who might not yet be. She’s had a lot of training with Jen, and quickly became a regular who, along with Kweli, introduces the newcomer pups to office-dog protocol. All the dogs soak up and bask in the attention they get, from most everyone who works there.
As Jen observes, the only downside is that “our dogs are used to being here, being around people all day, running around and getting attention from a hundred people. So when we have time off, she bounces off the walls. They get so much activity and stimulation here.”
Artistic coordinator, Justin Chabot got his Golden Retriever, Kweli, when he was still a student in Boston, and started Kweli’s off-leash training during their late-night forays for a place to park his van. As Justin recalls, “I would stop at an intersection, make him sit and stay, and walk back across the street and wait until the light changed. Then I’d say ‘OK, let’s cross.’ Now, he walks with me and never goes into the street — he never steps off the sidewalk without me being there. He’s off-leash even in Times Square.” Another handy trick that Justin easily taught the bright and relaxed Kweli is how to ride steady and calm on the back of his bicycle and motorcycle. He made Kweli a co-pilot seat from an old milk crate, which the dog sits in during their commute down the West Side Highway from Harlem; they turn a quite a few heads as they go by.
Supervising producer Tim Green-berg’s Ally, a rescue Pointer-mix, is a more recent addition. When Tim first adopted Ally, she had fear issues, so he did a lot of concentrated training with her. Initially, he only brought her in on slow days, then, gradually added more time to her “work” schedule. He’s convinced that the training built up her self-confidence, and is the best way to maintain it. When Ally first met Kweli, Tim says, “she tried to eat from his bowl, he snapped at her and since then, they’ve established their relationship — she looovvves him.” Like Parker, Ally flirts with Kweli constantly and shamelessly.
Good training is essential to making the office-dog dynamic work. Everyone knows that having their dogs in the office is a privilege, one they don’t want to lose. As Jen observes, “We all feel this responsibility to keep the dogs pretty well-behaved. If someone comes in and thinks this is a free-for-all, they would be mistaken.” Tim adds that “like the show itself, there really is a strict discipline underlying what looks like a free-form.” From my perspective, it seemed that the office camaraderie, conviviality and general bonhomie — laughter can be heard everywhere — inspires and affects both the people and the dogs.
The dogs may have their own opinions, which they sometimes seem to register. For example, Jim Margolis’ dog, Aunt Blanche, once peed (just this once) on the floor outside the green room when Sharon Stone was visiting, he thinks his dog was expressing her opinion about “Basic Instinct 2.” (Such accidents are rare, however.) So far, the only guest to bring a dog on the set has been Ted Koppel, who came with his granddog, a little black pup named Pepper.
Matt Palidoro, whose cousin owns a dog bakery and keeps him supplied with treats for his officemates, says, “The dogs are a huge perk on the job. If you see two dogs playing with each other, you can decompress easily.”
This group seems to function on some kind of organic, village-like level, with everyone looking out for and being somewhat involved in raising the “village’s” dogs. For example, it’s easy for the dog people to ask colleagues to handle an occasional dog-sitting stint. So many of the non-dog owners, including correspondent Wyatt Cenac, have stories about times they hosted one of the dogs while their people were out of town. Talk about a benefit!
All in all, as Tim Greenberg describes it, “This is a giant dog playground. The dogs run around, and there are at least eight to 10 treat stations throughout the office. Ally’s got her own schedule of things she does. She gets exercise running up and back. The only thing that would make it better is if there were grass and squirrels [inside].”
Who, after all, could blame the dogs for anything? In Stewart’s opinion, all the dogs there are “really the cream of the crop, all have been to military school, their behavior is impeccable, their manners are impeccable, their English is impeccable.” Plus, “Who doesn’t love the dogs?” There is nothing better than dogs, and they bring out the best in us too. Nothing better. Confirming my observation that everyone has a ball here, he added that, “obviously we’ll take you to the reptile room after this.”
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