Kathleen St. John

Kathleen St. John is a freelance writer for target The Denver Post and The Onion's A.V. Club, and a lifelong dog lover. She lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband, John, and her dog, Daisy, who's a mix of just about everything.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Shopping: Well-Designed Dog Products
Scouting out the wild world of pet products

It happened so fast. Our first visit to Denver’s Dumb Friends League was supposed to be a scouting trip, a quick spin through the facility to become familiar with their adoption process and take a peek at the pups on hand.

We didn’t expect Daisy to be there. The little blonde mutt with black ears came in the meet-and-greet room, plopped down under my legs and that was it. We had been chosen.

Though my husband, John, and I come from dog-owning families, we’d both lived dogless lives since leaving home. Even so, we realized that a couch and some old cereal bowls were not going to cut it when Daisy trotted into our apartment. All manner of necessities and incredibly cute toys and accessories beckoned, signifiers of a well-cared-for and loved animal. Suddenly, we had a shopping list.

After the adoption papers were signed, Daisy remained at the shelter to be spayed, so we had a few days. Stopping at a pet store on the way home, we were mildly overwhelmed by all of the options and price points. We wandered the aisles, then shrugged our shoulders and left with a simple food bowl and water dish. It wasn’t until Daisy’s homecoming that we started buying in earnest.

John picked out a collar and leash at the shelter’s supply shop, a matching marigold-yellow set made of hemp-cotton corduroy that’s both incredibly easy on the hands and super-strong. The color looked smashing against Daisy’s golden coat and, as a bonus, the set was made by a local company. It wasn’t cheap, but that’s what credit cards are for, right?

Following the advice of my parents and their years of Labrador experience, we bought a harness, too. Within a week, Daisy had figured out a way to slip out of it—on an “emergency” 4 am walk, no less. Back to the pet store we went, this time to get an old-school head-halter.

Once we had the basics covered, we took it to the next level: little luxuries. As tempting as it was to let the Daise cuddle with us in bed, we opted to provide her with her own sleeping arrangement. Daisy would have surely loved a deluxe, fleece-lined, canopied princess bed, but, alas, such extravagance was out of our price range—and would have looked ridiculous in our tiny apartment. We chose a far less posh item at the mega-pet-store, a bed that was really more of an oversized, paisley-print pillow. At about $10, the price was right, and the pillow fit cozily inside the crate a friend gave us. We were able to fashion a canopy bed for our little princess by stuffing the crate under a side table in the living room. Voilà: a new standard in naptime glamour.

One afternoon, the three of us took a long walk to Denver’s LoDo district, where we popped into an upscale pet boutique. Daisy busied herself with the array of smells while we gazed at the kaleidoscope of doggie toys and trinkets for sale. Everything was totally hip, slightly cheeky and ridiculously cute. And, unlike the stuff at big-box pet stores, these products had personality. Wouldn’t it be nice to get Daisy just a little something, a sassy treat to match her spunky attitude?

By this time, we’d learned that Daisy, a former stray, is a tough pup to spoil. She may enjoy a sumptuous sleeping experience, but in waking life, she’s a no-frills kind of gal. The must-have toys we bought her—a squeaky octopus, the sturdy chew sticks and bouncy playthings— went largely ignored. A purple bandanna (which we got for free) is about as far as she’ll go for fashion.

Nonetheless, we figured out ways to show her the high life, mostly through her stomach. At the pet boutique, we bought her a daisy-shaped dog cookie, complete with decorative frosting, and relaxed on the boutique’s patio, where she lapped water from a cool bowl. Sometimes, I pick up a bag of her favorite treats, which are pricey, when I snag a new bag of food. Sometimes.

There’s one item on our shopping list that we really want, but mostly for our benefit: a high-end grooming rake recommended by a trainer. Though she sang its praises, we initially ignored it. Fifty bucks for a dog brush? Yeah, right. And then Daisy blew her coat—everywhere— and we had blonde fur covering our clothes and seasoning our food. For now, I’m using a tool my folks gave us, a shedding blade made for horses. It works OK, but I still have visions of the super-efficient model. Someday, we’ll buy it. Maybe when we get a second dog.

In our initial ventures into canine accoutrements, we explored all options, from plain to over-the-top. In the end, though, practicality, price and Daisy’s personality won out, a reminder that it’s not totally up to us—with some pet products, the dog decides.

News: Guest Posts
Dachshund Lovers Unite When Tragedy Strikes
Helping a tornado survivor who lost husband and two Doxies

Sheryle Pickett lost everything when a tornado swept through Holton, Ind., on March 2. Her husband of 39 years, Ron Pickett, had come home sick from work and was there alone with the couple’s two Dachshunds, Jules and Katie, when the storm struck their home.

All three were killed. The house was destroyed.

“They were both little love bugs, little snugglers,” says Pickett of Jules and Katie. “That’s why I know they were all there on the couch together. Nobody died alone. They were all together.”

In the aftermath, Pickett informed the Dachshund Rescue of North America foster mom who’d taken care of both dogs before adoption. Ron and Sheryle were volunteers with the group, too. Moved by the story, Jules and Katie’s foster mom posted a note on Facebook—and word spread as fast as a Doxie on the run.

April Scott, president of the Dachshund Delights pet-supply company, spotted a sympathy message for Pickett in her Facebook feed. Inspired, she set up a ChipIn site and a raffle of Dachshund Delights gift certificates to raise Pickett some money.

“My goal was $5,000,” says Scott. “We had that in the first day.”

Thanks to Dachshund Delights’ Facebook fans and email subscribers, plus the efforts of DRNA supporters, helping Pickett became a cause célèbre in the Dachshund social-media community.

“Members of DRNA donated to the fund and also spread the word about the fundraiser,” Scott says. “Other dachshund rescue groups picked it up and told their followers about it. We got donations from individuals and from other rescue groups themselves.”

By the end of a week, contributions totaled more than $13,000.

“That is the largest single gift I’ve ever received, from people I’ve never met,” Pickett says. “After the ChipIn was closed, I received cards from Dachshund mommies and daddies with checks and great words of comfort. And some from outside of the United States, people I’ll never meet.”

Scott thinks a little of the Dachshund’s spunky nature rubs off on its owners, making them especially willing to help in an emergency.

“The Dachshund is tenacious beyond common sense,” she says. “Dog people in general, I think, try to take care of their own. But the Dachshund is a unique breed and Dachshund lovers are really a subculture of the dog world.”

“I think they just felt that they needed to do something,” Pickett says. “They lived too far away to come clean my lot, come to the funeral home … I’ve gained hundreds of Facebook friends and email friends that I didn’t have six weeks ago.”

Pickett used some of the donated money to help pay for Ron’s funeral, and stashed the rest to put a down payment on a new house. She’s currently living in a rental home in Greensburg, Ind., with Bear, Ron’s dog, who survived the tornado.

In a phone conversation, Pickett talks about Ron’s love of music and motorcycles, Jules’s adorably stubborn personality and Katie’s “why walk when you can run?” attitude. Reservations are made for a Dachshund-rescue reunion in the fall. She’s already planning to decorate her future kitchen in a Dachshund theme, painting it red for Jules, her “little red-headed girl.”

“People will think I’m a crazy dog lady, and I don’t care,” she says.

She also hopes to keep the goodwill going by helping others in the future.

“I’m going to give what I can every time,” she says. “I’ll never tell anybody no again for a truly good cause. There are so many good people in the world. People say, ‘I can only give 20 dollars.’ Those 20 dollars add up. I truly appreciate it. I will never forget.”

News: Guest Posts
The Search for Bridgett
Confusing rules about signage make finding a lost dog more difficult

How long would you look for your dog if he went missing? A week? A month?

Pat Panek of Littleton, Mass., has been searching for Bridgett, her lost Husky, for nearly four months. Thanks to tips from the public, she is not giving up—but her “lost dog” posters are causing conflict. Panek says some of the signs have been torn down almost as soon as they go up, and town laws are confusing regarding public signage.

“Every one of the last bunch was down in under three days,” she said last week via e-mail. “It’s discouraging. I believe that had I not been hampered in my posting, Bridgett would have been home long ago.”

Panek’s persistence isn’t just wishful thinking. She received phone calls reporting Bridgett sightings throughout the winter. Springtime weather is here, and the calls continue: The latest information puts Bridgett in a conservation area near the town of Acton.

It’s not certain who, exactly, is tearing down the signs. One Littleton citizen complained that a poster and sandwich board were obstructing vision in the town common; those signs were removed by police. Panek says she was then instructed to apply for a signage permit with the town, but was denied because she’s “not a town organization.

She’s struggled with town officials in nearby Acton, too. Panek told a Boston CBS affiliate that some local business owners have declined to post her flyers due to worries about fines. She said that she dates her posters to keep them from staying up too long, but they often are torn down quickly anyway, possibly by residents who just don’t like them.

The director of Acton’s Planning Department, which enforces signage laws, told the station that his team hasn’t removed signs—he said Panek is allowed to post them as long as she removes them in a timely manner. One of the town’s selectmen admitted that Acton’s laws on the matter are often confusing and contradictory, and that changes are underway.

Panek doesn’t have much time to wait, however. Bridgett, a seven-year-old rescue, tunneled out of Panek’s backyard on Nov. 27, 2011. She’s been spotted dozens of times since then, and has apparently survived the winter. Bridgett’s background is part of what’s kept her from being caught: She spent the first six years of her life in a puppy mill. After living in a crate for most of her life, getting her into a trap is nearly impossible.

Despite the poster problems, Panek says that the community’s reaction has been “fabulous.” Granite State Dog Recovery, a volunteer group from New Hampshire, offered its services to Panek, giving advice and lending her Hav-A-Heart traps and a trail camera. She has a Facebook page and hands out flyers, brochures and business cards looking for information on Bridgett. The calls keep coming.

“I know she is out there,” Panek says. “I believe she will come home soon. But if I am wrong, I don’t know when that cut-off”—the end of the search—“comes. I just know it’s not now.”

News: Guest Posts
Daisy and the Pussycats
Stray cats have turned a dog’s happy yard into a source of misery

It’s 1:30 a.m. and Daisy is pacing. Again.

She hears a cat somewhere—or at least she thinks she does—and is in a hurry to get outside and attack it. If we don’t let her out, she’ll pace and whine for an hour or more. If we do let her outside, we’ll be reinforcing her demanding, unnecessary behavior. It’s the middle of the night, and we’re stuck. All of us.

I was so happy for Daisy when we first moved from our small apartment to a house with a yard. As of a month or so ago, because of the cats, that honeymoon is over.

She’s escaped our backyard four times, all in the name of chasing cats. Half the yard is bordered by a six-foot wooden fence; the rest is a chain-link job we thought was too tall for her. How cute—that’s become her primary method of escape. (Though she somehow wiggled through a loose board in the wooden one, too.)

After the escapes began we started checking on her every few minutes while she was in the yard. That didn’t work. Our new policy is to never leave her outside without supervision. Someone either goes outside with her or sits in the house and watches from the windows. She’s so quick it’s unwise to do anything else while watching, so it’s usually a 20- to 30-minute staring session.

All of this is because of her anxiety about the cats. If she perceives a cat nearby, whether real or imagined, Daisy will do anything to get to it.

We knew there were stray cats in the neighborhood when we moved in. We’d seen them while looking at houses, and one of our new neighbors mentioned occasionally trapping them and taking them in to be spayed or neutered. It’s a dense residential area, complete with dumpsters and alleys—it makes sense that there would be alley cats.

What we didn’t anticipate was the cycle of anxiety they’d set spinning. We figured Daisy would have a ball keeping them out of the backyard. We didn’t think her natural prey drive would spiral off into seeing and hearing cats everywhere and at almost all hours.

Sometimes her desire to chase is legitimate. There really is a cat sitting complacently in the yard next door or two cats mating loudly on the front lawn at 4 in the morning. (Always a treat.) But one real event will set off 24 hours of high tension with near-constant pacing on wooden floors, plaintive whines and vigilant watch at the windows. Potato-chip bag in the street? Cat. People talking? Talking cats, obviously. Passing cars? Really big, fast cats.

A couple of things help: A good walk, as always, helps ease her mind and burn off excess energy. Keeping the blinds closed, while depressing for an at-home worker, keeps her from getting locked into staring out the window. We’re all doomed, however, if a cat decides to start yowling on the front lawn in the middle of the night. There will be little sleep for any of us after that.

Clearly, we need to consult with a behaviorist about Daisy—while this is inconvenient and annoying for us, for her, it’s truly distressing.

Have you ever dealt with a similar problem with your dog? Got any tips for discouraging stray cats?

News: Guest Posts
Are Dogs Who Play Tough in Films Overlooked?
Martin Scorcese challenges the first-ever Golden Collar Awards

The people have spoken: Following a campaign led by Martin Scorsese, a Doberman named Blackie is in the running to be named “Best Dog in a Theatrical Film” at the first-ever Golden Collar Awards.

According to Dog News Daily, the sponsor of the awards, hundreds of Dobie devotees wrote to support Blackie after The Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by Scorsese. The Oscar-winning director wrote on Sunday that Blackie was unfairly overlooked by the nominating committee for her work in Hugo.

The director’s tongue-in-cheek piece suggested that Blackie was snubbed because of the Doberman’s imposing looks: “enormous and handsome,” as opposed to twice-nominated Uggie, a compact and cute Jack Russell Terrier. Scorsese also notes Blackie’s brave choice to portray an unlikable, mean guard dog, where Uggie played it safe as a lovable pet in Water for Elephants and The Artist. (We’re not sure why the conversation doesn’t include this year’s other breakout thespian, a Jack Russell named Arthur, who played Cosmo in Beginners.)

Blackie’s fans descended on Dog News’ Facebook page and, according to the site, posted more than 500 comments in less than 24 hours. Scorsese appeared on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live on Tuesday to speak out again for Blackie. By Wednesday, Blackie was officially on the list of nominations.

The Golden Collars ceremony will be held on Feb. 13 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in L.A., complete with a red carpet entrance. Organizers are hoping Blackie will attend—perhaps with Scorsese on the other end of the leash.

News: Guest Posts
Taxidermy on TV

Meter maids. Storage-unit foragers. Turtle trackers. And now, taxidermists.

Reality television has already poked into the far corners of Americans’ working lives, but this might be near the limit for some of us: American Stuffers, a show about pet taxidermists, premiering on Animal Planet Jan. 5.

The name is a bit crass, to be sure, especially since the show focuses on bereaved pet owners who come to Xtreme Taxidermy in Romance, Ark., to have their beloved animals preserved for posterity. One clip shows a couple arriving to pick up the taxidermied version of their Chihuahua, Toot Toot: No matter how you feel about the practice, it’s easy to sympathize with them as they tearfully examine and pet the mounted Toot Toot.

American Stuffers also introduces viewers to the people behind Xtreme Taxidermy, turning them into “characters” of their own: Daniel Ross and his bookkeeping wife LaDawn run the shop with help from staffers Fred (a country character), Dixie (squeamish veterinary student), and Joseph (bold younger guy). Daniel and LaDawn’s three young sons get an eyeful of the family business, too.

The show’s press release promises that audiences will “laugh, cry, and squirm”—not the most appealing description, but probably an apt one considering the subject. Indeed, a warning pops up that “this program contains material that may be disturbing to some viewers.”

It’s hard not to think about your own pets when watching the show. How do you feel about taxidermy-- is it a touching tribute or a ghoulish anachronism? Would you consider having your dog taxidermied? Do you know someone who’s done it?

News: Guest Posts
Shelter Dog PSA’s That Make Us Smile [Videos]
There’s more than one way to inspire adoption

We’ve all seen the ads before: Chain-link fencing, sad eyes, heart-tugging music, a plea for help. Television commercials for animal shelters are incredibly effective at pulling the heartstrings—sometimes, so much that they’re hard to watch.

In recent years, though, some shelters and rescue groups are trying a different tack: humor.

The plight of homeless pets isn’t a light subject, of course, but new ads by organizations like The Shelter Pet Project and Best Friends Animal Society accentuate the positive. Instead of showing misery and helplessness, ads like these highlight the many happy—and extremely cute—outcomes of animal adoption.

They also point out what animal-adopters already know: Most shelter animals are wonderful pets that have simply found themselves in a bad situation. (Like Harvey.)

Here are a few examples of the new, cheerier breed of rescue commercials. Tell us what you think and/or point us to your favorites.

From petsaddlife.org (aka, PAL), two “dogs” discuss one of their favorite pastimes in an ad encouraging owners to find a pal for their pet:

While the American Pet Project Products Association, which backs PAL, has a vested interest in increased more pets in the home—we can’t argue with the cause.

A Beagle boy, newly in a home, marvels at his human’s funny habits in a Shelter Pet Project commercial:

The Shelter Pet Project is a public service campaign created by the Humane Society of the United States, Maddie’s Fund and The Ad Council in 2009 to encourage adoption. (Find more examples on The Project website.)

In this reimagined traffic stop, Los Angeles Animal Services shows us what life would be like if everyone loved you like your dog does:

Pups are home for the holidays in this sweet spot from Best Friends Animal Society:

Edie Brickell contributes a cute tune to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ light-hearted spot, including cheeky lyrics like, “If you’ve got/A little grass/Get off your a#$/Adopt a dog!”

Finally, the Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton, Calif., plays on the idea of dating sites and singleton’s looking for a lasting connection:

News: Guest Posts
Occupiers Agree on One Thing: Dogs Rule
Shelby voted leader of Denver protest

The Occupy movement can be divisive, even among its supporters, but the Denver crew of Occupiers have agreed on one thing: They have a leader—a Border Collie/Cattle Dog mix named Shelby.

On Sunday night, an assembly of Occupy Denver protesters voted in three-year-old Shelby as their new boss. She accepted the mantle with good grace and set about her first task, an early evening nap.

Then, on Tuesday, Occupiers sat in at Colorado governor John Hickenlooper’s office, requesting a future meeting with him on Shelby’s behalf. The list of her concerns included unemployment rates, government spending, and budgets for law enforcement and education. There’s no word yet from the Governor’s office on setting up a meeting.

Shelby’s been visiting the Occupy camp in downtown Denver every other day for about a month with her owner, Boulder resident Peter John Jentsch. (He calls himself her “bodyguard.”) Shelby refuses to talk about her political leanings, but Jentsch says she’s an independent voter.

Jentsch recognizes that, as a canine citizen, Shelby’s a little impartial. “She has yet to come by herself,” he told Denver’s Westword, “so she’s only as passionate as I am.”

News: Guest Posts
A Yard of her Own
Daisy is finally the queen of her castle

Daisy is curled up next to me on the couch as I type this, enjoying an early afternoon nap. The first snowfall of the season is coming down outside. She’s extra sleepy for this time of day—she spent about a half an hour this morning romping in the fresh snow in her brand-new backyard.

At long last, it’s happened: After four years of apartment living, Daisy finally has a backyard to call her own.

My husband and I discovered Daisy’s love of the outdoors the very first time we met her at the Denver Dumb Friends League. The adoption counselor let us take Daisy outside to a spacious dog run for a game of fetch. She had no idea what to do with the ball, but spent a good five minutes sprinting back and forth in the run with my husband, John, encouraging her. She was pure joy.

We’ve talked about “Daisy’s yard” ever since we brought her from the shelter to our small apartment, reassuring her that someday she’d have a big space in which to race around. Walks are fun, but leashes are not. Her aggression issues mean dog parks are a risky proposition. She got tastes of the good life at the homes of friends and family over the last few years, but only for a short time.

In mid-October, we finally made the move from a one-bedroom apartment on Denver’s urban Capitol Hill to a slightly larger house in a residential neighborhood in northeast Denver. The house might not be huge, but the yard is a perfect size for crazed running and snuffly investigations.

John made a video of Daisy entering the yard for the first time. She’s a take-charge kind of gal, so her initial action was to squat and take an authoritative pee. She mostly wanted to sniff, but soon got in the spirit and was darting around like a happy maniac—when she wasn’t getting distracted by a new scent.

There’s been lot of excitement for her in the last few weeks: Squirrels everywhere. Unwary alley cats wandering into the yard. Human neighbors going about their business. When the weather was nice, I opened the front door so Daisy could lay in the entryway and watch the neighborhood action through the screen door. She’s finally discovered what house dogs figured out in puppyhood: You can stand on the couch and see out the front window! (The old place had a view of a brick wall.) And now there’s snow, glorious snow.

It’s fun to watch Daisy adjust to her new lifestyle, but it does come with some worries. We discovered tons of discarded chicken bones in the backyard—after we caught Daisy, ever the scavenger, crunching on them. One of the back gates doesn’t close all the way, prompting an argument about the best way to keep it closed until we fix it. (I said cinder block, John said bungee cord; John won.) Daisy loves to chase the occasional stray cat, but I fear the day she corners one and it fights back.

There are new training concerns, too. At the apartment, Daisy was on a regular schedule of walks. Now we can open the backdoor for her to dash outside and do her business, and then let her run around and play for as long as she wants. She doesn’t yet know how to “ask” to be let in or out, however. With cold weather bearing down on us, I’m trying to get her on a schedule of sorts, with lots of outdoor fun every day.

The move’s been hard on me, I confess. Leaving the apartment represented a major change in our lives, a transition from younger, more carefree days to greater responsibility and future family-raising. It means we’re becoming Real Grown-Ups. I’m ready to begin this new phase, but it’s bittersweet. Seeing Daisy so happy is making the process much easier.

She sleeps more deeply. Our old building was filled with other dogs whose comings and goings drove Daisy nuts; now she’s the lone ruler of this castle. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think her eyes are brighter and her demeanor more lively. The other day Daisy jauntily danced around me as I boringly put on a pair of socks, apparently out of simple happiness. She even gave my big toe a playful nibble. She never did that in the apartment.

Daisy’s outside now, sunning herself drowsily on the large step into the garage. Her outsized bat-ears twitch slightly as she listens to the sounds of the neighborhood. A few birds fly overhead and she watches them, calmly. She raises her head, closes her eyes and sniffs the breeze.

I can’t stop smiling.

News: Guest Posts
Super Dog Gets Super Break
After fall from bridge, shelter covers costs of stray's surgery

Bonny Kelani the Labrador has a nickname: Super Dog.

She’s a great girl, for sure, but her alternate moniker is a little tongue-in-cheek. Five months ago, she went flying off a highway overpass in Aurora, Colo. A driver on the street below stopped to pick up the wounded pup and took her to a nearby animal hospital. (Nobody saw what happened, but the theory is that she was thrown.)

Bonny’s injuries—including a torn ACL and broken tooth—required surgery. The hospital called the Aurora Animal Shelter and, like many shelters across the country, they took up Bonny’s case. Using money from their donation coffers, the shelter paid for Bonny’s surgeries and began the process of finding the Super Dog a home.

After surgery and months of rehab, Bonny is now happily in a forever home. The shelter is still doing its work, and accepting donations to help pay for surgery and other medical procedures. Read the full story and learn how to donate here.

Many shelters have funds specifically for cases like Bonny’s.