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What Else Is In That Supplement?
Dog fed blue green algae supplement develops liver problem, report finds

A new report by researchers at U.C. Davis points to the need for oversight of nutrition supplements. The pills and powders fed to pets to boost their health come with no assurance of getting what you pay for—or more than you bargained for, like toxic contaminants.

In this case, a tainted organic algae powder was damaging the liver of an 11 year old Pug, who lost her appetite and was lethargic after several weeks use. The authors say it’s the first documented case of blue-green algae poisoning in a dog caused by a dietary supplement. (Most reports of illness involve dogs exposed to water containing certain blue-green algae toxins.)

Blue green algae supplements are sometimes fed to dogs to relieve arthritis or boost the immune system.

Many consumers believe these products can only be sold if they are safe for use, the authors say. “Unfortunately, the opposite has been demonstrated in several studies showing the contamination of blue-green algae supplements with microcystins.”

With the use of commercial health products on the rise, the risk is growing. While supplements are regulated by the FDA, there are no requirements for proving them safe or effective before marketing. That is, the industry “is largely self-regulated,” the report says.

Toxic blue-green algae blooms occur in Oregon’s Klamath Lake, where supplement manufacturers harvest much of their source material. In 1997, the state became the first to regulate the amount of mycrocystins allowed in supplements.

Adrienne Bautista, the lead researcher on the current report, says in an email that the tests may not catch every problem. The tests many companies use to certify their products are below the 1 ppb Oregon limit are often ELISAs, Bautista says, which mainly detect “the LR congener of microcystin.” But there are more than 100 other congeners likely to have similar modes of action that the tests are “quite poor” at finding. So even if the supplement tests below the 1ppb for this common toxin, others may still be present.

What could lower the risk from these particular supplements is to produce the algae in a lab-like setting, Bautista says. “By harvesting it naturally, you have no control over contamination from other algae.” 

The researchers call for stronger oversight of dietary supplements for companion animals, and greater awareness among veterinarians.

With treatment and by stopping the supplement, the Pug made a full recovery.

 

Pet Summer Safety Guide
Every Dog Needs Love

The call initially came in of loose dogs at a rural address. I pulled up half an hour later and was surprised to find a large number of dogs barking at me from behind a secure fence. They looked like maybe beagle, corgi, fox terrier type mixes and my rough count was about 10-15 dogs. None of them matched the description of the stray dogs and the fence seemed secure but there were other issues here.

I knocked on the door and a man answered who seemed pale and weak. He apologized for his condition and explained that he was undergoing treatment for a serious illness. He had started out with just a couple of dogs and they had puppies. More litters were born and he just didn’t know what to do with them and was too sick to really spend much time on it. The dogs looked healthy and had a spacious yard, food, water and shelter but this rampant breeding just couldn’t continue.

After further questioning I found a variety of challenges including finances and his health. After consulting with shelter staff it was agreed that he would sign over several dogs a week until he was down to his legal limit of four. We would also spay and neuter the remaining dogs for him at very low cost. We would even pick them up and drop them off after surgery as he was too sick to drive. On that day he signed over 4 darling puppies of about 8 weeks of age. As I carried the puppies to my truck I smiled at how cute they were. They would be easy to rehome.

I was surprised to see one of the puppies still in the kennels the following week. He was adorable little morsel of white and black spots with a waggy tail and a happy smile. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t up for adoption yet. His siblings had been adopted immediately. A quick check of his records showed a major heart murmur. A 6/6 is as bad as it gets. He would have a greatly shortened life span and could die suddenly at any time or go into heart failure at an early age. It was a huge dilemma. Who wants to adopt a puppy that could die before his first birthday?

The puppy saw a cardiology specialist who thought that surgery could potentially increase his lifespan significantly but at great cost and it couldn’t even be done until he was more mature. What to do? How do you find someone willing to take on such a monumental uncertainty and expense?

The decision was made to put the puppy, who was later named Max, up for adoption with full disclosure and see what happened. I took Max out to the play yard whenever I could and I could feel his heart though his chest wall when I carried him. It wasn’t anything resembling a heartbeat, more of a strange fluttering movement. It made me sad but when I looked into his big brown eyes and smiling mouth I was reminded of what is so great about dogs. Dogs live in the moment. Max doesn’t care about what may or may not happen in the future. He’s full of love and joy and all he cares about is that I’m rubbing his tummy or tossing a toy for him. There’s so much to be learned from dogs.

I loved spending time with Max but I kept thinking “he’s gonna break someone’s heart.” But the more I thought about it, the more I was reminded that they all break our hearts. And they’re worth it, for however long or short we have them. 

I was thrilled a few days later to hear that Max had been adopted and his adopters are absolutely willing to do surgery or whatever is needed to give him the best life possible. I called his adopter, Laurie, and thanked her for adopting him. I asked her why she chose to take on such a difficult project and she had the perfect answer. She said, “Because he needs love just like everyone else.”

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon (and Dog Lover)
National Portrait Gallery exhibit reminds us why we love her
Featured in the exhibition Portraits of an Icon is a photograph of Audrey Hepburn and an unidentified dog by Bert Handy, 1950 (left).

A riveting photographic exhibition, Portraits of an Icon, recently opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery illustrates the life of actress and fashion maven Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). This exhibit features photographs from Hepburn's early years in London as a dancer to her later years as an impassioned philanthropist. From the museum’s description:

“A selection of more than seventy images defines Hepburn’s iconography, including classic and rarely seen prints from photographers such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Terry O’Neill, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn. Alongside these, an array of vintage magazine covers, film stills, and extraordinary archival material complete her captivating story.”

Hepburn is revered for her performances in a string of films produced in ’50s and ’60s including: Gigi, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, My Fair Lady and Funny Face (my personal favorite). Along with her acting and humanitarian work with UNICEF, Hepburn was also an avid animal lover. Dogs were an important part of her family for much of her life. Her dog, Mr. Famous, is one of her best known companions. He traveled with the actress to film locations and photo shoots, and even had a cameo in 1957’s Funny Face. It was a common sight to see Hepburn and her beloved Yorkie bicycling around studio lots during breaks in filming.

The camera loved Hepburn’s natural beauty and inimitable style. The best images on display in Portraits of an Icon radiate an inner quality seldom captured on film. Like the subject herself, the portraits display a wide range, showing Hepburn as a young ballerina, Hollywood actress, fashion model, humanitarian. For those fortunate to attend the exhibit, they will find more reasons to fall in love with Audrey Hepburn (and her canine co-pilots).

Portraits of an Icon appears at the National Portrait Gallery in London through October 18, 2015. For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.

Clean Carpet Pet Stains Naturally

This simple 3-step method for cleaning carpet pet stains uses only natural, eco-friendly products that most people have in their pantry or cupboards and works just as well as any store bought stain remover that uses chemicals to eliminate pet stains.

Why is all­-natural important?
Because the less we use manufactured cleaners on our floors, the less we expose our beloved pets to any harmful chemicals. They’re much closer to the floor than we are and any harsh chemicals will affect them much more than they will for us humans.

So next time your puppy leaves a bit of a mess for you right in the middle of your living room, give this pet friendly cleaning method a shot and let us how well it worked for you.

Bonus: This method also actually works well for mild stains like spaghetti sauce and cleans and deodorizes without leaving any residue.

Materials You’ll Need

  • Paper Towels or Towels (paper towels seem to work best)
  • Equal parts Vinegar & Water
  • Baking Soda (…and Time for the baking soda to absorb any smell)
  • Vacuum

Step 1: Blot, Don’t Rub

Use a paper towel to blot the stain dry.

Rubbing the stain with paper towel only serves to spread the stain more, so unless you plan on rearranging your furniture to cover that stain, pat the stain with a paper towel.

Replace the paper towel if it’s no longer soaking up the urine.

Keep patting the stain until the spot is fairly dry.

Step 2: Apply The Vinegar

In a bucket, water bottle, or spray bottle, mix together a solution of 50% water and 50% vinegar. Soak the area with this water/vinegar solution.

This does two things: it helps to cut through the stain if it’s being especially stubborn and re­-wets the stain so you can make sure that all the pet urine is lifted off the carpet. The vinegar neutralizes the ammonia in the urine, helping to neutralize the smell.

Now is the time to indulge your inner scrubbing beast. Scrub hard to make sure you get deep into the fibres below the carpet’s surface to remove any lingering pet urine.

(For particularly bad smells or stains on your carpet, use a 100% vinegar solution)

Step 3: Pour Some Baking Soda Then Wait

While the spot is still wet, apply baking soda and little the mix of vinegar and baking soda. Right away you’ll see and hear it fizzing and cackling as it starts to work at lifting the stain and smell from the carpet. It helps to rub in the baking soda with your hands or a brush to get it deep down into the carpet fibres.

Leave the baking soda on the carpet until it’s completely dry. This might take a day or two, or it could just be overnight, depending on how much of the water/vinegar solution you put.

Once it’s completely dry, vacuum the baking soda from the carpet and voila, your carpet is as good as new.

Does Hollywood Affect a Dog Breed's Popularity?

A Belgian Malinois named Jagger plays the title role in the recently released movie, Max. As the story goes, the canine character Max has served in Afghanistan, and is returned to the United States after his Marine handler/partner is killed in action. Max, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, becomes part of a coming of age story for the killed Marine’s younger brother.

Max is pegged to be a summer blockbuster, although the reviews I’ve read have been mixed. Regardless of its popularity Max will undoubtedly create an, “I must have a Belgian Malinois phenomenon.” Any time Hollywood unleashes a new dog movie, a “breed du jour” is created. This phenomenon appears to be an ingrained cultural dynamic, no different than other fads gleaned from the movies such as clothing fashions, hairstyles and even baby names.

Scientific evidence

Three researchers from the University of Bristol, the City University of New York, and Western Carolina University recently conducted a study titled, “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice.” They looked at 87 movies released between 1927 and 2004, all of which featured dogs. By evaluating American Kennel Club (AKC) registration trends, the researchers confirmed that movies do indeed have a lasting impact on breed popularity, in some cases, for up to ten years.

The duration and intensity of the rise in breed popularity was shown to correlate with the movie’s success, particularly during its opening weekend. The researchers found that the top ten movies were associated with changes in AKC registration trends such that approximately 800,000 more dogs were registered in the ten years after movie release than would have been expected from pre-release trends. Lassie Come Home was associated with a 40 percent increase in Collie registrations during the two years following its release in 1943. The Shaggy Dog, released in 1959, produced a 100-fold increase in Old English Sheepdog registrations.

Concerns within the Belgian Malinois community

In response to the release of Max, Judy Hagen, President of the American Belgian Malinois Club (ABMC) stated, “We are very concerned that the public will see this movie and recognize the intelligence, athleticism and beauty of the Belgian Malinois, but not realize that the dogs currently being featured in movies and television are the result of years of intense training. Living with a Malinois requires a commitment to daily training and exercise. Without this they will find their own activities that will make your life a nightmare of dangerous and destructive behaviors.”

Another ABMC member, Melinda Wichmann stated, “Dedicated Malinois owners joke that Malinois are not just a dog, they’re a lifestyle. Unless you are ready to be a firm leader 24/7/365, Malinois will assume that you are an idiot and that they are in charge.”

The Belgian Malinois rescue community is already bracing for the predicted influx of dogs. Taylor Updike Haywood, Midwest Coordinator for American Belgian Malinois Rescue, reported, “It’s already starting here. People are calling and asking to adopt the Air Jordan of dogs.” It so happens that a movie trailer for Max uses the phrase “Air Jordan of dogs” to describe the breed.

The likely increase in the number of Malinois relinquished to rescue organizations is a valid concern. An impulse purchase of a Malinois without consideration of the breed’s temperament and all that is necessary to successfully train and care for one is bound to produce an unhappy ending. Additionally, unethical breeders taking advantage of the movie-generated demand for Malinois will produce pups without consideration paid to creating good health and temperaments. Yet one more ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

Max and me

I confess to having mixed feelings about seeing Max. I would love to watch it because three of the scenes in this movie were filmed in my very own backyard, DuPont State Recreational Forest. As tempting as this is, there will be no Max for me. I will resist for the following reasons:

  • I’m a major wimp when it comes to seeing animals or young children suffer, even when I know there will be a happy ending.
  • I get tweaked when animal-related things such as their behaviors are inaccurately portrayed in the movies. And, this seems inevitable in Hollywood productions. Don’t even get me started about how veterinarians or scenes of veterinary care are cinematically depicted.
  • Most importantly, I don’t want to contribute to the box office success of Max. The fewer tickets sold, hopefully the fewer impulse purchases of Belgian Malinois.

Impulse adoptions

Purchasing a particular breed of dog based on a reaction to a movie is ill advised. Such an impulse adoption foregoes the important research and preparation necessary to ensure that the dog breed will be a good fit. Think about it, how likely will a Belgian Malinois, the canine king of police and military work, be a suitable pet for the average family?

I encourage you to share this article with the Max moviegoers you know. Together, we can discourage as many of them as possible from thinking they need a Belgian Malinois of their very own.

Of all of the dog movies you’ve seen, which one is your favorite?

For people on the street, pets provide companionship and protection

Homelessness is an ongoing issue around the world. In the U.S. it is estimated that 3.5 million people are homeless. The number of homeless with pets is estimated to be in the 5-25 percent range depending on the area of the country. Pets of the Homeless was instrumental in bringing the issue to the forefront as evident by the number of other agencies that are now taking a proactive step to help.

Most people do not realize that over 76 percent of homeless have a physical disability, a developmental disability, have HIV/AIDS or have a mental illness and/or a substance abuse problem. The rest are just down on their luck. The cycle to get out of homelessness is very difficult.

When faced with the possibility of homelessness, many have to decide if they will start this journey with their pet or give it up. The only thing they may have left is the unconditional love the pet offers and companionship when no one else will interact. The pet is nonjudgmental and often provides protection. The problems homeless with pets face can be insurmountable: most homeless shelters won’t allow pets; it’s hard to get and store pet food; and there are limited resources for veterinary care. 

In 2006, I saw a need and developed a system in which people could donate pet food without having to interact with homeless people who had pets. Pet businesses could be socially responsible and help by becoming a collection site. The donations of pet food are delivered to a local food bank and distributed to low income and homeless with pets. 

The nonprofit evolved to keep up with the needs of these pets. Today Pets of the Homeless offers not only pet food, but emergency veterinary care, wellness clinics and sleeping crates to homeless shelters. With limited funds, we initiated a program to vaccinate and spay/neuter healthy pets that were not seen at wellness clinics or altered during emergency care treatments.

Every day we receive calls from homeless that have a pet that is in trouble and they do not have the resources to take their suffering pet to a hospital. “Littles” was having tummy troubles. Her homeless owner thought she might have ingested rocks. The veterinarian performed an exams and an x-ray. The x-ray did not show anything foreign. Littles was given special food to help recover. Many other success stories can be found on Pets of the Homeless website.

Though not all 400 collection sites report the pounds of donations, Pets of the Homeless has recorded over 355 tons of pet food and supplies have gone to food banks and other agencies. The fair market value of these donations is over $1.4 million. We have spent over $276,000 on veterinary care, pet food and crates. Over 12,000 pets have been treated. During 2014, Pets of the Homeless served over 290 pets for emergency care. 19 of them required a repeat visit to the hospital. Wellness clinics saw and vaccinated over 1,200 pets and we paid for 45 spay/neuters. All expenses were paid with donations from individuals, companies, matching grants and funds from private foundations.  

This year there has been a drop in the number of collection sites – likely due to the number of businesses closing their doors. 

This year our goals include recruiting more collection sites in every state and in cities that have the largest homeless populations and camps; increase pet food donations (no pet should go hungry); increase awareness of the human-pet bond; provide services that support and honor that relationship for the homeless pet owner; support the positive emotional and physical influences pets provide their owners; cultivate fundraising; increase our grant requests; and bring responsiveness to homeless shelters about the Pets of the Homeless Crate Program. We ship sleeping crates to homeless shelters so pets of the homeless can sleep comfortably and safely next to their owners. This is an important first step to help the homeless get the services they require to end their homelessness and begin a new life with their companion pets. Fundraising is the primary source of revenue for our programs.

For more information visit: www.petsofthehomeless.org

Keeping Dogs Safe and Happy This Fourth of July

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, I wanted to share some important tips to help dog owners keep their furry friends happy and healthy during this patriotic (yet loud) holiday!

Fireworks are fun. Scared dogs are not. Here are some tips so both you and your pup will have a sparkling and safe July Fourth:

Shelter Loud Noises: While fireworks may be entertaining and dazzling to us, for most dogs, the loud noises generated from large-scale firework displays to home lit bottle rockets can create anxiety and fear. Some common reactions to look for in your dog include: shaking, stress panting, putting their tail between their legs, bolting, hiding, and howling. To help relieve this anxiousness, owners can try to:

  • Use a sound machine to block the noise from outside.
  • Put your dog in a Thundershirt. They are proven to reduce anxiety and stress in dogs. The shirt provides a gentle, constant pressure on your dog, similar to swaddling an infant. It’s a safe way to make them feel secure and can be reused in many different situations.
  • Place your dog in a room with the windows closed to block outside noise.
  • Also, it should go without saying that you should never fire up fireworks around your dog. If you have kids (or adults) who like playing with fireworks at home, make sure your dog is far away from the action and noise.

Mind the Exits: When hosting parties, or even when taking your dog with you to a party, always make sure exits and entrances are closed (doors, gates, fences, etc.). Dogs may wander out or if they are spooked, will bolt out any available exits. Some dogs have been known to even jump through windows when they are frightened. As always, make sure your dog is tagged in the event he or she finds a way to escape.

Comfort in the Chaos: Provide your dog with a favorite “spot” for them to go to at any time. Dogs like to be in the mix, but sometimes they don’t know where to be or know how to participate if a party gets too crowded. It’s nice to have a cozy spot for your dog to retreat to when they are over stimulated or tired, but can still see what’s going on so that they feel like they are part of the action. Dogs generally don’t like being locked up in a backroom, but for those that are more sensitive, placing them in a quiet room alone may be the best or only option.

Food Control: Make sure you have a no human food policy. Your dog will likely linger around and beg for scraps while you are cooking or while your guests are enjoying their meals. Most BBQ and other summertime favorites have too much sugar and fat and are made with ingredients that are harmful to dogs (like garlic, onions, grapes and chocolate). It’s best to tell guests not to feed the dog, and try to follow the rule yourself - no matter how big they make those puppy eyes!

Follow these tips to keep your pup safe during the summer festivities.

Beagle: Free to Good Home
Man posts Craigslist ad rehoming his girlfriend

Several days ago a man posted a Craigslist ad that seemed to be offering a free Beagle to a good home. In the post he explains that his girlfriend wants to get rid of the dog. He proceeds to describe his Beagle pup saying "I have had her 4 years. She likes to play games. Not totally trained. Has long hair so she's a little high maintenance, especially the nails, but she loves having them done." However, by the end of the post we learn that he is in fact rehoming his girlfriend and keeping his dog!

As the ad went viral he updated the post saying it was all a joke and that in reality he's a pitbull owner and his girlfriend loves his dog. He ended his post encouraging one simple message—that adoption is a life long commitment, not just while convienent. It's great that he is using his viral fame to continue to push his message and promote pet adoption.

Way to go, dude!

The Imaginary Dog Awards
Take a bow, or a bone, whatever works

You won’t find the Imaginary Dog Awards among your television listings. You won’t find them in the plethora of awards shows that grace every channel, celebrating the sensibilities of shallowness like salt in the cracks of an evaporated pond. (Do I sound bitter?) The Imaginary Dog Awards are a fiction created by my dogs, or so I’ve come to believe. I’d include myself as a co-creator if I didn’t accept their uncanny canine power over me. My dogs have saved me from bitterness, and in return, they’ve acquired a guy who can open a can of dog food with the best of them.

I do know a little something about real awards shows. For the last 40 years or so, I’ve been one of the four members of a reputedly avant-garde comedy group called The Firesign Theatre. We’ve made a whole lot of records and CDs and a few video and film projects, and have done stage shows as well. In the process, we’ve been nominated three times for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. And we’ve lost each and every time. It’s pathetic. We’ve rented limos and been to cocktail parties. (We even appeared on TV one memorable year—Jerry Seinfeld was nominated with us, and so the powers-that-be thought it worthwhile to put our award on the tube.) But each time, we’ve lost. We’ve lost to Weird Al. We’ve lost to Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks and George Carlin. Lost like goats.

I’ve driven that lonely limo called “Just-Glad-to-Be-Nominated,” and believe me, the little shreds of my stillborn acceptance speeches still rattle around my pitiful brain. It’s positively embarrassing. I’d love to have risen from my seat, fist punching the air as the TV cameras rolled, loved to have kissed the Blonde Bombshell and trotted up on stage with my partners to babble and be cut short by an orchestra eager to go home, but it didn’t happen and—because of dogs—I’m not bitter, or so it turns out.

Over the years, the Bombshell (her actual name is Oona) and I have adjusted to the inevitable. If we are not to be award-winners, we can at the very least become award–givers. The awards we give out are called the Imaginary Dog Awards. Our life is all about dogs, after all. And our imaginations. And the dogs’ eerie control over our imaginations. Let me explain.

It’s been said by responsible scientific types that dogs just might be entirely responsible for human civilization, that our complex web of social life would have been impossible were it not for the domestication of wolves, that without wolves raising the alarm and protecting humans and helping them hunt, humans wouldn’t have had the time to construct civilization. This is a perfectly plausible theory, but it’s large-scale and long-term, like evolution. My theory is short-term, but weirdly logical.

I have come to believe (I hope I’m not imagining this) that dogs are somehow able to control human imagination in order to get us to give them more dog food. (My dogs love dog food more than anything in life, and I’ll bet yours aren’t far behind.) The fact that I make up stories about them, ascribe to them human-like characteristics, have names for them, talk to them constantly, write about them ... it’s all their doing. They’re controlling me, not the other way around. Ostensibly, it’s human imagination at work, but I’m suspicious—it creates a fantasy that results in dogs getting more dog food, at least in the case of our awards.

Whatever their origin, the Imaginary Dog Awards are fun. Oona and I have been campers for all our life together. Years ago, we thought we’d cleverly instituted a family tradition: On the last night of any camping trip, we’d have an awards ceremony and present our many dogs with some awards. Over the past 35 years, we’ve had usually five or six dogs at a time, so you can imagine the number of awards that have been given out. Plus, we usually manage two or three major camping trips a year—most often in the Eastern Sierra or the Sonoran Desert of Arizona or, more recently, the Pacific Northwest, particularly on the beaches thereof.

At this point, your intelligence begins to kick in. Face the facts, Your Intelligence says, even though dogs don’t actually care about the Dog Awards; don’t understand that you give them names; only care about dog food, other dogs and sleep, in that order—still, you and Oona are people who enjoy talking to your dogs, and about them, as though they’re both human and care what you’re saying.

You’re right, I say, it’s really just us two humans entertaining one another, of course. But the more we do it, the more the whole fabric of our imaginary dog conversations takes on the spooky feel of reality. Ignoring the obvious is a big part of dog ownership, to be sure.

Your Intelligence then points out that, since dogs have a unique ability to make humans feel better about anything and everything, why not give them awards for this, if nothing else? Well, yeah, I say, and Your Intelligence quickly and politely mentions that Oona and I could easily have thought up the awards all by ourselves.

We’re certainly a big part of things. Indeed, if you watch enough TV, you’ll notice that many shows feature a certain amount of carousing, and we do try to fit that in. No matter where we are, no matter how unshaven (me), how peaceful (her), how uneager to return to what passes for Life, we manage to squirrel away a bottle of Champagne to crack open around the campfire on the last night in camp. We drink out of those big plastic container-cups with covered tops. Big Gulp Champagne, we call it, and it’s become an Imaginary Dog Awards favorite.

We’ll save something special—french fries, in the most recent instance—and watch the stars pick up where they left off the night before, she and I in our camp chairs, the dogs lying underfoot. Oona will have her current journal open in her lap and we’ll look up at the night and contemplate Orion or Cassiopeia or Arcturus rising and think about the weeks of camping. Then comes the drinking of Champagne and the handing out of awards. She’ll write down the winners and make watercolor sketches of the event. Our policy is that no dog goes without an award, even the (semi-coveted) Worst Camper Award.

Over the years, amid the humdrum acceptance speeches for the more pedestrian awards (Best Camper, Best Sleeper, etc.) some great moments stand out: That memorable night in the desert, beneath the dead-black saguaros, under a crescent moon, when Bodie, our biggest and best Australian Cattle Dog, pulled down the one-time I Bit the Ranger award, after a playful nip to the sleeve of Ranger Steve (who’s since become a friend, even dropping by our camp at the end of his shifts to see his dear friend Bodie).

We’ll never forget Porter the Pup winning the Avoiding the Cat on a Leash award. Then there was the weeping, star-struck night when Noodle, our Unknown Breed, was given the It’s Only a Fatty Tumor award after a trip to the vet to examine some mysterious lumps. Waddel the Red Heeler got big laughs as he accepted the Open Pit Mine award for his fine work under the picnic table, and there was Wigeon, the sainted matriarch of Cattle Dogs, winning the Take Me to a Motel award (also known as the I Hate the Desert award).

But the really outstanding moment was a double award nailed down by General Douglas McBugeye, who, while in the High Sierra, won not only the Most Improved Camper award, but followed up almost immediately with the Worst Camper award. The applause was deafening. Fries flew over the heads of the crowd, spinning in the klieg lights. (I handle the kliegs—those little waterproof flashlights work really well—and toss the carbs.)

Here’s to all the nominees. They reach high and grab their fried trophies, and they roll over and sleep, on their backs, four feet straight up, under the stars. Much better than me and the Bombshell—losing at the Grammys, riding home in the back seat of our limo … but—wait a minute—having spent the rest of the evening four feet away from the best Bluegrass musicians in the world playing just for us at one of the many wonderful intimate post-Grammy parties you get to attend whether you win or lose, finishing off the Champagne as the city lights spread below us like ... yeah, wait a minute indeed, let me rethink this. It doesn’t sound bad at all. In fact, we’ve always had a very good time once the Bad News was announced.

Comedy is nothing if not about imagination, and if the Grammys—or even the Dog Awards—were to give out an award for Best Imaginer, I’d probably have a chance at it. And if my theories are correct, I’d trot up on stage after getting on tiptoes to kiss the Bombshell (she’s very beautiful, but considerably taller than I am) and elbow whoever’s up there out of the spotlight to grab the microphone and thank all my dogs, past and present. They got me there, I’d be nothing without them, etc., etc. And I’d be right. The current crop would be waiting out in the limo, asleep and dreaming, presumably, about dog food and how you’d imagine something called the Imaginary Grammy Awards in order to get more. Oona and I would wave goodbye to Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss and collapse into the limo clutching our statuette, and pull out the Big Gulps and pop the Champagne and tell the nice driver to go slow and get up into the hills so we could hold hands and watch the city lights spread out below.

Ah, imagination. Ah, dog food.