Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Extravaganza and Special Edition Dog News!!!

Happy Halloween from the Den. Levi, Rocky, Erica and even little Chi-Chi all join me in wishing our readers a safe and happy day (and night).

Because my readers are very busy people doing important things, I've received very few pictures of dogs in costumes. Cindy L. of Manteno, IL, was kind enough to share pictures of her three kids, dressed up for a costume parade. That's Snoopy, at the top of the page. Not only does he genuinely look like a convict, but his expression seems to clearly denote that he's guilty of whatever he was charged with. Chances are he was mostly unhappy to be in a costume, but as was determined a few days ago, sometimes, very infrequently, but sometimes, it's all about us, and if dressing dogs up like truckers or ladybugs (Cindy L's Lucy, the trucker, and Sally, the ladybug. Or is she a dinosaur? An elk? Whatever, you just keep going, Cindy L. of Manteno!) tickles your fancy, than you ought to go right ahead and do it. Just not everyday or anything.

The kitty and dog, above, enchanted Christine M. of the Bay area, but, alas, they are not her creations. The Dogman feels, however, that if Christine just tried, she alone could costume half the dogs and cats in San Francisco! That's the Dogman challenge, accept it, if you dare!

Andrea K. of Southern California, sent me some delightful pictures of dogs with pumpkins carved to look like them. These are some great shots, and if anyone knows to whom credit should be attributed, I would love to do so.

And now, this weeks Dog news:

First, what we all want. More excellent pictures of pets in costumes! This guy has quite a page!

Here's a shocker. Pets are sometimes scared by Halloween. I once put a rubber monster mask on at K-Mart, and Karen's Seeing Eye Dog, Lyric, almost jumped out of her skin!

Web MD now gives pet advice. The Dogman prefers to avoid doctors and vets as much as possible, and here's a resource that can help us do that. Of course, but the Dogman and Levi are among the millions of uninsured Americans, but we remain grateful that we can at least get DYI medical care on the Internet. What a country!

Here's a story about how a service dog helps keep a kid with severe peanut allergies from dying! (The dog to the left is meant to be dressed as a peanut. Thematic continuity is all important in the Den.)

Keeping children with peanut allergies alive not enough for you? Check out this article about how dogs and cats help in the fight against breast cancer. And not just by being emotional support to patients, but by finding the damn stuff! Incredible.

Everyone knows about Snuggies, the infernal blanket with sleeves that's all over TV and Walgreen's and single ladies' shoulders. Somehow the creators of this monstrosity felt they hadn't taken enough money from the American people, so now, as many of you have already seen, they have Snuggies for dogs. Unlike a Halloween costume, this isn't cute. It's just sad.

OK, it's a little cute, but I still disapprove.

Using "America's Funniest Home Videos" as the barometer, it has been scientifically determined that dogs are funnier than cats! The Dogman feels that might be the truth, but he's never known a dog top enjoy subtle verbal humor. Dogs think it's funny when someone falls. Cats, on the other hand, virtually all enjoy Oscar Wilde, Tom Stoppard, and, indeed, any cerebral humor involving word play. But not puns. They'll scratch you up if you try a pun.

Here's a hard working dog who got too into his job. I hope worker's comp is available to this drug sniffing dog who OD'd on Meth. That can't be a pretty scene. I sure hope he's going to be alright. It's a shame he wasn't just sniffing for pot, or he'd be fine!

Finally, for those of us whose pets are getting older, the inevitable might be much farther off than we think. Read here about the world's oldest living dog!

Tomorrow, the Dogman will post his first piece of fiction, a short-short story called "The Dog and el Día de los Inocentes. I think it's some of my best work, and I hope you'll read it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Weekly Recap and Message from the Dogman

                                              The Dogman begs:

Read my blog. Please leave me comments, complaints and compliments. I am responsive to feedback.

Pass this blog along. If you like a particular piece, send it, or a link, to a friend. Post it on Facebook. Twitter it. Give it a thumbs up on StumbleUpon. Write your thoughts in the comment section. If you dislike a piece, I'd like to know as much as if you like one.

The blog's look has changed due, in large measure, to reader input. I stopped running random Google ads and switched to Amazon, so I could personally recommend my favorite dog related books and products. I've also added Amazon's Dog Blog, because it seems to nicely complement the den. As always, I remain open to your ideas.

It's Halloween weekend, so please make sure your cats, especially, and your dogs, are indoors or somewhere safe.

Again, thanks for reading, and now, without further ado, the weekly recap!

An article detailing a model breeding program in the tiny town of Abeytas, New Mexico. This is the ancestral home of Levi!

The peculiar relationship between dogs and skunks. Why do dogs seem to like smelling like that? A theory is presented.

Unintentionally, one of the Dogman’s more controversial pieces. A.K. of S. California hated it. V.R. of Madison, WI, loved it. I think it’s…alright. A light hearted look at the three-headed dog who guards the Gates of Hades, and his encounter with deranged Roman emperor, Caligula. An affectionate nod to Monsieur Sartre's great plays, No Exit and Caligula. Read it and voice in with your comments. Warning to sensitive readers: Cerberus, guard of the nether world, spends a good deal of time cleaning his nether regions! Make sure children don’t read it, because they might giggle at the idea of a dog licking himself, and we must discourage that kind of frivolity!

A description of, and rules for, the favorite indoor game for two or more dogs who live with a cat. Read it. Leagues forming soon in your area.

Coming Saturday: Dog News and, hopefully, your pictures of your dogs in Halloween costumes.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dogs in Superman Costumes

My original intent was to use today’s post to get on a soapbox and decry the practice of putting dogs in Halloween costumes. I was going to charge owner’s who did this with cruelty, and point out that they were certainly embarrassing their dogs. As a dogman, one thing I know is dogs hate to be embarrassed. Does the poor guy dressed as a hot dog above look proud?

When writing these posts, I usually turn to the internet to find images to illustrate them, because people these days expect pictures with their words, at least in a blog.

I’m sure I’m violating copyright all kinds of ways, but until I have enough readers to complain, I have no plans on worrying about it. Anyway, it's Fair Use.

I have next to no photos of my dogs (or anything else from 1975-2003, or so), so when I post pictures of a German Shepherd on a piece about Arthur, for example, I’ll usually use images I find of a dog that looks sort of like he did.

Luckily, today, when preparing this entry about how awful it was to make your dog wear a Halloween costume, I searched for the pictures before I wrote the posting. This Google Image search led me to a completely different conclusion than my original.

Everyone should dress up their dog for Halloween. Superman is a classic choice, and classics are such for a reason. Who doesn’t look good in a Superman costume! Batman is a perennial favorite as well.

I don’t want to discourage anyone’s creativity. Dress your dog in whatever costume you can imagine. But dress him for Halloween! And maybe Christmas. Or just to brighten up any boring day.

Please send me any pictures you have of your dog in a costume. My e-mail is My Facebook friends can also post their pictures on my wall.

Would you look at how cute all these guys are?! And this was just from a quick search. Look, this golden is dressed as Cerberus!

And, finally, it wouldn't be Halloween without a "sexy" outfit for the bitches in your house. Though canine sexualization remains a serious problem in this country, we won't solve it by burying our heads in the sand. If your girl proposes leaving the house in this costume, it's time for the two of you to have a long talk, especially about body language and its consequences.

The Scottsdale Dogman eagerly awaits your pictures of costumed dogs. I doubt there are many available of costumed cats, because I can't imagine a self-respecting cat permitting it. But I've been surprised before.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Look Out, Cat!!! ™

Like all of us, dogs will get cabin fever when they’re stuck inside due to inclement weather. Ever resourceful, my first pack of dogs, Lyric, Chelsea and Holden, invented a game for a rainy day, although, really, it only requires that the dogs be in the house. Weather is incidental.

Since my packs have always overlapped, the game has been passed down through the generations in substantially its original form, and is enjoyed to this day by Levi and Rocky. This game has been played regularly by the pack for more than 25 years, which equals 175 dog years, making it a dog tradition as beloved by them as baseball is by us.

The game I speak of is “Look Out, Cat!!! ™”

This is a game for two or more dogs. I have seen single dogs attempting to play “Look Out, Cat!!! ™” and it’s as sad as watching an unpopular child playing a game of Monopoly ™by himself.

“Look Out, Cat!!! ™” is to be played in a house with as many levels and hiding places as possible. It is permissible for the dogs to quietly rearrange cushions, table cloths, or indeed any feature of the playing field as long as this modification is made no later than fifteen minutes before the game is to commence.

The other requirement for “Look Out, Cat!!! ™” is a cat. “Look Out, Cat!!! ™” is NOT a game intended for cats, however, and the cat is not properly to be considered a “player.” The cat will participate actively in each round of “Look Out, Cat!!! ™” but rarely will she consider it a game. This cat must be well integrated into the family pack, so that she has little or no distrust of the participating dogs. Bringing in stray cats to play “Look Out, Cat!!! ™” with your pack is expressly discouraged.

“Look Out, Cat!!! ™” is a game that can be played in single or multiple rounds. The game ends when the dogs can go outside again, or when the cat puts an end to things.

Prior to the start of a round of “Look Out, Cat!!! ™ all players are to be at ease, resting, in positions they have held for no less than 15 minutes. The game is best played when there are humans in the room.

Any player may commence play. This is done by establishing surreptitious eye contact with all other players. Pack status is not a factor in which dog initiates play. Once eye contact is established, the other player (or player to the immediate left of the initiating player, in games involving more than two dogs) has sixty seconds in which to declare, “Look Out, Cat!!!™.

Upon declaration of, “Look Out, Cat!!!™,” all players immediately charge the hopefully unsuspecting cat, baying, as they advance, “Look Out, Cat!!! ™”

If anyone were keeping score, points would be accumulated based on the disorder to the house caused by each round. Chairs knocked over, broken lamps, and glasses spilled, are all worth 20 points. If the kitchen table can be knocked over, this is known as a “Royale ™”, and is worth 100 points. The “Grand Slam ™” occurs when the pack manages to topple a human, and is worth 250 points, or 500 points if the human in question is blind or infirm. Since, however, “Look Out, Cat!!! ™ is a game solely for dogs, it is scoreless and, in large measure, pointless.

At no time in the game “Look Out, Cat!!! ™” may any player make physical contact with the cat. If contact should be made, the player who caused such contact will be declared a “Very Bad Dog ™” and the game will be immediately terminated, and the cat will no longer be responsible for her actions.

If the cat is cornered, the dogs may laugh at her, declaring in unison, “Look Out, Cat!!! ™.” The right of the cat to slap the dogs around in this eventuality is expressly reserved.

After each round of “Look Out, Cat!!! ™” all players return to their original, resting, positions. A resting period of anywhere from 15 minutes to 6 hours occurs between each round, depending upon how suspicious the cat involved might be. is in talks with a production company to begin filming a reality TV show version of “Look Out, Cat!!! ™.” It is anticipated that auditions will be held in major cities across the country, and packs not familiar with these official rules will not be eligible to participate or win prizes.  Please explain them to your dogs.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cerberus Meets Caligula, a play in one scene

Dramatis Personae:

Cerberus - A large and especially vicious looking, three-headed, dog. Each head acts and speaks autonomously. The center head will be referred to as Head 1, the right head as Head 2, and the left head as Head 3.

Caligula – A/K/A Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, 29, Emperor of Rome.

Setting:  The Gates of Hades, the underworld, abode of the dead, January 24, 41 A.D.

(Lights up slowly. Cerberus is alone, at his post, guarding the gates of Hades. Head 1 and Head 2 gaze about intently, on duty. Head 3 is busy licking its crotch furiously. After a moment, Head 2 turns to look reproachfully at Head 3.)

Head 2: Really? You don’t think they’re clean enough already? How long have you been at those things?

Head 3: (speaking between licks) I don’t know. Three minutes, three weeks. I’m a dog. I have trouble conceptualizing time. Plus, we’re here for eternity, so what difference does it make to you?

Head 2: They’re my balls, too, you know. I should have some say in how clean they are.

Head 3: (to Head 1) What do you think?

Head 1: I think our ass itches.

Head 3: I’m on it!

(Head 3 switches the locus of his licking, and somehow manages to increase the intensity of his cleaning efforts.)

Head 2: (to Head 1) Why does he get to do all the fun work? You and me, we stand here guarding the Gate, letting the living pass but keeping the dead at bay…

Head 1: NO! That is exactly wrong! How many times do we have to go over this?

Head 2: I’m sure…

Head 1: You’re not sure of anything, you mongrel! Hey, ass munch!

Head 3: (stopping his licking and chewing for a moment) Yeah?

Head 1: Tell stupid here what our prime directive is.

Head 3: (puzzled at being asked such an elementary question) We guard the gates of Hades, letting the dead pass and preventing the living from getting by.

Head 1: Thank you! Carry on. (Head 3 continues his intense licking.)

Head 2: Isn’t that what I just said?

Head 1: No, idiot, you said the exact opposite! That’s why me and him can never sleep at the same time. Jupiter only knows what you’d do if you were left in charge.

Head 2: (He knows this is true) OK.  (pause) Could I chew on our ass for a while?

Head 1: No! (to Head 3) And you stop, too! (Head 3 stops chewing, looks out intently). Can you smell that?

Head 3: (sniffing, puzzling) What is it? I know that smell, I’ve smelled it before…

Head 2: (sniffing, then confident) It’s a Caesar!

Head 1 and Head 2: (awed) A Caesar!

(Caligula enters. He is a handsome, if strange, man of 29. He wears a toga besmirched with blood stains from a dozen or more stab wounds. He is looking around, amazed, and has not yet seen Cerberus.)

Caligula: (to himself) Those filthy buggers actually stabbed me?! But I live! Ha! Did they not know I am a god as well as an emperor? I cannot die by assassins hands! (He sees Cerberus. He stops his musings, pales.) Hello, doggie. Good doggie.

(Cerberus’ right and left head snarl quietly, but malevolently, at Caligula. Head 1 regards Caligula cooly.)

Head 1: You are a Caesar.

Caligula: (More than a little taken aback) I am Caligula. And you, you’re a talking three-headed doggie.

(All 3 Heads bark, “I am Cerberus” repeatedly, creating a discordant cacophony.)

Caligula: (continued) Yes, yes, Cerberus, of course. I’ve read all about you. Good boy. (ingratiating) Or is it, good boys?

(Head 2 looks pleased at Caligula, who has just praised him. Head 3 continues to snarl quietly. Cerberus’ tail wags uncertainly.)

Head 1: You may pass, and you are most welcome to Hades, Caesar.

Head 2: (happily) I’m a good boy! You can pet me if you want, you know?

Head 3: (quietly furious) Touch him and die!

Caligula: (to Head 3) Oh, no, no, you’re a good boy, too! (Head 3 is somewhat placated). But you say I'll die if I touch him. (Examining the bloody stab wounds in his toga) I don’t understand. I am Caligula! I cannot die. You can no more kill me than those conspirators could. (He laughs) I am a god, and when have you ever seen a dead god? (Head 2 is about to answer, but is silenced by a glare from Head 1)

Head 1: (placating) Yes, yes, you are a god, Caligula. Please, pass.

(Cerberus steps away from the Gate.)

Caligula: Oh no. If I pass through that gate, I will be dead.  Only the dead pass Cerberus.

Head 1: (thinking quickly) We're not Cerberus.

Caligula: You've just been howling that you're Cerberus.

Head 1: We were kidding. I'm covering. Cerberus isn't here right now.

Caligula: You’re Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound who guards the gates of Hades, letting the dead pass and stopping the living.

Head 2: (to Head 1) That’s exactly what I said!

Head 1: You said exactly the opposite! (to Caligula) We’re not Cerberus. Our name is…Bowser…

Caligula: You’re a three-headed talking dog who just happens to be standing by the Gates of Hades and your name is Bowser?

All Heads: Yes, yup, that’s right, Bowser, that’s me.

Caligula: Then where is Cerberus?

Head 1: At the vet. (Head 2 and Head 3 concur.) So go right through, there. Doesn’t mean you’re dead or anything.

Head 3: No, not dead at all, Caesar! You’re a god, like you said, and…

Caligula: Gods can no more pass through the Gates of Hades than can living men!

Head 2: True, unless…(He has no idea what he's going to say)

Caligula: Unless what, Bowser?

Head 1: Unless... there’s going to be a big surprise party…

Head 3: (To Head 1, catching on) Oh, good one, stupid! Now you’ve ruined it!

Caligula: (delighted) A surprise party? For moi?

Head 3: Please don’t tell them we said anything.

Caligula: Who’s here? Who is at my party?!

Head 2: Oh, they’re all here. Mars, Mercury…

Caligula: Drusilla? Is my little sister here? Once we consummated our marriage, I made her a god, too, you know.

Head 1: She’s here.

Caligula: And the horse I made a god, Rusty? He's here too?

Head 1: Drusilla rode him in!

Head 3: Stark naked!

(Excited, Caligula begins to rush through the Gate.)

Head 1: (to the departing Caligula) Act surprised! Don’t say we said anything! (but Caligula is gone)

(Cerberus sits down, drained.)

Head 2: I’m going to dig at our ass for a while, if that’s alright. (He does so)

Head 1: I need a nap. (to Head 3) Make sure you stay awake. You know how he is.

Head 3: I’m on it!

(Cerberus sits at the Gates of Hades. Head 2 determinedly licks their nether regions. Head 1 drifts off to sleep. Head 3 remains vigilant. )

(Slow fade to black.)

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Dogs and (Pole)cats

According to what I could learn during ten hard minutes of internet research, a dog has a sense of smell anywhere between one hundred and one million times greater than that of a human.  Perhaps a few more minutes of research could have narrowed that range a touch, but one of the things I like best about the internet is the vast number of alternative realities it can offer the earnest seeker of truth. In this instance, though, we can ignore the vast disparity between 100 and 1,000,000, if we can all agree that a dog’s sense of smell is way better than ours.

I’ve often read that dogs experience the world through smells much more directly than they do through their other senses.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

How to Breed the Perfect Dog

Levi is the finest example possible of a well bred dog. Note the classic line of his body, the expressive face. He weighs in at 70 pounds, as densely packed as a fireplug, yet he’s compact enough that his body only comes to my knees, with the exception of his head and splendidly carried tail. Observe that noble head, its perfect sense of proportion that completes this masterwork of canine engineering. Man may have bred a finer dog at some time, but I’d have to see it to believe it.

Levi is no recognizable breed, but he certainly looks like he should be.

Nor, however, is he an accident of nature and circumstance, as most mixed-breed dogs are. No, Levi is the byproduct of selective human intervention going back at least ten (dog) generations, perhaps many more.

Usually, with a mutt, you just don’t know what you have. You have a combination of half-dozen or more breeds, and when someone asks, “What kind of dog is that,” the only appropriate answer is, “I have no idea, but had I been present at his conception, I surely would have turned a hose on his parents." I’ve owned and loved a lot of dogs like that; this is not the case with Levi.

Levi is a product of Abeytas, New Mexico, perhaps the finest product ever produced by that tiny hamlet just south of Belen. Abeytas is inhabited primarily, if not totally, by the extended family of my friend, Rick Abeyta. Rick’s an impressive guy.  He built his beautiful house by hand, now takes care of his grandchildren, works as a senior investigator at the public defender’s office, and is just an all around good citizen. Aware of all these virtues, I still maintain that Rick’s finest achievement is the experimental dog breeding program that thrives on ancestral land that has belonged to Rick’s family since some time in the 1600s.

Rick probably won’t like it, but I am prepared to reveal the details of his breeding program, in the hope that his practices will be emulated by animal husbandry enthusiasts across the land, so more dogs like Levi will be born. Recognizing that my tone that could be mistaken for sarcasm, let me assure you that I am completely serious in my praise of Rick, and his family's, highly unconventional breeding program.

Life in rural New Mexico provides unlimited opportunity for unplanned pregnancy of mongrel dogs. Dog generations back, Rick began to select breeding dogs based not on pedigree, but upon good, New Mexico, common sense. If Rover and Lassie (these names are for theoretical purposes only, of course) are both healthy dogs and each possesses the most important characteristic, the litter will have at least some puppies who combine the genetics of the parents into an even more perfect template of what a dog should be. Those puppies are then bred with other dogs that have been created using similar criteria, and, again, in their litters there will be puppies who equal more than the sum of the parts of their already superior parents.

I’ve witnessed Rick’s breeding program for years and have marveled at the results. For many years, Lolita, a relative of Levi’s from several generations back, lived in our pack. She was the most beautiful, jet-black, silky-haired, long-legged, shepherd I’ve ever seen. I say “shepherd” because she had a wolf-like shape, as does Levi. I don’t think anyone could pinpoint what she was really made of, where one “breed” stopped and another began.

I could, and one day will, write about the particulars of Lolita’s personality, but for now please accept that she was the most loving, good humored, spectacular dog that I’ve ever owned, purebred Seeing Eye dogs, and Levi, included. Her one downside was that she could fly. Literally. She could hop over a seven foot fence like I can step over a matchbox. Since we couldn’t keep her in a cage, like a parakeet, she often flew away, only to return when she felt like it. In this sense, only, Lolita was not a perfect dog.

Levi, carrying many of the same genes as Lolita, is a more refined version of his progenitor that irons out some of her kinks, mainly the “being able to fly” stuff. He has Lolita’s exalted looks and, more importantly, her splendid character. Lolita and Levi are the two smartest, kindest, and most thoughtful dogs I’ve ever been lucky enough to spend time with. In future entries in this blog, I’ll make my case for that, but for the time being, just accept it as fact.

To me, Levi looks like the ur-dog, like a dog “should” look, and did look, when their breeding habits were left to what some call "chance," but what is actually natural selection. It is whispered in the streets of Abeytas that there’s a touch of the coyote and the wolf in Rick’s line of dogs. I believe that. Levi and Lolita both have more cunning than ordinary dogs, more endurance, and, most indefinably, more pure and wild animal wisdom. Furthermore, the only dogs I've ever owned who required non-routine veterinary care have been the purebred Seeing Eye dogs. Levi and Lolita have never seen a vet for any reason besides vaccinations and a yearly once-over.

In a sense Rick is breeding backward, moving ever further from the pedigree. But the purebred dog, as we know it, is a relatively modern innovation, and what Rick breeds is something far purer than any such animal.
Purebred dogs aren’t natural. It’s been my experience that they are far more prone to disorders necessitating expensive veterinarian care than are mongrels. Given that my main experience with purebred dogs has been with Seeing Eye dogs, which might be the most carefully and scientifically bred dogs in history, I can’t doubt for a moment the proposition that the genetic diversity of mixed breeds makes them healthier and more vigorous than purebreds. All of my experience confirms this. I love purebreds, but I’m much happier with a genuine dog.

Rick is restoring the dog to its more ancient glory, to a time when man and dog had a symbiotic, and, to my mind, more vitally meaningful, relationship, to the time New Mexico was harsh and unforgiving, when both men and dogs had harder, wilder, lives than we do. Levi has that spark of the ancient in his eyes, that selfsame aura that permeates the mountains and forests and canyons of the Land of Enchantment. Though unofficial, Levi is the State Dog of New Mexico, and I’m more proud of him than I could be of any purebred that won Best of Show at Westminster, because, to my mind, Levi is Best if Species.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday Dog News Special Edition

The Saturday wrap up of Dog, Cat and Pet news from across the land!
(stories of animal abuse ARE NOT included here)

Who wouldn’t give mouth-to-muzzle to their dog?! I’d give mine my kidney!

Is there anything dogs can’t do? I appreciate them sniffing out these nasty buggers.

Penzoil goes in a car’s engine. Cats should usually be in a carrier.

 Tax Deduction Sought for US Pet Owners! Yeah, the Dogman could get behind this.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Recap

After completing his first full week of blogging, the Dogman reports:

From the Den of the Dogman has had 579 hits as of this posting.

The vast majority of the Den’s visitors have been from the United States, but readers from Italy, Mexico, Great Britain and Canada have also been welcomed to the Den.

The Den of the Dogman seems inordinately popular in Sweden. I wish I could report this was just due to the natural discernment of Swedes, but it's more likely because my friend Jeff lives there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rocky's Way

Say hello to Rocky.

Rocky is cute, but he might be the dumbest dog ever born. That doesn't matter, though, because, lack of brains aside, Rocky always tries really hard, whatever he may be doing, and he always shows a lot of character, consistently and proactively. It might not be the best character 100% of the time, but it's front and center. So while it's true that in a dog I.Q. test Rocky would be lucky to hit the low double digits, he perfectly illustrates the maxim (and if it's not already a maxim, I'm declaring it one now) that when you try hard, and you have a lot of character (of whatever nature), intelligence is largely beside the point.

Rocky is my mom’s dog, which makes him, legally speaking, my brother. Levi is my dog, so he is Rocky’s nephew, though they’re both the same age, eight. My thirteen year old cat, Erica, is Rocky’s niece, and my mother is known as “Grandma” to Levi and Erica, and as “Mom” to Rocky and Chi-Chi, the Chihuahua, who I will write about some other day. I assure you this sounds far more confusing than it actually is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Praise of Coyotes

If it’s true that every dog has its day, then let today, October 21st, be the day of the coyote.

I know there are a lot of coyote haters out there, but a lot of those haters really have no inborn dislike of the coyote. They were turned into haters because their cat or dog was turned into dinner.

I understand their feelings because over the years several of my pets have come to that same end. Each time this has happened it left the whole pack - dogs, cats and humans – mourning, as death inevitably will. But it isn’t the coyote’s fault, and as much as these wild canines may worry those of us with cats, or small dogs, or unattended babies, (if a dingo can eat your baby, a coyote can, too. Australia's feral canines got nothing on America's!) they should at the same time inspire us to admiration, and from there, to respect.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Let Us Sit Upon the Ground and Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

Arthur was Karen’s third, and final, Seeing Eye dog, coming to us in early 1999. He was a German shepherd and was coming in to replace Vinnie, the black lab, who was retiring due to advancing age and chronic silliness.

If Vinnie was more concerned with comfort and culinary misdeeds than his job, Arthur was, to put it mildly, a reminder of what the other end of the guide dog spectrum was like.

Like Karen’s first dog, Lyric, Arthur was a long-haired shepherd. But while Lyric had been the runt of her litter, Arthur apparently came out of the birth canal an alpha dog, and never looked back.

When Karen was training with Arthur at the Seeing Eye, the reports I got were very different than those I’d received about Lyric and Vinnie during their training periods. Lyric hated Karen, Vinnie loved everyone, and Arthur, well, Arthur was essentially perfect. He accepted Karen instantly as his new mistress, and from the first day of training rarely, if ever, made even the slightest mistake.

There were a few problems unrelated to their work.

Arthur didn’t seem to like the other dogs at the school, and this could be seen in his attitude. He would become visibly impatient when he and Karen had to wait for the rest of the class to catch up with them, as if he were thinking, “What is the matter with those guys? I trained with them. They know how to do it. Why won’t they work right?”

At the Seeing Eye the students and trainers all eat at round tables for five or six, to simulate a restaurant, and the students keep their dogs under the table, out of sight. On several occasions, Arthur started a fight with another guide dog under the table, for reasons unknown to Karen, but seemingly quite clear to Arthur. Since he was the biggest dog in the class, as well as the smartest, the fights were very quick, ending with the other dog, unhurt, but as submissive as a puppy. Naturally this behavior was a little worrisome to Karen, and to the Seeing Eye, but in reality, situations where five large dogs are crammed under one small table are pretty rare, and the school felt Karen was a strong enough guide dog user to control any potential problems he might exhibit.

She was, generally, although when she and Arthur first came into our house, where Vinnie and four other dogs already lived, he immediately set the ground rules according to Arthur. Vinnie was so delighted to see Mom after her three week absence that he ran to her to throw himself into her arms and kiss her. Arthur couldn’t have mistaken Vinnie’s approach for aggression, but he nonetheless brought the ten year old lab down in a flash of fur and teeth. We were horrified and tended to Vinnie, who was completely unhurt but terrified and baffled. What had happened? Arthur watched our solicitousness towards Vinnie without a flicker of regret. He nicely met the other dogs and cats, and, a couple hours later, he approached Vinnie and did what he could to make up. It was as if he was saying, “Hey, nothing personal, man, it’s just that there’s a new alpha in town!” Vinnie, who couldn’t hold a grudge, accepted the apology, and his new role in the pack, with cheerful equanimity.

To watch Arthur and Karen work was to see a miracle. There’s always something magical about watching a good human-guide dog team, but Arthur was like nothing I’d ever seen before. He was fast, and precise. None of her dogs would have let her stumble over a curb; Arthur wouldn’t let Karen hit a crack in the sidewalk. He guided her around overhanging branches without breaking stride. When they crossed the street, Arthur made eye contact with the idling cars at the intersection, both, I suspect, to make sure the drivers saw them, and also to communicate to the drivers exactly what would happen to them if they broke their idle and attempted to move before he and Karen had crossed.

At home, Arthur became a pretty nice guy. No more fight or displays of dominance were necessary. He was King, and it was good to be King. He enjoyed playing with balls or Frisbees, and was a pretty normal, if intense, kind of dog, never displaying the kind of neurosis that tortured Lyric through her life. He was a good dog, a world-class Seeing Eye dog, leader of a pack of six, and at peace with the world.

Within nine months of Arthur arriving, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. The first component of her treatment was a modified radical mastectomy of her left breast. Because you work a Seeing Eye dog with your left arm, the surgery crippled Karen from being able to work Arthur. Well before she was healed from that she began chemotherapy, and between the chemo sickness and the surgical pain, she found that she could no longer work a dog. On days she felt well enough to try, she’d put Arthur’s harness on him, and he’d stand there, refusing to move. He could sense her lack of confidence and comfort, and if his teammate couldn’t work, well, then, neither could he. The Seeing Eye sent a trainer out to work with them, but, in Karen’s condition, nothing could be done. If and when she recovered, retraining work would begin.

Around this time, Arthur’s life began to focus on his daily trips to the park and his Frisbee game. He became as dedicated a Frisbee dog as he’d been a Seeing Eye dog. He had no interest in other dogs at the park, unless he thought they might want to steal his Frisbee, and then he’d chase them off and bark at them until he was secure his treasure was indeed his.

The Frisbee became Arthur’s life. He slept with it, carried it around, offered it to you, or teased you with it, on a constant basis. He had unbounded enthusiasm for the Frisbee. Playing catch itself became secondary. Holding the Frisbee, guarding the Frisbee, I suppose, in a sense, working for the Frisbee, became Arthur’s life.

In January, 2002, Karen and I were living in New Mexico with Arthur, Levi, who was just a puppy, and Erica. Karen’s pain from the mastectomy never abated, and she never worked Arthur again. She’d take him when she went out, but she’d hold my arm and Arthur had no decisions to make. His work as a guide dog had come to an end, and he was beginning a second career of his own choosing, that of a deranged, obsessed, Keeper of the Frisbee.

On the morning of January 18, 2002, I was in the living room with Levi, while Karen was in bed, sleeping, with Erica. Arthur was outside somewhere with the Frisbee. At sometime around 10:00 AM, Erica came running out of the bedroom terrified, as if she’d seen a ghost. Maybe she had. Karen had died.
I went into the bedroom with Levi to check on her. She wasn’t breathing and had no pulse, but she wasn’t cold. Levi sniffed her, startled. He jumped on the bed and examined her face, carefully, without licking her. He didn’t howl, and I didn’t see tears, but Levi was crying, his puppy-heart broken.

I called Arthur into the house. He was carrying his Frisbee, and wanted me to please covet it. I took him into the bedroom, where his mistress had just died. He looked at her, sniffed her, and then turned to me. At this terrible moment there was only one thing on his mind. He wanted to go outside and play with his Frisbee.

When the paramedics came to take Karen’s body away, Levi and Erica were hiding. Arthur was making friends, seeing if one of these nice men wanted to play with his flying disc, please. Despite my grief, I was acutely embarrassed that my wife’s Seeing Eye dog was acting so indifferently to her death in front of strangers.

Erica, Levi and I all took a while to process Karen’s death. We clung closer to each other. Levi didn’t eat for days. Erica would never come in the bedroom again. Arthur, happily, had his Frisbee, and that was all he needed.

Arthur was a magnificent dog, handsome, strong, and brilliant. He’d been born to be a Seeing Eye dog, and his entire life was a build-up to that important job. Then, less than a year after he began working, he was laid off, permanently. His incredible energy and concentration were no longer focused, and his deterioration was fast and heartbreaking. He had been born a King, with his future assured, living in the world of humans, leading his mistress, and being a universally beloved and admired dog. Now he was a half-crazed German shepherd with but a single thought in his expansive brain: Look at my Frisbee! It wasn’t just Karen who was dead. The King was dead, too.

Arthur lived five more years faithfully serving his Frisbee. At age eight, he developed metastatic bone cancer. Though he was limping, we played a last game of catch, and I made him a steak. Then, full, tired from our game, and long deposed from his throne, we drove to the vet, with the Frisbee. He lay down, and I lay down next to him, my arms around his chest. When I told him how much I loved him, he looked up from his Frisbee and into my eyes. He gave me a single sweet kiss on my lips. I told the vet we were ready, and the needle slid in. Arthur’s eyes opened wide for a second, he inhaled, and then he put his great head down and went off, to find Karen waiting for him at Rainbow Bridge. I'm sure that when they met in heaven, she had the grace to throw his Frisbee for him, first thing.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands
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Pictures of Arthur not available. Pictures provided for illustrative purposes only.