All Dogs Are Working Dogs

Dan and Morgan were featured in Bay Woof, 7/1/2015.

Dogs serve humans in so many ways. We are all aware of the usual things that our canine companions do for us. They comfort us and keep us company through good times and hard times. But on occasion there are extraordinary circumstances where dogs come through. You may have recently read about a King Shepard up in British Columbia, named Sako who protected the survivor of a car crash.  Sako kept his owner warm, preventing life-threatening shock from the injuries and kept coyotes at bay.

In my own life dogs have been invaluable. Back in the mid-nineties I experienced ongoing sinus infections as a result of HIV. The infections spread to my ear canals. During these episodic health crises I literally became deaf. I couldn’t hear the familiar hum of the refrigerator or the sound of the birds in the garden. I could no longer talk on the phone to friends or hear the knock of someone at the door. It became dangerous to walk Nicholas, my first Golden, around the hill for his exercise. I remember the day I was shaken when a car behind me suddenly sped by treacherously close to us. I had seen Nicholas turn his head, but had not given it any thought. From that time on, I learned to watch Nicholas for his every movement. He became my own private radar-system. He monitored the area around me. He’d let me know of approaches. Now, when walking on the road, if he turned and looked in a certain direction, I knew something was there. I became even more in tune with him, noticing the slight shift of his ears, the squint of his eyes and the speed of his walk.

In the evenings when it became very dark and I was unable to hear anything I became frightened. Several times I imagined that I heard voices and noises in the yard. I would get up and check to make sure the doors and windows were locked. At first I was afraid to shut the lights off at bedtime and slept with them on, with Nicholas in bed with me. I prefer it very dark when I sleep so I didn’t sleep soundly in the beginning. Eventually, I learned to trust Nicholas’s behavior and became more at ease. If he didn’t seem disturbed, I knew it was my paranoia and finally I felt safe enough to shut the lights off again.

One day while I was in the upper garden, Nicholas came to my side and sat staring at me intently. “What do you want?” I asked him, like you might a young child. I turned and to my surprise I saw a friend standing below at our front door. Eventually it dawned on me that he did this behavior whenever someone came to the house. He came to get me when the phone rang. If I was out in the yard and a car parked in front of the house he’d hunt me down. Without any training, Nicholas became my first assistance dog, whether or not he had an official badge or an orange vest. During this era, I had so many infections that my ear drums were permanently damaged with little hope of repair. So even when HIV meds arrived and my T-cell count and general health improved, my hearing did not benefit. I am still classified as hearing-impaired.

When Willy, my second Golden, quickly took over this job from Nicholas I got him officially tagged as a hearing assistance dog from the Sonoma County Animal Control. With this license I was able to take him into restaurants and even on the plane. It changed my life.

Once Willy even saved my house from burning down when I wasn’t paying attention to the eggs frying on the stove. Being a writer I spend a lot of time at my computer and often lose track of time. Willy came into the bedroom where I was working and nudged my leg. I knew immediately that something was amiss in the kitchen. Sure enough flames were shooting up from the stove. I quickly grabbed the handle of the pan and carried it through the back porch and out into the yard. With the disaster over and the kitchen still smoky, I went back to my computer but suddenly Willy was by my side again. This time I saw flames in the back porch. Apparently grease sparks had flown out of the pan and into a bucket of cleaning rags and set them on fire.  I dragged the table the bucket sat on out into the yard. This time there was actually damage to the house. The porch windows were cracked and the white ceiling was stained black. I put a big sign on the stove reminding me to never leave it while I was cooking.  I took a few minutes to thank my house-saving companion.

My newest hearing dog is Morgan. Although I have given him no opportunity to save the house and I’ve overcome my paranoia of the dark, I am still dependent on the turn of his head on our daily walks, his beckoning when someone is at the door and most of all for his wide grin that greets me when I first open my eyes in the morning.

Morgan the Magnificent

While on our early morning hike today we spotted the elusive, rare, single-antlered Mojave Reindeer. He was perched on a cliff high on the mountain.

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 We crept – quietly and softly – up the trail and around the boulders. We inched closer, ever fearful of frightening off this shy, magnificent creature. It has been decades since the last sighting of the endangered single-antlered Mojave Reindeer. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, single-antlered Mojave Reindeer have rebounded throughout the Santa Rosa Mountains that divide the desert from the Coastal Plains. But they remain shy and recluse.

We wondered how close we would be allowed to get before he became nervous. We moved slowly. The animal peered left and then right as a flock of crows squawked nearby. He was unbothered by the cawing.  His sight remained on the flock of California Quail in the brush below.

As the morning mist lifted, the creature came into clearer view. His antler was on the right side which indicated a male. On females, the antlers are on the left. From the size of the antler the creature must have been 4 or 5 years old. They’re known to live for ten or twelve years. His fur was gold colored and radiated in the morning sun.


We inched our way closer. The animal seemed unconcerned by our presence. He must have known that we donated regularly to Greenpeace, Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation Society, Audubon, Humane Society, ASPCA, Sierra Club and the Palm Springs Animal Shelter- to name just a few.

Despite his regal-ness, the animal had a perpetual smile on his face and seemed unabashed by his odd evolutionary departure from his Northern two-antlered reindeer ancestors. We named him “Morgan the Magnificent.”


As he basked on the cliffs in the dry warm southern desert it was obvious that Morgan had no intention of ever migrating back to his former frigid home in LapLandia.

Morgan and the Kennedys

As a young boy growing up in Irish-Catholic South Boston, President Kennedy was a hero of mine. He represented a new generation and tried to bring the country together in turbulent times such as now. Besides the Peace Corp, one of his most successful achievements was creating the Cape Cod National Seashore. As you know Morgan and I love Cape Cod and we want to share our tribute to President Kennedy who loved “The Cape” as much as we do.

Here you can read the story of how the Cape Cod National Seashore was established.

And the Oscar goes to….Morgan!

When I joined Facebook (FB) a few years back it was to build an audience for my book, Rescued by Goldens (RBG). Since FB is photo driven Morgan became the face of RBG. He became the star from the get go. He was a natural, always ready with a huge smile. And though we might have to do a few retakes to get the picture right, Morgan had patience (more patience than Dad). It always makes me laugh when Morgan finally walks or runs away and we know that he’s finished.

Then I was told in order for me to get my book out to the public I needed to create a website and start writing a blog. Writing is something I’ve been doing for many years. It comes easier to me because it is very solitary and quiet. When the blog goes out nobody sees me. I am hidden behind the words and the images of Morgan.

In today’s publishing world a writer such as myself has to do the writing and the marketing. So every now and then I meet with social media consultants about the book. Just to make sure I’m doing things right. The last time we met they strongly recommended that I start posting videos on YouTube. It’s something that publishers want to see. They want to know how I would perform in public, for instance, at book signing and PR events.

Initially, I was terrified at the idea of being in front of a camera. I can’t even stand looking at myself in the mirror. My disease has taken its toll on my body… Maybe I’m being vain, but it’s really hard for me to see myself in pictures. But seeing myself in a video was more than I could bear. Not only would I worry about how I looked, BUT how I sounded!  I don’t even like to talk on the phone.

The premier video was a solo performance of Morgan cooling off in front of a fan.

Finally I mustered the courage and appeared with Morgan in front of the “Dancing Fountain” at The Grove in LA. I choked and could barely speak. All l I could do was grab Morgan and kiss him, telling him that I love him.

I’d heard about the challenges of working with a major star. Like Morgan! I’d also read about how a really good actor brings up the performance of all of the actors around them when shooting a scene. I now know first hand how true this is.

Morgan makes it all OK. Having Morgan near me calms my nerves. Being able to touch his head while I talk allows me to relax and smile.  I honestly remember what to say easier when he’s standing next to me or when I have him between my legs. He’s my comfort dog of a different kind.

I’m happy to announce that Rescued by Goldens has a YouTube channel. Thank you Morgan for being my best friend and co-star. I couldn’t do it without you next to me!

To Hell and Back

Life can change on a dime. Last Saturday evening we went out for dinner with some friends to a seafood restaurant. It’s a place we always take Morgan and bring his food along.  As we ate our dinner I wondered why Morgan wasn’t sitting next to me looking up hoping a French fry or chunk of Cod would fall into his mouth. When we got home he was lethargic and seemed depressed. By bed time he was drooling and it was clear to me that he wasn’t well.

I called the emergency vet, thirty miles away, but the doctor was unavailable to answer my questions and the volunteer said it would be at least a four hour wait for non-emergencies. At this point it was 11 pm and Morgan didn’t seem like an emergency so I decided I could wait until morning when things always seemed better. Needless to say I didn’t sleep much. Throughout the night I listened for his snoring and several times got up to check on him.

The situation remained the same on Sunday. He just laid around the house. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He didn’t eat, which is highly unusual for him. He wouldn’t even take a Zuke’s organic oat and berry treat. He did drink his water though and I decided I would give it one more day for him to snap out of it. I thought maybe he had a dog flu.

On Monday morning I took him to my vet as soon as they opened at 8 am. X-rays showed a large mass inside his mouth near his throat. When I touched underneath his jaw I felt a large rock. Life is fragile. More so for our canine friends and once you’ve had a 4-legged family member cross the bridge that experience stays with you. At least It does for me.  I found it suddenly difficult to breathe and remembered the deer in the headlights look he gave me when I rubbed under his throat Saturday night. But I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

Since X-rays only show a mass but not what it is, we treated him with antibiotics, hoping it was an infection.  Throughout the next two days I watched for any sign to determine which direction the situation was heading.  He seemed to eat again and I thought things were getting better. But then he stopped drinking and I was sure things were getting worse. The antibiotics weren’t making the rock get any smaller. But not much time had passed even if it seemed an eternity to me. The next vet appointment was for Wednesday afternoon.

Tuesday, James left for work in San Francisco and wasn’t returning until Friday. Morgan and I were on our own.  I knew it would be a long and lonely few days but I had to be strong for Morgan. No matter what, he needed me to be there for him. My emotional distraught had to wait.

Tuesday evening Morgan stopped eating and drinking. Around 11 pm things got weird.  We were just about to go to bed for the night when I noticed Morgan’s tongue sticking out sideways.  Morgan’s tongue sticking out of his mouth from the side isn’t by itself unusual for him. When we first got Morgan his tongue routinely stuck out the side of his mouth. But that was because he was anxiety ridden. It took us some time to settle him down into our home and you all know what a joyful smile our boy Morgan has.

But this was different. This was Exorcist-sideways. I didn’t know what to do. I had never seen anything like this before. His tongue was firm and dry and sideways. Morgan continued to eat his food but now it kept falling out of his mouth. At this point I wasn’t so much troubled about this. Two days before the incident started the vet had told me he needed to lose a few pounds for his legs. I knew we could deal with this food issue later. I worried more about keeping him hydrated. I put a bowl of his water next to him. It seemed he wanted to drink but he just put his head down in the bowl and stopped. Like he didn’t know what to do.  I actually thought he might have had a stroke.

I’ve had a lot of experience with end of life moments and knew that water helped keep people (and pets) comfortable. I used a syringe to squirt water into Morgan’s throat. He didn’t like it at first, neither did I, but he let me do it. His tongue moistened and looked better. But it was still sideways. I lifted him off the bed and he went right for his bowl but he couldn’t get his tongue to lift out the water.

Suddenly, he turned and headed for the front door. Maybe he had to go, I thought. But instead he made a bee line for the giant fountain that we have in the yard. I lifted him up and he plopped his paws down into the basin and stuck his head into the flowing fountain and drank and drank. I exhaled! I knew that we would make it through the night. I knew then that I could keep him hydrated till the morning.

The relief was only momentary. He may have drank that night but the next morning the rock in his throat remained unchanged. His tongue still stuck out sideways. I was really only keeping him comfortable.  It was clear that the antibiotics were not working and that it had to be cancer.

I began to make arrangements. I couldn’t go through this alone. I told Cody’s Dad, Leo, and he agreed to drive me to the vet If I needed it. We’d both been through this before. I phoned James and we agreed Morgan couldn’t suffer. James decided to come home a day early.  I texted Rocky’s dads. They had been there for me before. They knew Angel Nicholas and Angel Willy. They reminded me that the most important thing for Morgan was love. I texted my brother who would inform my mother when it happened. Just like he did twice previously. And I contacted my friend Felix who also knew all my Goldens.

I don’t know whether it was fatigue that brought up these emotions. Or a hard-cold look at the facts. But I felt shell shocked. How could this have happened so suddenly. I had just bought our ticket to the East Coast to hang out on Cape Cod. We’d gone on four hikes in the last ten days. Now I was planning his death. My composure began to break. I even put some of Morgan’s toys in a box to give away. I didn’t want to do this afterwards. I knew that I couldn’t prolong Morgan’s time with me for my sake. I would have to find a way to get through it.

That afternoon I went to the vet to make plans to keep Morgan comfortable until James could get home. I was hoping Dr. Carter would come to the house to help us when we said good-bye. Above all else I had to be there for Morgan. I couldn’t get weepy-eyed and out of control.  Dr. Carter took one look at my face and asked, “What happened?”  I pointed to Morgan’s tongue. He turned to his nurse and ordered him to bring Morgan to the back immediately. “I need to sedate him. Is that ok?”

“Of course,” I replied. “Whatever you have to do.” Dr. Carter did the surgery on Morgan’s second leg years ago. He takes good care of our boy. Shortly afterwards I was called to join them in the operating room. He wanted me to see Morgan’s mouth. It looked like Morgan had two tongues.

“This isn’t a tumor,” our vet said.

He asked if he could use a syringe and draw out whatever was inside the lump. Again, I agreed. Blood and pus filled the tube.

“This isn’t cancer. This is an infection. I think he’s going to get through this.”

I exhaled deeper. I felt tears running uncontrollably down my cheek. Later, when Dr. Carter came out to talk to me in the waiting room he said he thought Morgan had swallowed a scorpion.

“A scorpion!” I exclaimed, shaking my head. To myself I thought, we worry about sharks in the water on Cape Cod. We watch for snakes and coyotes on the trails.  And he goes and eats a scorpion!

I texted my friends to let them know the crisis had passed. By ten that night he was eating and drinking on his own. Sleep felt good. After a few days Morgan’s smile returned. He had a spring to his walk again. It’ll be a few more days, and another checkup, before we‘re out on the trails again. I hear Cody is really missing his friend. Our pets live for such a short time. Don’t miss a moment to love them.