Hiking with your best friend

Dan and Morgan were recently featured in The Desert Sun, 2/22/2016.

This past Sunday morning I took Morgan and his best friend Cody, both Golden Retrievers, on a hike. We started behind Von’s in Palm Springs and headed up the goat trails towards Murray Peak.The rugged outcroppings and steep grades make it a true adventure. This year with the January storms the peaks are capped with snow and are breathtaking. By all the tail wagging I could tell that even the canines could feel the wonder of it all.

However I was surprised to see several hikers that were not carrying water for themselves or their dogs. Hiking in the desert isn’t like hiking in other places where there are streams and rivers and lakes.

Therefore, even on a cool day, you’ve got to bring plenty of water for yourself and Fido. I always bring more than I need. You never know what’s going to happen, how your body is going to respond to the wind, the dryness, a change in temperature and even an accidental spill of the water bottle. You don’t want to be up there without water. I bring a quart of water for myself and one for each of the Goldens. Keep a close eye on your canine companion. He could just as easily get dehydrated. Their thirst usually happens before mine. But I always let them decide whether they’re ready for water or not.

You also need to keep yourself nourished. Make sure it’s not salty. Fruit is good. I like sliced apples. Trail mix is a good alternative. Sometimes I even make an old staple – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And of course, I never forget a treat for the dog. This is a lot of activity for humans and canines as well. I sometimes bring a half of cup of food each for Cody and Morgan and fill their bowls with plenty of water so that they drink too.

It’s important to pack tweezers just in case one of them steps on something. Desert plants have mean thorns and stickers that literally jump out and stick to you as you pass by. And with all the Golden fur it’s easy to happen. You don’t want to pull anything off of them with your bare hands. Some people bring gloves but I’ve found that tweezers are enough.

As a further precaution I bring bandage and gauze. The rocky terrain is slippery and accidents can happen to you or the dog. You don’t want to be up there with anyone’s leg or paw bleeding. Every year there are dramatic rescues of hikers in trouble.

Not to dampen the spirit of adventure, it’s important to know about snakes. Here in the desert we have some venomous ones. There have been incidents where dogs and humans have been bitten by them. Me and the dogs encountered one warming himself in the winter sun on the Lykken Trail. Fortunately they took a snake aversion class and stayed away. There’s a snake aversion class on February 28th at Demuth Park. Contact the VCA animal hospital in Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage for more information.

Happy trails to you and your dog.

A Fearless Thanksgiving

Many of you are familiar with some of the challenges that come when rescuing an animal. When we first picked up Morgan, our Golden, from Golden Retriever Rescue of Los Angeles, he was skin and bones and full of fear. When we brought him home he was afraid of the steps that led up to our apartment. He recoiled away frightened. We finally had to carry him up the staircase to our place. After weeks of patient training, helping him slowly put one paw after another on step after step he finally reached the landing and overcame his fear. Of course, a lot treats helped along the way.

Morgan also seemed to fear us. No matter how much we would sweet talk him he preferred to sleep hidden in the closet at night. Now at bedtime, he jumps up at the foot of the bed and insists on sleeping at our feet taking up all of the room.

In the beginning he was also afraid that we would take his food away.  He even bit me once when I tried to add something to his food while he was eating. Now he lets us move his bowl and wags his tail knowing he can expect something even better than he ever imagined.

Fear can keep us from doing things we really want to do or even keep us from being with those we care about. With Morgan it took patience, training, and love for him to overcome his many fears.

Right now our Nation is gripped by a fear which could prevent us from doing what we love or from being with those we love.  Let’s all make an effort over the Holiday to reach out to those who may be full of fear and treat them with love and compassion. And maybe even offer them a Holiday treat.

And let us all give thanks for the brave Military Men and Women and Dogs who are risking their lives to protect this great Nation and all of the good things that it stands for.   Morgan and I wish you and your families, two and four-footed ones, a Happy Thanksgiving.


My Extended Summer Vacation

I heard Dad say that the weather in Palm Springs has become mild and now he’s getting the suitcases out so I know that we’ll be heading home soon. It’s been quite an amazing few months. It all started back in June when we visited my friend Skyler the Basenji in Santa Barbara. If you can remember the summer before we weren’t able to visit Skyler because he was still injured.  It was a fun way to start our trip. Skyler and I are such great friends. I’ve known him since he was just a puppy.

Closing down a house takes a lot of preparation and packing the truck took a lot of work too. Every year the dads say we aren’t going to take as much stuff but the back of the truck is always filled to the very top. When we arrived in San Francisco it took a couple of weeks to get settled in. There wasn’t much furniture and we had a lot of shopping to do. Some of it was quite basic like getting a couch and a kitchen table. But soon the apartment took shape and it became our home for the summer.

One of the first big surprises was when I met Tuesday, Captain Luis Montalvan’s Golden Retriever, and the star of the book Until Tuesday, at the American Library Association’s conference here in San Francisco. After this my Dad took me to his alma mater, the University of San Francisco and I got to wear a graduation cap. Then there was July Fourth and the crazy get-up that Dad made me wear. I didn’t mind. He seemed to enjoy himself and I was happy to see him laugh. Whenever I do something for Dad he always takes me swimming at the dog beach at Crissy Field. Over the July Fourth holiday we went to Opera in the Ball Park again. This year we watched the Marriage of Fig-ooww-roo. That’s how I like to say it. It was a lot of fun and the singing is always exquisite. And we can walk over as the ball park is just a few blocks away.

It seems we had just settled in when we took off in a plane to Cape Cod. I didn’t mind. I’ll go to Cape Cod any time of the year. It’s like a home away from home. Just three short weeks this visit. But we got to Provincetown again and got our old room right by the bay. We swam every morning and in the early evening. I visited the famous towns of Woods Hole and Falmouth and took a hike with a new friend. It’s always nice to visit with Nana and Grampy. They’re so generous letting us use their Cape House for a whole week with my three nieces and their mom and dad.

When we got back to California we heard that a Golden Retriever had died from green algae in the Russian River. My friend Rocky’s dads weren’t letting him in the water anymore up there so we decided instead to go to Lake Tahoe, a place I’d never been before.  It’s spectacular. That water is so blue and so clear. I loved it.  We stayed in a cabin in the woods and took a hike and a swim each day.

Before we knew it the sun was lower in the sky and summer was over. Dad’s talking about “heading back down to the desert.” Now the suitcases are being packed again and we’ll be heading south this week. Please check out my photos of my summer adventure and let me know you’re favorite shot.

Happy Yankee Doodle Dandy Day

I’m sure by now you all realize how much I enjoy dressing Morgan up to celebrate the holidays and July Fourth is one of my favorites. This is the time I always refer to him as my little Yankee Doodle Dandy. Of course it’s a term of endearment but was I surprised when I did a little research and discovered that at one time in our history it was considered an insult.  (Though I found several different versions of its origins. This is the one I liked most.)


Back in colonial days, before the revolution, New York was a base for the British army. The early settlers of New York were mostly Dutch, which is why New York was originally called New Amsterdam. The British combined two popular Dutch names, Jan and Kees, and pronounced it “Yankees.” It was a derisive name used by the British to refer to the disheveled, ragtag, early colonial soldiers that fought along side the professional, well-trained British army. The British added the word doodle – meaning simpleton in seventeenth century English, and made up a song to further mock these early American colonists.


Yankee Doodle came to town,MorganJuly4th2015CU

Riding on a pony;

Stuck a feather in his hat

And called it macaroni

Yankee Doodle keep it up,

Yankee Doodle Dandy;

Mind the music and the step,

And with the girls be handy.


The word macaroni meant a person of high society. The dig being that the Yankees put a feather in their hats and thought themselves high society. On this Fourth of July, I encourage everyone to hold our flag high, stick a feather in your ball cap and be a proud Yankee Doodle Dandy like Morgan. Have a happy and safe Fourth!


Happy Father’s Day to all Dads

Over the years, I have had a sometimes great relationship and sometimes not so great relationship with my Father. Things are always great between us when I do exactly as he advises and not so great when I don’t take his advice. The same holds true for his relationship with my dogs. My first Golden, Nicholas, was trained and well behaved. He followed voice command with ease. When I visited Massachusetts my father walked him twice a day. “He’s no trouble at,” my father said each time I told him that he didn’t have to do it.

Then came Willy, wild and wonderful Willy, who I didn’t train in any class. Who I practiced lessons with sporadically and half-heartedly. Willy was famous for doing whatever he wanted to do, sometimes just dropping when I tried to get him to do something he didn’t want to do. “He does whatever he wants to do,” my father said exacerbated one night when he came home with my dog. What could I say? It was true. That’s what Willy did. I remember the time when we were on Cape Cod hiking around the neighborhood when we accidently came out to the beach road. Willy thought we were heading to the beach. He drove headstrong toward the water. Not a good assumption on his part. Willy dropped when he realized he was mistaken. I tried to convince him otherwise by telling him that we’d go later but he wouldn’t budge. A crowd of beach goers watched his performance, laughing at the spectacle. I admit I got a bit irritated at his antics at first, but then I laughed too. After all it was my fault. So I faked a give-in and when he rose to head for the ocean I reached down and lifted him up and carried him away to applause. Willy was horrified at being tricked.  Willy was famous for his games. He danced around whenever I called for him. I didn’t mind. I loved him and he brought joy to everyone he met – except my father. For me, Willy could do anything he wanted to until the orange cape was wrapped around him. And he did. He knew the time for his shenanigans was not then. On the plane it was as though he had been trained by an expert for years. At a restaurant, he sat and waited beneath the table. On a train or a boat. Perfect. That’s all that mattered to me regardless of what my father thought. I walked Willy when we visited my parents.

Now there’s Morgan – well-trained Morgan, and once again my father walks my dog twice a day. “He’s so well-behaved,” my father says. “That last dog did whatever he wanted to.” I just smile and shake my head. Dads are dads. They’ll never change and we love them anyway and are grateful to have them in our lives. Morgan and I wish all dads – dog dads and human dads – a Happy Father’s Day.

Educating Morgan

Last week I took Morgan to visit my alma mater, the University of San Francisco. It was a little shocking when I realized that it’s been 35 years since I graduated. It made me think about the importance of my education and the opportunities it opened for me as the first member of my South Boston working class family to graduate from college.

As I took photos of Morgan on campus with my old graduation cap atop his head I also thought about how important it was to train him, as well. As many of you know Morgan was turned into a dog shelter in South Central Los Angeles when he was just one year old. He was my first rescue and was in rough shape – undernourished and untrained, with no social skills. I could feel his rib cage when I first picked him up and put him in the back of the truck. I had no idea what I was getting into.

I had raised my previous Goldens, Nicholas and Willy, from puppyhood and their training was uneventful and fun. But with Morgan it was completely different. Within the first week with Morgan he bit me twice when feeding him. It was a real wakeup call that I needed help. This was definitely not going to be as easy as my first two dogs.  Since Morgan had no training as a puppy he had the social skills of an immature dog in an adult size body. First Morgan had to unlearn his bad habits of barking at every dog that walked by and also trusting that not only would he be fed at a regular time but that there would always be ample food for him.

But this was just the beginning. He also needed to bond to me. He had to constantly be leashed or he would just run off aimlessly. We found the perfect class sponsored by the Palm Springs Kennel Club. The instructor was a no-nonsense ex-cop who had trained police canines.  The drills were rigorous but I could see Morgan improving week to week as the lessons took effect. I know he liked them too because every week he would jump into the passenger seat of my truck afterwards and look over at me with a big grin on his face.  l’ll never forget the night he put his paw on my shoulder as we were driving home. After every class when we pulled into the driveway he would dash inside to the kitchen and await his dinner.

Morgan and I needed to repeat the course three times until he finally passed the obedience test. I was so proud on that graduation day when my boy was presented with an official score card declaring that he had earned his AKC Canine Good Citizen Certificate. (Posted below)

Morgan sends congratulations to all two and four-legged June grads.

Crinkle Crinkle Crinkle in the Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen

I can’t tell you how many times I have tiptoed into the kitchen to get myself a snack without Morgan knowing. If Morgan is in a sound sleep I can usually get the fridge door open, select some goody for myself and make it to the kitchen counter unnoticed.  But no matter how quiet I try to be something gives my covert operation away. Whether it’s a bag of potato chips, a box of chocolate chip cookies, or a package of Swiss cheese, the slightest crinkle sound gets his attention. Even when Morgan is sound asleep on the cool bathroom floor, way in the back of the house, lo and behold there he is, suddenly appearing by the kitchen, manifesting himself out of thin air and staring intently at whatever I have in my hand.

Morgan gives me one of three looks. The first is the stern look on his face as though he knows I was sneaking something on him. Have you ever seen those commercials where the parents are caught sneaking some ice cream or cereal on their kids? The parents squirm and get all uncomfortable trying to explain away the infraction. That’s how I feel. I too get defensive and tell him that he has just eaten an hour ago.  Or that he can’t have chocolate or sugar or whatever Dad probably shouldn’t be eating anyway. The second look is the sad face. This one kills me but I’ve steeled myself against giving in to this masquerade. The hardest look for me to say “No” to is when he has on his sweetest smile. He closes his eyes ever so slightly and looks at me like I’m the best dad in the whole wide world. A dad who would never sneak a treat on his best friend. That’s the one that cuts right through me. I immediately reach up to the top of the fridge where his treats are stored in the red fire hydrant cookie jar and get one of his Trader Joe’s peanut butter biscuits or one of his liver krisps from Bones n Scones, the neighborhood natural Dog Bakery and suddenly all is well again in Morgan’s home.

How far away can your dog hear the crinkle crinkle crinkle from the kitchen kitchen kitchen?

Biscuit Fire Hydrant

My Dogs Love My Mother More Than Me

Everyone knows that there is no love greater than the love a mother has for her child. All of us can relate to this credo because we all have such incredible love for our canines and felines. However, let’s be honest, the relationship between parents and their children can have their ups and downs. But the relationship between my parents and my Goldens has been steady and loving from the moment they met Nicholas, my first Golden, continuing through my life with Willy and now with our rescued Morgan. Even after telling her all about Morgan’s shenanigans and difficult behavioral issues, the first thing my mother said to me when she met Morgan was, “What do you mean? He’s a love.” WillyGrandParents

Nicholas with Mom          Whenever I bring my dogs back east to visit my family, which has been nearly once a year, I have to make sure that they don’t gain too much weight. My mother routinely cooks up treats for them and spoils them like she does her grandkids. It’s amazing how quickly my devoted companions forget about me when I am staying at the homestead.  They follow my Mother around like baby ducks hoping for a morsel of her freshly sliced prosciutto or a piece of her scrumptious Braciole, an Italian delicacy made with flank steak.    It’s as though I don’t even exist.  If she’s at the stove making her chicken cutlets it’s impossible to get them to leave the house for their walk.  I can’t tell you how long I have spent explaining to my Mother that they should only be eating their Fromm’s low calorie Salmon a la Veg for canines. She nods her head and agrees…Of course, I’m sure as soon as I leave the house who knows how many of her famous meatballs they have devoured.  But I know that if there was ever food filled with love it’s my Mother’s cooking.

This Mother’s Day Morgan wishes all of our animal friends bellies full of love and to all Mothers a Happy Golden Sunshine Mother’s Day.

Woolly Morgan or Clean Cut Morgan?

It’s spring time in the desert.  The prickly pears are blooming. The temperature has been unseasonably high. We’ve already hit a hundred once. I’m being forced to make a big decision that I don’t usually make until June.  Should I give Morgan his summer cut early?

I never clipped my dog’s fur before I moved to the desert. It was only after becoming friends with a fellow Golden Dad who clipped his dog that I was convinced to try it. Harley looked younger, seemed cooler and loved all the attention being doted on him.  I decided to give Willy the “Harley Cut.” He loved it for all the same reasons that Harley loved it and I loved it, too. Less hair. Easier to brush. Easier to get the sand and salt off him. Easier to get the stickers off him and any ticks he might have picked up. Then I made the decision to keep the Harley Cut year round for Willy.

Since Morgan was a rescue I changed my approach. He traditionally gets the Harley Cut in June. Since we didn’t have him as a puppy and see his fur grow out I wanted to admire him all woolly. Morgan has beautiful Farrah Faucet fur. All different shades of gold. I just thought he deserved to be handsome after all he’d been through. But with the heat coming on so soon this year I’m thinking of having him clipped earlier. Say this weekend.

Check out the photos below and then tell Morgan which you prefer – Woolly Morgan or Clean Cut Morgan?

Does Your Dog Talk In Their Sleep?

In our home, the last thing we do in the evening is turn on the dishwasher. Eventually, Morgan learned that when the dishwasher door closed we headed to the bedroom. Now he races ahead of us. It’s so sweet.

Of course we let him up on the bed for a while. It’s cozy and we just love having him with us. But as Morgan relaxes he seems to spread out in all directions and our Queen Size bed isn’t big enough for three big bodies. Is there any doubt that we adjust? Then as Morgan falls deeper into sleep he often starts making noises. There’s these little trilling growls, followed by a high pitched yelps and then sometime even barks.

My other dogs did this too. But when we first got Morgan he didn’t make these sounds and I think it was because he wasn’t really home yet. Maybe he wasn’t falling into a deep sleep. I remember the first night when he made noises. It startled me, and I slid down and ran my hand along his head to make sure he was all right. He was. Now he does it on a regular basis. Sometimes he even moves his legs, like he’s running. I’ve heard some people call these moments, nightmares, but that’s not how I interpret them. I think he’s having a wonderful dream about swimming after the ducks on the Russian River or at Craigville Beach on Cape Cod. Or, maybe he’s playing with his best friend Cody. Or picking up a scent while hiking on a trail. It’s endearing and I wait for it. When he does it, I know everything is fine and Morgan is in a deep calm sleep and that we can sleep now, knowing he’s okay.

Many of us with pets are already aware of the kinds of things that scientists are just discovering. You know, things like animal emotions and language. Now there are actually studies coming out of respected places like MIT that prove that dogs and cats do indeed dream. In the scientific community, animals are often thought of as reflex machines, operating by instinct alone. But this view is slowly starting to change, and new information about dreaming in animals is unearthing.

I found this article by Maryann Mott, HealthDay from a USA Today Paw Prints post from 2010, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/lifestyle/pets/2010-06-29-dogs-cats-dream_N.htm

My favorite line from her article is where she quoted Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia who said that one of his heroes, Charles Darwin, “basically claimed if you can prove that an animal dreams, then, in effect, you can prove that’s consciousness. Because after all, what is a dream other than a conscious image?”

Isn’t it wonderful when Science catches up with pet owners? Share what noises your fur babies make when they’re sleeping.