All Dogs Work!

It’s Labor Day! The unofficial close of summer. It’s a day when we honor the workers of America. But since this is a dog blog I like to remember all the dogs in America. Because let’s face it – all dogs work! Now, I’m not talking about only those that are ADA classified assistance dogs or therapy dogs or even emotional support dogs. We all know how important those canine workers are. I’m talking about regular every day dogs that are there for us humans all the time. Dogs like Ms. Victoria in Muncie, Indiana. I’m talking about Miss Dakota in Omaha, Nebraska. And Sargent in San Jose, CA. And Clara Bell in Georgia.

Just think about all the things your dog does for you every day. When you first open your eyes in the morning and see your best friend – Don’t you get a warm and fuzzy feeling? Who better helps you clean the dinner dishes? I know when my plate has left over food Morgan is ready and willing to do his part. And who would you rather take a walk with on a cool fall Sunday afternoon? Or cuddle with on a cold winter eve? You don’t have to give me the answer because, let’s face it, I already know who it is. But you could tell Morgan and me how your pup works to make your life better here below in the comments section.

Morgan and I wish everyone a happy and safe Labor Day this year.

To Love An Older Dog

Morgan will soon be turning 12. We rescued him when he was about one year old. Now his face is turning that whiter, sugary look. I know it well. My first Golden, Nicholas, lived to be nearly 15. His face turned almost completely white.

I’ve often said that there’s nothing more comfortable than an old dog. I still believe it’s true. An older dog is like stepping into your favorite slippers. There’s a deeper kind of love with an older dog. It’s different than when you get a puppy. A puppy is adorable and energetic. The love is lighter. It’s more fun. Every day is a new surprise. With a puppy they roll and jump. They run and slide. With a young dog the trick is to keep him/her from charging ahead too fast.

It’s gentler with a senior dog. You try to coax them along; making sure he or she keeps going. Morgan has always been an active dog. We still make sure to exercise him twice a day. Our vet says, “Keep him moving. Keep the muscles active.” The commercial on TV says, “A body in motion, stays in motion.” One thing I’ve learned about an older dog is that they refuse to do anything they don’t like to do. Kind of like older folks. So I know he likes the walks along the golf course. And out at the beach in the park above the ocean cliff. I treasure these walks as much as I enjoyed the hikes up to the surrounding peaks when we all were younger.

Over the years, patterns have developed. You know each other well. You know what each other likes and needs. Morgan has always enjoyed barking at other dogs.  He would bark at every dog we met. At first we were upset by this. Then we noticed how much he and his BFF, Angel Cody, loved to bark at each other. Their tails up wagging with happiness. We’ve learned to accept this about Morgan.

It goes both ways. Morgan has learned to accept that it takes us forever to get out of the house. When we take Morgan out with us in the car, he refuses to get in until we start the engine. Why? Because he knows that we forget things and go back inside two or three times before we really drive away. He knows us as well as we know him.

Having an older dog is precious time. Share with us a special moment that you’ve had loving an older dog.

My Always Evolving Journey With Food

I would be no more inclined to tell a person how to eat then to tell them what to feed their dog. The best I can do is to show by example.

When I got my first dog, Nicholas, a Golden Retriever, it was a long time ago. I was young and living in San Francisco. I worked downtown and I ate whatever I wanted and whatever was convenient. I didn’t stop to read labels. It didn’t matter how much fiber or sugar was in a product. It didn’t matter what country it came from. I barely looked at the price. I admit, I fed my dog commercial puppy food from the neighborhood supermarket. It’s the same store where I bought my own meat and vegetables. It seemed that both he and I were doing well until I noticed that as he grew he had bouts of dry flaky skin and his fur wasn’t shining no matter how often I brushed it.

When my own health failed me, I moved to Sonoma County for a slower pace. It became vital to my health to start eating better. I ate less meat and bought organic vegetables whenever I could. I learned about alternative therapies and herbs to boost my immune system. While investigating these medical options for myself I decided to take Nicholas to the Forestville Vet Hospital where the doctor practiced a holistic approach. The vet educated me about the common ailments that Goldens get like chronic skin problems. He informed me how commercial brands could be having a negative impact on Nicholas’ health.  I was skeptical at first. But if I was eating healthier food why not try it for him, too. I bought the brand of dog food that the vet suggested. Unbelievably, Nicholas’ skin rashes soon disappeared. His fur seemed to glow. Any extra money I spent on Nicholas’ food I saved on the vet bills and more importantly he seemed happier. Sure sometimes he still got fleas. Occasionally a hot spot flared up but his skin and fur definitely improved. I saw it with my own eyes. Since then I’ve never gone back to commercial brands.

For many years I used this same specialty brand that the holistic vet recommended. I even had it shipped to Boston when I was visiting my family there because I couldn’t find it locally. My father thought I was nuts. But I was aware of the problems that can sometimes develop when switching food. It can happen to humans so why not dogs. Nicholas lived to be 15.

When I moved to Palm Springs with Willy, my second Golden, I could not find a pet shop that carried my brand. I convinced the owner of Bones and Scones, a small local store, to special order it for me. Things worked out fine until one day I noticed the kibbles covered in a white powder. I thought this odd but it smelled normal and Willy still seemed to like it. When I mentioned it to the shop owner she told me to check their webpage immediately. It was then that I discovered that there had been a recall.  It really upset me to learn that a trusted brand had had a recall and I had not heard anything about it. I felt terrible that I had put my best friend at risk.

Having been a customer of Bones and Scones for a few years I trusted the owner and asked for her advice. She told me that she had just returned from visiting a family-owned company in Kentucky and was impressed with what she saw. The ingredients were natural and without any fillers so a dog didn’t have to eat so much to get his/her nourishment. I had my new brand!

I have been loyal to this brand for over ten years now. My current Golden, Morgan, loves it and the senior mix has helped to keep the weight off. On this evolving journey I have now come to believe that food is medicine. Recently, when Morgan and I returned east to visit my family it was great to discover that the local health food store where I bought my own organic vegetables now also carried Morgan’s food. I took that as a sign that we were in good hands.

Another thing that I like about my parents’ neighborhood health food store – they have free organic parking!

All Is True

We recently attended the opening night movie of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, All Is True, directed and staring Kenneth Branagh. The cast also included Judi Dench and Ian McKelllen, all actors that I admire. But the film lacked any of Shakespeare’s cleverness. Afterwards, my partner and I attended the premier party.

We found a table and devoured the delicious food, getting plenty in a doggie bag for Morgan. A short time later, three Latinas sat at the table with us. After the initial greetings my partner asked them if they enjoyed the film. At first I thought they would say they didn’t. Imagine my surprise when each of them said they liked it.  I chimed right in that I thought it was dull and tedious and lacking in any of Shakespeare’s wit.   They responded by saying that they related to Shakespeare’s daughter and what she went through as a woman.

A cold breeze settled upon the table – What more could three Latinas have in common with two older white gay men? – until the Latina sitting closest to me asked me about the dog design on my brown corduroy holiday pants. I responded that they are Golden Retrievers; that I’ve had three of them. She immediately reached for her phone and suddenly I was looking at pictures of her beautiful Golden boy. Now we were best friends. Shortly, the other two women showed their pictures of one’s chihuahua and the other’s Australian shepherd.

Feeling a connection to these fellow dog lovers, my rigid opinion of the film melted away. I realized that they did have a point. Back then women couldn’t be published, so when Shakespeare’s daughter wrote her poems and stories she used her brother’s name. When this fact was revealed to Shakespeare he refused to believe that his daughter was so talented. Now, 400 years later, women are still fighting to be treated equally in the work place.

We left sharing each other’s Facebook pages and wished each other well. We laughed at how our furry friends had given us something meaningful to share in common. Dogs transcend age, gender, race and all the other isms. I think that’s why we humans love them so much. Our dogs don’t judge. Our best friends break down barriers.

All This is True!

Choosing a Name

One of my favorite things to do on FB is looking at all the pictures and videos of our furry companions. I love seeing them in all their different situations. Swimming in the water. Jumping around ready to chase a ball. Rolling on their backs. Lying in bed with the one they own and hanging out with their bros and sisters. I especially love learning all their different names. It made me smile last week when I found two Goldens with birthdays on the 4th, named “Freedom” and “Indie”. I think it’s clear what motivated the names of these two Goldies.

It made me think about how I chose the names for my boys. I called my first Golden, Nicholas.  He joined our home three weeks before Christmas, so I thought of St Nicholas. Then I added Nickelby after the Dickens character, Nicholas Nickelby.

Willy, my second Golden was named after his breeder who had long straggly hair, a lot like Willie Nelson. I dropped the “ie” and made it a “y”. I added the name Shakespeare to make Willy Shakespeare, keeping in tradition of famous English writers.

When our current Golden (Morgan), rescued us, he was named Sparky by the rescue group.  Since I had a neighbor with a dog named Sparky I decided that that wasn’t a good match. Our new boy was rather wild, like a pirate, so we named him after Captain Morgan of the Jamaican rum company. Captain Morgan was basically a pirate who eventually cleaned up his act and was Knighted. Much the way we hoped for with Morgan – a pirate soon to become Golden royalty. We decided to name him Morgan McGillicuddy after McGillicuddy’s Soda Fountain Shop where I grew up in South Boston.

What about you? Tell us how you chose the names of your four-legged family member(s)?

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.

MorganMojaveDeer (2)

 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.

MorganMojaveMagnificent

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.”

MorganOneAntlerSeated

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.