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.

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.