A Politics-Free Vacation

We’re heading out to Grandma’s house on Cape Cod tomorrow. My Dad says, “When you grow up in a large Italian-Irish-Greek working class family there’s a tendency to hold firmly to your views and speak loudly about them.”

That’s what happened last summer when we were visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s house at the beach. I remember several tense moments that I don’t think anyone enjoyed.  So this year we have a new rule. No politics. No Fox News. No CNN. No MSNBC. Not even the BBC. Everyone has promised not to mention the blue states turning red or the red states turning blue.  I’m sure glad my service vest is bright orange.

But even though we’ve decided to make it a politics-free vacation doesn’t mean there won’t be heated discussions. Just ordering pizza can turn into a loud national debate where everyone has very strong opinions. Me and my Dad still think it’s Regina’s in the North End of Boston. But not everyone agrees it’s worth the hour long wait.

And once we’re down the Cape the best place to get fried clams becomes the next Battle of the Titans.  And of course where to get Lobsters Rolls can leave people not speaking to each other for days.

Fortunately, with a large Italian-Irish-Greek family once the food goes into their mouths all grudges are forgotten and political lines dissolve until the next meal. I can’t wait!

Getting Roundup Out of the Parks

Dan and Morgan were recently featured in Bay Woof, 6/1/2016.

Recently we moved into our new apartment in Mission Bay. Our lease stated our amenities included a pet-friendly and eco-friendly environment. A map in the leasing office showed a park that would run along side our building and our new living room window would overlook it. A section of the future Mission Bay park plan was already completed, running along Mission Creek all the way to the Third Street drawbridge. Every day I got up early and took my 8-year-old golden retriever, Morgan, and walked along the creek, crossed over the bridge to the other side, and circled back to our building.

It all seemed ideal until one morning Morgan and I came upon a park maintenance crew spraying something along the water’s edge and on a grassy knoll. I confronted the crew and asked what they were spraying and all they declared was “last resort, last resort.” After some other words were exchanged, the park manager showed up, and we spoke at length. Later she emailed me the guidelines that she was following that allowed her to use Roundup Aquamaster as a last resort to eliminate certain “problematic” weeds.

I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine that San Francisco was still using Roundup in this day and age. I went right to Monsanto’s own website and looked up Aquamaster. Its main ingredient is glyphosate (53.8 percemt). Monsanto refuses to reveal what makes up the remaining 46.2 percent chemicals of this poison.

Monsanto Roundup

According to Monsanto’s website, the warning label on Aquamaster says that if dogs ingest vegetation sprayed with this poison, it can cause gastrointestinal irritation (vomiting, diarrhea, and colic). The label states that a “large amount” of poisoned vegetation must be ingested to cause this reaction.

I am a longtime health-care activist, and so several questions immediately jumped into my mind. First, what does “a large amount” mean? A large amount to a big dog is much different than a large amount to a small dog or an older dog. As a dog owner and dog lover, I find this information disturbing. What happens after several exposures to this chemical? And what happens if the dog’s nose or tongue comes into contact with this chemical?

After further investigation, I was surprised to discover that one of the world’s leading experts of the effects of glyphosate was Caroline Cox, who works in Oakland at the Center for Environmental Health. In an article dated March 23, 2015, she wrote “On Friday, a World Health Organization (WHO) panel of scientists from 11 countries announced their decision to list glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, as a probable human carcinogen. In particular, the panel noted the links between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as a study showing the chemical caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, another showing increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage in people studied after nearby glyphosate spraying, and several recent animal studies showing evidence of carcinogenity.” Following up on the action by WHO, the state of California is currently in the process of listing glyphosate as a known human carcinogen under Proposition 65.

After reading all these disturbing side-effects of glyphosate, I was sickened and outraged that this poison was being sprayed where children and our pets played. I decided I had to do something.

So in December, I attended a public forum held by the Integrated Pest Management for the San Francisco Department of the Environment. It was a public meeting to discuss possible new guidelines for pesticide use in San Francisco parks. I was pleased to find the room crowded with other people equally outraged. I learned that San Francisco has been spraying in all of our parks. I was moved when a woman shared how she believed that her dog had died of oral cancer as a result of Roundup. She described how her dog always had his nose in the Roundup-sprayed grass and, being a ball retriever, he was constantly picking up some of that herbicide on his ball and gettin it into his mouth—the mouth that developed cancer. When I spoke at the meeting, I shared that I regularly walked in the park with my golden retriever and worried about the impact of Roundup on not just my own health and his, but also of the young children who regularly played in the park.

With further investigation I discovered from the San Francisco Forest Alliance webpage that this is not a San Francisco-only problem. The same firm that sprays in San Francisco also sprays in the East Bay parks run by the East Bay Regional Park District.

As a result of the public hearing, the pesticide use guidelines were revised. Previously, Roundup was prohibited on the grounds of schools and playgrounds. Now it is prohibited wherever children frequently play. The harm to pets is not mentioned in the guidelines. But it is easy to deduce for yourself: If it’s a danger to children, it’s a danger to pets and wildlife.

Mission Creek Park is a place where children are often playing. I contacted the management of Mission Bay Parks and asked whether they intend to be compliant to the new guidelines. The interim site manager replied, “To answer your question directly, we are not using Roundup or any similar product.” This news certainly made me happy. However, the problem with the revised guidelines is that for every restriction there remains a loophole, or an exception. Already there are reports of abuse of the new pesticide rules in San Francisco parks. For now, I will enjoy my morning walks in Mission Creek Park with Morgan. But I also plan to remain vigilant to assure that the guidelines continue to be adhered to.

I encourage dog owners and dog lovers to become active in their local park management. Only by speaking up can we protect our four-legged family members. As Tip O’Neil, the former Congressman from Massachusetts and speaker of the house was famous for stating, “All politics is local.”

The Healing Nature of Our Pets

Whenever I’m worried or anxious I have several different ways that I handle it and two of them have always involved my Goldens. Of course walking with my dog has always been a great way for me to think things through.

But the most healing way for me to feel better is to touch my dog. Whether it’s on his head or chest or shoulders. Recently I went to the doctor and had an endoscopy. When I got home I was still a little groggy so I put Morgan up on the bed and climbed in with him. We spent the afternoon resting and eating snacks. I kept him close to me and petted his big head and I found my health worries subsiding. I felt relieved that whatever was upsetting my system would finally be discovered. (The results showed a common upper body bacterial infection and antibiotics would have it gone in 10 days. I’m better now.)

When I first got Morgan he was so wild and crazy it was all I could do to keep him from hurting anyone including himself. I remember standing in front of our first trainer when he told me that Morgan’s aggressive behavior might be a “lifestyle”; one he might never grow out of.  I didn’t know how to respond. I looked down at Morgan and put my hand on his little head and my fears lifted. I knew that he was my dog no matter what and I would do whatever it took for him to have a great life.

Now we’ve been together for over 8 years. I don’t know how I could have faced life’s challenges without him. Morgan has mellowed out. Actually, both of us have mellowed out. I believe there is nothing more therapeutic than rubbing Morgan’s head. I feel sorry for those who don’t have a pet.

So the next time you’re anxious or worried take a few moments with your dog or cat and feel those troubles melt away.

Happy Mother’s Day From Morgan

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.”

MorganDadNana 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. MorganNana

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.

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.