Monday, November 14, 2011

Chinese Alternative to Dog Walking

In our Shanghai neighborhood near Tonji University, I saw few dogs being walked compared to the number of people on the streets. I saw some strays, and also little dogs that sat eerily quiet beside vendors at their businesses. But I came across a charming alternative to dog walking—walking birds.

A small park a few blocks from our apartment had beautiful trees, a stream, and stone sculptures. Hundreds of Chinese showed up every morning to exercise. Groups included women dancing with beautiful fans, people who thumped acupuncture spots on their bodies, tai chi practitioners (I joined that group), walkers moving along at a brisk pace, and even people doing a version of ballroom dancing.
About 6 am, men carrying birds in cages arrived. The cages were small, with beautiful blue covers on them. Most of the birds were robin size and a breed I can't identify, but some were canaries and finches. Each cage had a set of small, beautiful China jars—one for water, one for food.

The men hung the cages on trees and pulled back the covers. One day I said ni hao to one of the robin-size birds and he replied with a beautiful song. Others took it up, and it was noisy and wonderful.

That's how it was. At various times, birds would burst into song, making the park an even lovelier place. While the birds had their version of a get-together, the bird owners, older gentlemen, sat and visited, smoked, or played mahjong.
About 8 am, the men would begin to remove cages from trees, and take the birds home.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Prestige for Mixed Breeds

Bear, a Newfoundweiler

Newspapers and the Internet carry ads for cockapoos and labradoodles and Yorkie Poos. Breeders have come up with names that include the heritage of both mother and father dogs, tempting the rest of us to come up with official-sounding titles for our mixed breeds.

When people ask me what breed Shakespeare is (German shepherd/Malamute) I say he's a Germamute. My daughter Mary calls her Newfie/Rotweiler a Newfoundweiler and her Lab/Mastiff a Mastador. Combo names are shorter, require less explanation, and sound slightly official, not like the accidents of breeding they may have been.

We can envision a bunch of new combo breeds. The Golden Poo (Poodle/Golden Retriever), Doberrier (Doberman/terrier), Schnauz-tzu (obvious), Boximo (Boxer/Eskimo), Basnation (Bassett/Dalmation), and Pekinman (a Doberman/Pekinese mating may be unlikely). I know three Border collie/Pyrenees mixes (Bordernees) and a Chihuahua/pug (ChiHUApug). A St. Bernard/retriever might be a Saintreiver, and a chow/pit bull a chowbull. An Irish Wolfhound bred to an English sheep dog would be a beautiful large dog, but what to call it? An Eirenglishwolfsheep?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Help for Onyx, Just in Time for Christmas

I was wishing only yesterday that I would hear of a heartwarming dog story to post for Christmas.

A long time ago when I was a young reporter, I got to cover a story about a cat who made it home for Christmas. The cat had disappeared as the family got ready to leave a summer cottage in Michigan and return to Indiana. Family members searched everywhere, but couldn't find the cat, and finally, feeling sad, had to leave.

Almost four months later, a few days before Christmas, the family opened the door and an emaciated stray cat sat there. The family had no idea who it was, starved and matted, with pads on its feet worn away. The cat entered the room, went to the sofa, jumped up on it, and lay down to sleep.

The mom thought to check behind the cat's ear for a scar. The family's cat had had a surgery years before, and sure enough, the gaunt cat was their own lost one.

They could scarcely believe it. The cat would have had to cross two rivers and three interstate highways (the dad showed me a map), not to mention a host of other busy roads. They couldn't figure out how the cat, who rode to the cottage in a car, could figure out a way home on foot. But there she was. It was a great story to listen to and write up.

Today, an email arrived from a friend, along with a poster he'd created for the Humane Society, asking for help for an injured pug. No heartwarming Christmas story here. Onyx has a broken pelvis and two crippled back legs, and needs extensive surgery. My friend said rescuers dug buckshot out of the dog's rear end. Those who want to contribute to Onyx's surgery can mail checks to HSUV-Box 51021, Idaho Falls, 83405, and write on them "Second Chance Onyx."

Every pug I've known has been adorable and funny. (This isn't the real Onyx pictured here.) It's hard to think of someone mistreating one. I had un-Christmas-like thoughts about the dog's abuser, and almost hated to pass along the poster to my dog-lovin' friends because it's so difficult to hear of these things.

On the other hand, Onyx is safe now. And people will make sure that his life from now on is filled with kindness.

So there's a heartwarming, Christmas aspect, after all. Big-hearted individuals and organizations stand ready to help dogs in need.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weibel, Earth Angel

Karen, from Colorado, believes she and her husband Darrel wouldn't be doing half so well without Weibel, a pup they adopted from a shelter. The couple has medical challenges, and Weibel, they believe, is their earth angel.

The couple found the six-month-old pup at a foster home they visited. They intended to get a female, but Weibel, who had been rescued from a kill shelter in Kansas, walked up to Darrel, jumped into his lap, and sat down. It was obvious he'd declared himself their new dog. Because Schnauzers are German, Karen gave the dog her German ancestors family name.

Darrel has recent health struggles brought on by a minor surgery that went wrong. His new limitations include giving up driving. Weibel seems to know Darrel needs encouragement, and when Darrel looks Weibel in the eye and tells him what a good boy he is, and how nicely he played with dogs at the dog park, the pup begins to jabber as if he is telling his side of the story. Karen said she could hardly believe this interaction the first time she saw it, but it has become common.

Though Weibel has bonded strongly with Darrel, Karen, who for years has struggled with Lupus and fibromyalgia, has a positive connection with the dog, too. When she speaks to him, he listens. Sometimes she discusses with him, in an affectionate way, certain behaviors and why they must change. Weibel pays close attention to her words, then climbs into Karen's lap to cuddle.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dog Pessimists

I've thought “dog” and “happy” were synonymous. My dogs show a range of emotions from in a good mood, to insane with joy. Dogs think the simplest things—a dish of water, the same old food day after day, a leash appearing from the closet—are reasons for rejoicing.

But science knows how to blow up our cherished beliefs. British researchers have recently reported that some dogs, like humans, are pessimists. Those dogs look at life as a bowl half or even completely empty.

The researchers placed bowls in two rooms. One bowl contained food, while another was empty. After the dogs understood that bowls could sometimes be empty and sometimes full, they began to place bowls in other locations. Dogs that quickly raced to the new locations were optimistic, researchers thought, and those that didn't were judged to be pessimistic. Half the dogs made the pessimist category.

The researchers also observed that the pessimistic dogs were more apt to act out when left alone. So fear may have been a part of their reaction.

The study involved only 24 dogs, who lived in shelters. That half of shelter dogs behaved as optimists may say something about the stubborn hopefulness of canines. Maybe the scientists should try again, using more dogs and ones who live in families. Only, the researchers might find themselves overwhelmed by bouncing, licking, tail-waggers.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Memory of Mac

When Mac, short for Macintosh, was a year old, he achieved some fame when his person, Jana, posted a story titled “The Welcome” on a Border collie site. Told from the dog's point of view, the story described Mac's reaction to Jana arriving home. Jana nailed it for dog lovers, who saw their own dogs in Mac's insane joy at his person's return.

The story spread to other Internet sites, attributed to anonymous, but Jana's friends tried to correct that and give her credit. (To read it, scroll halfway down at

Jana also wrote stories for the Carolina Border collie rescue organization, about dogs available for adoption and their histories.

Jana and Mac linked up when he was eight weeks old. Jana said he didn't herd with “the big hats,” but one time won a herding trial, beating 80 other dogs.

In late August, Mac died unexpectantly; the vet believed he had a tumor on his big, kind heart. Jana and her husband mourn and miss him, as does their female Border.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rescue Me

Sherlock, a beautifully marked Sheltie, was valued by his former owners for the breeding fees he brought their way.

When writer/librarian/dog advocate Bobbie Pyron and her husband, Todd, brought Sherlock home after adopting him through a Sheltie rescue organization, the dog blundered into walls and doors and Bobbie feared he had poor vision. But her veterinarian told her the problem is common to puppy mill dogs who have spent their days in crates.

Sherlock gets around fine now, and happily walks nature trails near Bobbie and Todd's home in Park City, Utah, along with the family's two other personable and well-adjusted Shelties, also rescue dogs.

Beau is the kind of Border collie who looks deeply into a person's eyes and soul, creating an instant bond. He was fostered by Tanya Cain, the president of Western Border Collie Rescue, who found she couldn't part with him. She calls Beau her “guilty pleasure.”

Max is a sable Border collie who greeted people at the Western Border Collie Rescue table at the Soldier Hollow Classic dog trials, and looked happy when children seized and hugged him. He will find a home where people treasure his easy- going nature and friendliness.

A handsome, rescued female looks like she could trot off to a dog show and win first place. Her adoptive family calls her “the Border Barbie.”

Jim, a seven-month-old pup, has been fostered by Debbie and Kevin Gardiner, who have three other Borders. No one wants to speculate why Jim had a broken leg that never was treated, and healed incorrectly. It is known that Jim lived feral for a time on the desert in Southeastern Idaho. The rescue organization is paying to have a surgery on the leg.

During the summer, I met dozens of rescue dogs—mutts and identifiable breeds—who have turned out to be wonderful additions to the families where they were placed. Many families believe rescue dogs remain permanently grateful for their new, stable homes.

With such great dogs available, the question comes up—why do people still buy from breeders, some of whom employ terrible practices?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Dog Who Wouldn't Die

On a radio show where I was being interviewed, the host invited people to call in and tell stories of how their dogs had helped them.

One man called and said he didn't have that kind of story; he had a different sort. His grandpa, a farmer, had a dog who kept having brushes with death. Once, someone shot the dog accidentally. Twice, the dog got hit by cars. He got into poison and got ill. He had periods when he was sick and recovering, but nothing Life threw at the dog could take him out.

The dog was the farmer's constant companion. Then the farmer got sick. The dog stayed at the ill man's side. When the farmer died, it seemed for a while like the dog might transfer his loyalty to the farmer's widow. He stayed attentive to her for a few days, then went back to wandering the farm, searching for his friend, the farmer.

Two weeks after the farmer died, the dog laid down and didn't wake up. The family thought it was amazing that the dog who had withstood all kinds of calamities and injuries couldn't survive the loss of his best human friend.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Competition

For Labor Day weekend, I signed books at the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship.

I've only been to play days and demonstrations and never seen an official trial before, but even a newbie like me could see why attendance at the Utah venue keeps soaring. It's hard to imagine a more attractive setting. This year's attendance broke a world record for sheep dog trials.

Spectators sit on a hillside, surrounded by tall hills, and watch as a competitor dog runs up a hill and out of sight, then reappears moments later driving sheep down the mountain. The dog puts the sheep through a set of fetch panels, drives them across the hillside and through other gates, and eventually into a circle where he will separate out a certain number of sheep. Finally, he puts those selected sheep into a small pen. The shepherd signals the dog mostly with whistles, but sometimes with voice commands.

Competitors come by invitation only, so all the shepherds and dogs know their stuff.

The big Rambouillet ewes, fresh off the range, were rugged and uncooperative. One competitor from Europe told a friend he'd never seen such wild sheep.

The final day featured 15 finalists performing an even harder course. I slipped away from my table to watch fellow Idahoan Lavon Calzacorta, and his beautifully precise dog, Tess. Sometimes my heart went into my throat when a recalcitrant ewe threatened to ruin everything. Calzacorta placed third to win the Bronze medal. A Canadian woman and dog took the gold, and the silver went to a South African team.

For the closing ceremony, a band of bagpipers in blue kilts and knee socks, led by a dignified drum major, came off the hillside, piping. Sheep were let loose on the hillside. It seemed fitting to me that they should be acknowledged, too.

As the awards were presented, flags from Canada, South Africa, and the U.S. were hoisted. The crowd stood for the Canadian national anthem. Meanwhile, dogs who stood on the awards platform with their shepherds, medals hanging from their necks, swiveled their heads, trying to watch sheep that ran loose on the hillside. Probably thinking they needed to remedy that.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mighty Moose

Dogs and Household Responsibilities

My neighbor, Debisu Hyde, sent an email alerting me to a story in Reader's Digest about a Border collie who keeps his person on task. The dog wakens his owner in the morning by taking off the sheets when the alarm goes off, helps gather dirty dishes, and brings them to the sink one at a time.

After reading this, Debisu wondered if her dog, Moose, a Bichon, was pulling his weight. I had to wonder about mine, too. Two of my three dogs are Borders, and none help with household chores.

When Moose got wind of our speculating, he sent me this email.

"Despite the fact that Boss Man often finds me napping in the same room where Mom is working, you must understand the extreme pressure that is put on me.

"First, it is my duty to keep everyone on schedule in the morning. This task is admittedly done involuntarily with my puppy bladder, and also my stomach, which demands that I have my doggie treat before the world can start spinning. Second, I am the navigator to help get the kids to and from school. This requires that I put my face out the window and smell the air, to assure that my family is safe from unknown aromas that only my expert nose can detect.

"I lend my ears to Mom during the day as she talks to her computer, the phone, and oftentimes, to herself. I keep the floors clean from any food damage and keep Mom informed if my water or food dish gets too low. Finally, and the thing that is most draining, is keeping that stupid cat in line. No one else in the family volunteers to point out the voles that I spy from my dog yard, let alone help her eat them. No one else puts up with her bipolar cat tendencies.

"This summer, I helped weed the garden and kept Mom safe while she harvested things from the ground.

"I know that Mimi, Mick, and Shakespeare do a lot more than they tell you. Like you said about Duncan, the thing that us four-legged creatures give that can't often be found is unconditional love. That is the greatest thing to give.

Love, Mighty Moose "