You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2010.

As July draws to a close, we’ve had some fun with “events” like Compliment Your Mirror Day and Take Your Houseplant for a Walk Day, but on a more serious note, the month of July also brought us Social Wellness Month and National Make a Difference to a Child Month.  As other writing projects occupy my time right now, in honor of the latter, I am resubmitting a post from April, which was National Autism Awareness Month…

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting 14-year old Robbie Drescher, at a fund-raiser held on his behalf in Brick, New Jersey.  Robbie is in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury that occurred last December.  I was told Robbie had just acquired a service dog named Parker.  Parker, a mixed-breed, was trained to be a Service Dog by two inmates in the Virginia Correctional System, through the PenPal Program.  When I asked Robbie about Parker, his eyes lit up and he told me that, “Parker is a good dog, he stays by my side, and doesn’t bark too much.”  According to Robbie’s mom, Sharon, the two are bonding well and they have promised to keep me posted on their developing friendship.  I will be writing about those inmates, too, and the PenPal Program soon, for a Newark Pets Examiner article.

This got me thinking, also, about how Service Dogs can assist young people with autism.  And they do.  In 2002, Priscilla Taylor, a special education teacher and dog-lover founded the Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA), a non-profit, community-based organization headquartered in Oregon that provides uniquely trained dogs to help children with autism and their families. 

Priscilla received her training through the Assistance Dog Institute, (ADI), the only academic institute dedicated to the advanced education and research in the time-less human canine relationship.  Through their program, offered through the Bergin University of Canine Studies, trainers and educators can enroll for undergrad and graduate programs that advance, and promote the knowledge of and the use of Service and Companion dogs.

Acquiring a service dog is no easy task.  The ASDA carefully screen dogs like Golden retrievers, and Labs, and then the arduous, but rewarding task of training, and pairing begins.  Children must be at least five years old to apply for one of these dogs, and the process of readying the dog to fit in with the child and their families can take approximately one year. 

These trained dogs are permitted to go everywhere with the child, including into the classroom.  There, the dog can help reduce emotional stress often experience by a student diagnosed with autism that can often lead to outbursts, and encourages the child to have more positive social interactions with others.

I have had the experience of working with young children diagnosed with autism and it can be a long, lonely day for them, and their overworked paraprofessionals, and teachers.  Although I have never witnessed a Service Dog working with one of these students, I would love to see how it is done, firsthand.  I think, under the right conditions, a loving, and attentive dog would be appreciated not just by the children, but by the staff employed to educate these students with special needs.

Please, if you know of young people who are benefitting from the use of a Service, or Companion Dog, please feel free to share their stories with me at pst39crd@aol.

You know I love that phrase about the timeless human canine relationship. With so many budget cutbacks, and layoffs in the Educational Sector, I am afraid that these positive contributions of  man’s best friend will once again be overshadowed by economic conditions.  Unfortunately, we as a nation, are dealing with similar conditions that existed when William Judy first  launched National Dog Week back in 1928.  By honoring National Dog Week the last week in September, even in small ways, we can keep the ”promise of the dog,” alive and well.

Today, on this “Hot Enough for you Day” (very appropriate with record-breaking heat expected here in NJ)  I extend a Happy Cousins Day to all my 42 first cousins (many of them dog lovers) throughout the nation, many of us who will be spending time together in the very near future.

When I started my work on the National Dog Week Movement, I learned how Captain Will Judy and those who would follow in his “paw prints” literally  helped America go to the dogs.  Because of the good Captain and his canine-loving cohorts, we even have an entire week in September just to honor them for all they do for us as well as the opportunity to address the deplorable conditions in which many of the nation’s dog still find themselves despite our great show of love for them.

When we’re not playing, feeding, walking, brushing, snuggling with our dogs we are reading about them.  I happen to be one of those legions of readers who just can’t get enough of these dog books whether they are Fiction of Non, and love to loan my dog-eared copies.

Last Christmas, my brother John gave me a signed copy of author Jon Katz’s A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me.  The book chronicles Jon’s relationship with four dogs in the span of a year.  When Jon rescues an energetic, troubled Border collie named Orson, his life, and the peaceful existence of his two placid Yellow Labs, Julius and Stanley are turned upside down.  Most people would have given up on the “impossible” Orson within a week’s time, but in facing the challenge of saving the life and soul of this dog, Jon would find his true life’s path.

Over the course of time, Jon would move from a bustling suburb of New Jersey to the bucolic farm country of upstate New York to a place called Bedlam Farm, his life turned over to the dogs and the happiness and pleasure they can bring. On the Bedlam Farm website  Jon states, “My dogs are the heart of the farm, the reason I came here, the thing I love the most and write about the most.”

What I found so engrossing about this book was the way Jon contrasted the temperaments of his Border collies (a calmer border named Homer would ultimately join the pack) with the docile nature of his labs.  Not every Border or Lab is alike, but each breed possesses a basic temperament that owners need to be aware of when welcoming them into their lives.

Because I am very familiar with the North Jersey town Jon brought Orson to, and by fate, my brother John now lives in a hamlet not far from Bedlam Farms (a town I spent many years visiting) I contacted the author to share this information, and tell him how much I enjoyed reading this book, and of course to let him know about my efforts on the part of National Dog Week.  Jon not only responded, but graciously offered me an opportunity to interview him.

Our talk focused on something I think is very fundamental, but often ignored in our rush to acquire dogs (purebred or otherwise); breed knowledge, and the necessity of obedience training.  If we don’t understand what dogs have been bred for over centuries, and we don’t take the time to train accordingly, we are doomed as a nation in our quest to make this world a better place for them.

For Jon, breed knowledge, and the willingness to properly train a dog is a life or death matter.  For example, Jon explains that dogs like Akitas, and Huskies, evolving from cold regions where food was scarce, may become food aggressive.  And our beloved Labs, bred over time as hunting “tools” can have biting issues.  Making the effort to become familiar with the inbred traits of a dog, (even if it is a crossbreed) can help make for safe and comfortable living conditions for dogs and humans.

The dogs that have populated Jon’s life have come to him in many ways.  Through competent breeders, and through rescue, he emphasises, “There is no single way to get a dog.”   Whether you choose to work with a reputable and caring breeder, or wisely choose to rescue a dog based on intelligence and the ability to handle the situation, we as a nation need to respect an individual’s right to make choices that can lead to a suitable and loving home for that animal.  And we, as purported dog lovers must honor our pledge to the shelter or the breeder to invest the time and energy to give our dogs the care they deserve, and that includes the promise to neuter and spay, as well as train.

As you can imagine, Bedlam Farms is inhabited by more than a few dogs, and Jon appreciates the gifts each one brings.  There’s Rose, a true working dog that loves to herd, the soulful Izzy that brought Jon to Hospice work, and Lenore “The Light” who showers all with love, perhaps the true “work” of all dogs.

Jon now finds joy in not only writing about the denizens of Bedlam, but photographing them. On the farm’s website you  Jon has lovingly captured his dogs at work and rest through an artist’s lens.  Jon has a novel due out this Fall, Rose in a Blizzard followed by  Bedlam Farm for Kids.  To learn more about all of Jon’s books, Bedlam Farm, and read his Farm Journal, go to http://www.bedlamfarm.com.

I have so many topics of a serious nature to write about, and my apologies to those who have asked me to discuss certain dog related subjects, and those people I have interviewed.  It’s been a hot month, and a major writing endeavor has taken on new life that has kept me writing almost around the clock.  (I am NOT complaining)….Right now I just don’t have the brain cells to make much sense, so I’ll have a little fun instead.

A glance at a list of some zany “holidays” has given me some “paws” for thought.  As you now, we are now in the heat of the dog days (for me it’s more like the dog-daze).  And I also see that the month of July brings us National Doghouse Repairs Month.  If your dog has its own house, and it needs a coat of paint, a new rug, wide-screen tv, or whatever, please get to it before the month is out.  I have seen articles and shows about deluxe dog houses and some are nicer than my own.  In all seriousness, if your dog does rely on outdoor shelter, make sure it is in good shape for your dog’s safety and health.

And of course, I couldn’t help noticing that the first week of July was Be Nice to New Jersey Week!  How could I have missed that??  This appears to have been started in 1985 to help this much maligned state with its image.  Hey, as a Jersey Native who has lived elsewhere, only to return again, and again, you know what you can do with your week….cuz we don’t need no stinkin’ help!  If everyone who complains about living here would move, it would make it better for the rest of us, and those of you who come here to vacation only to tell us what’s wrong with everything about their stay here, well  just stay away next time, and take your trash with you….My apologies to anyone who was nice to us during the first week of July!

Anyway, nothing like blowing off a little steam.  On a lighter note, earlier this month it was National Unassisted Homebirth Week.  I don’t have any kids, but if I were to, that is one weekly observance I sure as hell would eliminate.  And for you weather buffs, tomorrow is St. Swithen’s Day.  St. Swithen was a bishop of Winchester (England) who was known for his charitable donation and for building churches.  It is said that what ever the weather is like on July 15th, expect another 40 more days like it.  Now that is good news for us here at the Jersey shore as it will be hot and sunny tomorrow.

Now, I bring it back to the dogs.  Today, Hooper met her new petsitter who will be watching my dog Hoops in her home for a few days.  This woman came to meet us tonight, and now we have to go to her house for phase two.  Our first “interview” went well, so I think it’s a match.  For those of who travel, and have dogs, having a trusted caregiver can ease the mind.

And on a serious note, tonight I extend my condolences to the Lender family on the loss of their mother, Janet.  Janet was a lovely person, with a beautiful voice who will be missed by my husband Rich, and me.

 Thanks to all those who continue to read….This is a “repost” from the April archives….

Laughing is something I do a lot, something that has gotten me in some  trouble throughout my life.  At home, in school, church, elevators, at corporate meetings, I mean no harm, but paired with certain individuals, (like my sister and some close friends) it is a recipe for disaster.  Many a seating arrangement has been changed to prevent prolonged outbursts from occurring.  I used to think this was a bad thing, something that might require a stint at LA, (Laughers Anonymous).  But now I see laughing as a great way to get through the times when  things get a little “ruff.”  As an artist, and a writer, constantly subject to the whims and opinions of others, laughing at my own mistakes, and occasionally the bizarre comments of others, is very therapeutic.

This ability to laugh at myself comes in handy when I do dopey things.  I recall, about seven years ago, entering my first short story in a writing contest sponsored by Calliope: A Writer’s Workshop by Mail, titled, The Rabbits Who Saved Christmas. Imagine my surprise when upon going to my PO Box, I found that not only had I received an Honorable Mention for that story, but also another one from the Writer’s Digest Competition for a story called, Forty Anyway.  But my excitement was briefly squelched when I saw that the word “Who” in the first story had been crossed out, replaced by “that” with an editorial comment, “Who is for humans.” 

Despite that error, the Rabbit story was published, along with two others in the course of two years. Editors Sandy, and Cynthia over at www.calliopewriters.org are two reasons why I stuck to my writing.  With their helpful insight, and editing, they gave me, a novice writer,  my first audience.  Calliope offers a writer’s workshop by mail, and on-line, creating a forum where writers of all levels “can learn about their craft and see their work in print.”  I highly recommend them. If you use google or Bing and type in my full name,  you can still read a short story I wrote for kids titled, I Blamed it on the Birds, that was published on their site.

Last week, my six-year old niece Mia came to stay with us (Mia turned seven yesterday) for a few days.  Mia is a kid after my own heart, crazy about dogs, and she loves to write.  She promptly filled up a Manuscript Pad I purchased for her on her arrival.  The first short story she wrote for me of course was titled, The Dog Who Ate Too Much (you know the ending of that story)., and you know I had a private moment of laughter.  When I suggested that the title should be The Dog That Ate Too Much, she frowned and said it didn’t sound right, and didn’t change it.  Good for her! She’s right, it really doesn’t sound right, especially if you are an animal lover.

Later that day, as we took (Who)ooper – whoops Freudian typo- for her third walk, we met a neighbor of mine who told us she had just returned from Colorado where she had the pleasure of hearing Temple Grandin speak, and had the author sign her copy of Animals Make us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. Just briefly, if you are not familiar with her work, Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a toddler, went on to become a scientist and writer, ultimately improving the conditions at slaughter houses across America, advocating for the more humane handling of livestock.  Temple credits her autism for allowing her to understand the way animals of all kinds navigate their environment through the use of visual clues.  I haven’t read the book yet, but a reviewer noted that in this book, Ms. Grandin does address the care of dogs stating, “too many dogs are alone all day with no human or dog companions.”  That is something I witness in my own neighborhood daily.

Yes, animals do make us more human, in many ways, and sometimes you can’t blame those people who try to make animals more humans (although I don’t think they are the better for it).  With all the money we spend on them with toys, parties, food, etc., all they really want is us.  Even Will Judy, founder of National Dog Week confessed back in 1949 that he talked to his dogs.  Judy even believed the only thing that kept the dogs from “talking” back was their lack of “an alfabet and thumbs.” But Judy did appreciate the times when he sat and communed silently with his canines. Perhaps more people should take his lead.

Last week, a very good friend of mine came down to visit me here at the Jersey shore.  We enjoyed a great talk on the beach that revolved around her kids.  Her oldest, a marine pilot has just been stationed in San Diego, and from there, who knows…Her middle is training to be a Vermont state trooper, and her youngest is doing just fine at Drexel U in Philadelphia.  After we talked about her kids, the talk turned to my kid, Portuguese water dog, Hooper, and my friend’s two fur-children Bailey and Morgan.  Beagle Bailey came into my friend’s life after her husband rescued him from a home that no longer wanted him.  He had been relegated to the basement, howling for attention until my friend’s husband offered to take him off their hands.  Morgan, a young shepherd mix was a rescue from a local shelter. 

Bailey is now 12, and is blind and nearly deaf.  Morgan, who up until now did not want anything to do with this “annoying” older dog, has become his protector.  “Did you ever hear of a dog becoming a seeing eye dog for another?” my friend asked me.  I hadn’t, but I’m not surprised.  Morgan, as if sensing Bailey’s troubles, now stands by his side, moving slowly so that Bailey can find his way around.  I enjoyed this story, and it confirms the way dogs really can be man’s best friend, while remaining true to their own. 

But are we really a dog’s best friend? This morning, as I checked in on www.petfinder.com, I was taken with a little Havanese in need of a home.  The link brought me to a shelter in the south.  I e-mailed them and asked about the status of this dog.  Thankfully, the dog was in the process of finding a good home, but I was informed that over 1,000 dogs in South Carolina will most likely be put down in the very near future because there just are not enough homes for them.  And that’s just in one state.  That is a very sobering statistic.  I asked them, “What is the answer?”  They replied that the answer lies in the education of dog owners.  How many people acquire pups, and adult dogs, without making any effort to become acquainted with the breed of the dog, or in the case of  apparent mixed-breeds, try to ascertain the type of dog they have invited into their home?  How many take the time to try and train their dogs?  And what about all the unwanted pups that come into the world because their owners were too cheap, or just didn’t think spaying or neutering were important?

Research for my book shows me this has been a problem in our nation for over 80 years.  The way things are going, it looks like I could write about this topic forever….

In the coming weeks, posts will include an interview with dog authors, Jon Katz, Steve Duno, and more…

On a day we celebrate our freedoms, and the privileges of being an American, we read about all kinds of people in the news, and the impact they have on others, for good, and bad.  Today, I read a story on-line about a man who went to great lengths to rescue a puppy stranded at the base of a mountain.  Through his incredible efforts, the dog’s life was saved. On the other hand, there are still those who go out of their way to harm and abuse dogs.

According to Barbara Karolychyk (Lifewithpitbulls), there is a disturbing new trend in the dog fighting world. After all the news coverage in the wake of the Michael Vick situation, it was mistakenly believed that incidents of organized dog fighting might be on the decline.  Instead, those involved get a little “wiser” bringing their “sport” underground with something known as “trunking.”  In trunking, two dogs are thrown into a car trunk to fight to the death.  The car drives around, blasting music, to cover the sounds of the battle. You can only imagine how awful this must be.

Barbara, who lives in the DC, area used to fear pit bulls, like many others.  But now, through Facebook, and her writing, she has dedicated her life to helping others understand this much maligned breed, and works hard to improve the situations of the breed all over then nation.  Barbara has generously agreed to be part of the National Dog Week project with her insight on pit bulls, represented in the likes of the revered Sargeant Stubby, a pit bull that saved countless lives while serving in WWI. To learn more about Barbara’s efforts on the behalf of this breed go to http://www.facebook.com/mylifewithpitbulls.

The following is a post from the March archives.  On this holiday, celebrate what is good about the nation, but give some thought to those areas where there is still much work to be done.

Here is the repost….

In the process or researching, writing, and submitting a book about National Dog Week, I am reminded of the movie The Wizard of Oz.  Like Dorothy, and Toto, Hooper and I have come to know places far from familiar territory.  Hooper’s image can now be seen worldwide, and each day, I am contacted, or reach out to, individuals in worlds I have not been part of until now.

Like Dorothy following her yellow brick road, around each turn I meet “characters” that wish to join me on my journey.  Each, like the scarecrow, tin man, and lion, bring brainy ideas, a lot of heart, and give me the courage when I’m off to see “The Wizard,” which in my case is a publisher, or literary agent!  In a writer’s world that is often fraught with rejection, dismissiveness, and skepticism, courage is a much desired, and necessary quality. 

Intelligence, heart, and courage; all of these characteristics were evident in the late, great, Captain Arthur Haggerty, perhaps no more so when in 2005, he set out to pay tribute to his hero, William Judy, and his goals for National Dog Week.  In launching a web site for this observance, Haggerty sought to have National Dog Week honored in a way it had been in the past.  Unfortunately, the original site is no longer available to all us, taken over by a commercial dog supplier who probably never heard of Will Judy, the founder of National Dog Week (invitation to prove me wrong, here)!  

Reading my treasured, worn copy of Haggerty’s site, I am always inspired to carry on with my book, even when I am discouraged by nay sayers, and people who just don’t get it.  This legendary dog trainer to the stars truly spoke to the every man, seeing every single person as an instrument to do some good in the world, especially when it came to dogs.

Intelligence, heart, courage, easy to define, and spot, right?  But apparently, those qualities are in the eye of the beholder.  Take for instance, the fact that NFL star Michael Vick, has been chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles to receive the Ed Block Courage Award in March.  This award, established for a man who worked on behalf of abused and neglected children, is awarded each year by team mates of each NFL team,  to a player who has overcome insurmountable difficulties.  In this case, Mr. Vick.

Understandably, this has enraged PETA, and dog lovers everywhere.  For those who don’t know, last July, Michael Vick was released from prison after serving time for his participation in illegal dog fighting rings, a nasty, senseless side-business for this misunderstood, “underpaid” athelete.  According to Vick’s friends and team mates (and press agent?), Vick has done his time and is remorseful for his mistakes, reaching out to young people to educate them in proper ways to treat animals.

We can all stomp around, being outraged, cursing Vick, wanting him to be treated like the dogs he maimed and killed.  But in this nation, big money, and big sports rule, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.  Instead, take all that energy and start planning something positive for this year’s National Dog Week in September, just about when football season is really getting started.  The bigger problem may be that we, as a nation, have forgotten about the real role models of the world, like the person who put something as meaningful as National Dog Week on the American calendar.  Now, you can say that you know about this seven-day salute to the canine and bring to light all the work that still has to be done for the dogs of the nation.

William Lewis  Judy, while condemning Vick’s actions, would perhaps call upon his training in the ministry to find forgiveness for Michael Vick, but I don’t think he would forget.  And neither should we.