Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Santa, Please Bring Us Nylabones"

Please enjoy this cute, dog-centric holiday video, sent to us via the Dog Park listserv from Sara Herlick. Warm wishes from Roma, Muzzy, the Dog Parkist, and yours truly.
-z


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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Dogged Aughties


I've already seen articles about what to call the first decade of the twenty-first century as it draws to a close, so I don't think a blog entry out of line here. Looking back, of course, I can't believe that it has been ten years since Y2K. Has there ever been such misplaced anxiety? Y2K seems like a school-kid prank in light of what was to follow--terrorist attacks, war, deadly hurricanes and flus, financial calamity, global warming, drought.

Let's review: Plague? Check. Before there was H1N1, there was Australian B. The sun had not set on the first day of 2000 when I succumbed to a wicked strain of that flu. I was stuck at my in-laws without my dog. I hacked my lungs out until Valentine's Day. Years later, I was stricken with a mysterious stomach ailment that laid me low for months. Sadly, I ate my last chile pepper and chocolate bar and sipped my last latte and my last gin and tonic in 2008.

Exile? Check. I spent the early part of the decade moving around the country in pursuit of my former husband's sputtering career opportunities. Then I was stranded in New England during a mortifying separation and divorce. Fortunately, I had the good sense to move back to Austin, where everyone is in exile from the rest of the state.

Loss? You betcha. Perhaps it happens to all good people who reach their middle ages, but I've clocked more time at funerals than at weddings this decade. I've lost elderly friends, a parent, and a godparent. I lost friendships, too, in the 2000s, for reasons I can't explain. Now my Roma is experiencing technical difficulties with her eating, walking, and sleeping. Her loss will truly signal the end of an era.

Impoverishment? Check, please! As a freelancer, I thought I understood the vagaries of the market, but I never in a million years expected the industry that has supported me for two decades to implode. In January, two of my most reliable clients went out of business without a word and still owing me and several fellow freelancers thousands of dollars. Since March, work has been scarce and payments sloooow. We now ration Nylabones at our house and use cheap soap and coupons.

So, looking back, I think I understand why it feels as though I've been taking it on the chin: I've been taking it on the chin--though no more than most people have. And yet . . . and yet, on the day-to-day, basis, things have not been so bad, have they? (Were they?) Some perspective: Every day for the past 3,650 days, I've had to get out of bed in the morning and take care of a dog or two. We leash up, walk around, chase a ball, eat some kibble, hang together in the  office when I work. Later, we load up in the car and head to Dog Park and pace out a couple of miles at least, no matter the weather. During  this decade, no matter how badly things were going or how miserable we felt, I stuffed my pockets with plastic bags and took the girls out, and somehow walking made us feel better.

So, my friends, I christen our nearly departed decade "The Dogged Aughties," in honor of ten years whose grief and pain were dulled only by walking our paws off or hurling a ball hundreds of times. Even in these worst of times, my dogs remind me that every day is full of possibilities and that even the smallest hope of a brand new Nylabone or a morsel of cheese in the food bowl is worth getting up for. Times will get easier, eventually, and then they will probably get hard again. That is, history books tell us, how they do. The dogs don't know that. Or perhaps they do; they just don't let a bad day—or a bad decade—get in their way.

Here is to a peaceful end to the 2000s. Happy and safe holidays to all.
-z

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Old Gray Dog Just Ain't What She Used to Be


December is a dark month. The nights are literally longer, of course, but the days still feel long. It's as if a year that has flown by has suddenly turned coy and is reluctant to leave the party. It's dawdling, looking for its jacket in the pile of coats on the bed. It pauses to tell one more inappropriate joke at the door. It can't find its car keys. It can't remember where it parked the car. I want to cry, "Get out already!"

It is so tiresome, December. While the rest of the world is flinging their credit cards around shopping malls, thronging the grocery stores in preparation for Christmas, and draping every vertical object in twinkly lights, I shake my head in dismay. I feel about Christmas the way I feel about the Longhorns. I don't get what all the fuss is about--all the hoohaw over something that is a sure thing every year. Has there ever been a year without a post-season play off or a calendar without a December 25 on it?  Of course, part of the problem for me is that, in this town, everybody assumes that you give a shit about Mack Brown and the birth of Jesus. Honestly. Can no one in this town root for the other team—or no team at all?  Let's just get game day over with so life can resume its normal pace and concerns.  Better  yet, let's all do something nice and generous and peaceful for our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers throughout the year, instead of cramming it all into one 31-day period.

Adding to the December darkness are stories I've been hearing lately about old pets. My mum's cat has stopped eating and is wasting away. Sarah's (Tony) childhood cat has had incurable kidney infections. My Roma, too, has slowed down this month, lost interest in food. She gets confused when she wakes up suddenly. Her funny old face is whiter and her wise eyes are cloudier. Each time she lies down to nap, I wonder if she'll get up again. So far, she always does, but each evening, I pat her good night and say, "You do what you need to do, old girl." The process of watching an old pet navigate its waning days is hard, especially this time of year. So it cheered me today to read a lovely essay by Michelle Slatella in the NYTimes that describes the almost imperceptible process of living with a pet as it grows from puppy to creaky old thing a few short years. I enjoyed reading it, and I hope you do, too. Ta.
-z

Friday, December 18, 2009

The NYT Says, "Meet Ruppy"


You won't have met Ruppy at the Dog Park. Ruppy doesn't get out much. He's the first of a new breed of dogs, according to The New York Times Magazine in its 9th Annual Year in Ideas issue (Dec. 13, 2009). (To read the article, click here and scroll down to "Glow-in-the-Dark Dog, The.") Ruppy is mostly a beagle, but he also hosts genes from a sea anemone, which means that his skin glows red when viewed under ultraviolet light. He is the first of his kind, a transgenic dog.

The point of making Ruppy (Ruby + Puppy = Ruppy; cute) fluorescent is to help fertility researchers study hormones. The researchers who developed Ruppy used to study transgenic mice, but their hormones are not as compatible to humans' for study. Plus, they died during the process. The beauty of Ruppy, says the article, written by Emily Biuso, is that "unlike the rodents, Ruppy can provide useful scientific knowledge without necessarily having to sacrifice his life."

Necessarily is the key word here.

By the way, Eric B., I did not read this story in The Onion. 


The magazine's other topics of interest to Dog Parkers include mosquito combat lasers, bicycle highways, and why Jane Austen's books are ripe for zombiefication.

Art above is from NYT: Photo illustration by Reinhard Hunger; set design by Sarah Illenberger; they also did the cover art.

Finally, a hearty congratulations to Sarah (Tony), who graduates summa cum laude from Texas State University today with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Animal Science. Hooray!

-z

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Toast: Puppy Toast


I was inspired to make bread from scratch the other day. I embellished a basic recipe for oatmeal bread. I kept adding ingredients until I had concocted a monstrous batch of dough. It kept crawling out of the bowls, and ultimately it sprawled out of the pans as it baked. I gave a loaf to Erica (Cocoa and Joey), apologizing for its "love handles." But when Erica sliced it for her breakfast, the bread's true shape emerged. As you can see, with Erica's addition of raisin eyes and an almond nose, it's a puppy! (Dog is everywhere.) Her photo of her breakfast made me smile. I hope it makes you smile, too.
-z

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Walkabout with Dogs


Once again the New York Times confirms the obvious—that people who walk with dogs are more likely to be fit and to exercise consistently than those who walk with fellow homo sapiens. Are you surprised? I didn't think so.

In a recent entry on her regular blog, Well, Tara Pope-Parker explains how a study of 54 senior citizens living in Missouri were divided into three groups—those who walked with dogs, those who walked with human partners, and a control group (i.e., couch potatoes). The folks who took a bus to a local animal shelter to walk with a dog every day increased their walking speeds nearly 30 percent (compared to less than 5 percent in the walkers with human companions).  They also were eventually able to give up walking aids, such as canes or walkers. The reason? Dogs  never say no to a walk. On the other paw, human companions were constantly trying to talk each other out of taking a walk. The excuse? "It's too hot." We, the survivors of the hottest summer on record in Texas blow our noses in your direction, Missouri. Hahahahahaa! Weaklings!

Among the comments posted to the blog entry—and I paraphrase—"You don't have to pick up your human companion's crap, but you do have to listen to it." At Dog Park, we have the best of both worlds--walking with humans and with dogs. There's crap galore, so bring plenty of bags.

We hope to see you at the Dog Park. Bundle up, though. Wind chill will put the temps in the 30s. Brrr.
-z

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving



The server was down this morning, so we could not wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving in a timely fashion. It's dusk now, but Roma, Muzzy, and I hope that your cornucopia was full of good things today, as ours was. Thanks, as always, for reading.  Now pass the cranberry sauce, please.
-z

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Dog Parkist: Family Ties That Bind


Q: The holidays are upon us, and I must go face my family. Don't get me wrong; I love my family, but I am the lone single person, and I have dogs instead of a spouse and children. I spend the whole time listening to parents, aunts, grandparents, cousins, and siblings discussing the joys and tribulations of poopy diapers, potty training, pre-school applications, day care costs, and runny noses. My family members who are parents of small children and I actually have a lot in common. I think young kids and dogs are similar in a lot of ways, but no one else sees the situation that way. They think my animals are a poor substitution for real offspring. They don't always say so, but I can read the thought bubbles above their heads. What can I do? --Mother of Dogs, Not Kids


A: First, my dear, let me congratulate you for taking the saner, greener, morally responsible way. As a dog owner without children, you have spared the local landfill a mountain of dirty diapers and broken Star Wars toys. You have chosen a quieter, more Zen-like path. You love silently and are loved unconditionally in return. You have saved a life from the streets and are rewarded every day with tail wags and sloppy kisses. What's more, you don't have to participate in the rat-race of school selection and the crap shoot of potentially rearing a pot-smoking ax murderer despite all of the Baby Genius CDs and Wii skill-development games you invested in. Dogs will never drink underage, take drugs, wreck the car, date unsavory boys. They will always forget your birthday, true. It seems a small price to pay. Amazon.com always remembers, as does your insurance company, especially after you hit 40, so who cares?

Now, to your family. Please allow me to remind you that few truly sentient and sensitive individuals actually believe that they were born into the correct family. Most of us look around at our derelict cousins, our over-indulged siblings, and our frazzled parental units and wonder, can these truly be my people? Well, my dear, they are, genetically speaking. But you have looked deep inside yourself and understood that your true people are the canines you live with. They are the ones that look sad when you've had a bad day and offer pink tummies as a solace. They are the ones that know when you are feeling puny with a cold or a migraine and pull a little less forcefully on the leash as a courtesy. They love you so much that they must stand in the same room to watch you pee. They adore you so much that they don't want you to sleep in and miss out on the squirrel races outside your window. Who in your family would do the same?

To be fair, unlike your family members, your dogs never have to worry about losing their jobs or their houses, going grocery shopping, or paying cable bills and car payments, so they can afford to be focused on you exclusively. So, do yourself a favor, my dear. Stop making comparisons. Indulge your family members on the holidays just as you would your dogs. Let them talk over you and down to you. Let them think they have got you all figured out—that you'd be happier if you lost weight or had an extra piece of pie; that you'd have found yourself a husband if you hadn't gone to graduate school; that you have no idea of the bliss borne of the pain of childbirth. They are entitled to their opinions. Just smile and think of your dogs. They are waiting for you at home, waiting so patiently for that little bit of turkey and stuffing you promised them. Ooh, and a smidge of mashed potatoes--with gravy, if it's not too much to ask. Also, pie would be nice. Thanks for writing!

Dear Readers: The Dog Parkist knows that the holidays are a stressful time for everyone, especially dog owners. So do please remember that the D-Pist is here for you. Send her your questions and concerns, and she will do her level best to set you straight. Ta!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Do You Smell Something?



Anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been an uptick in rolling at the Dog Park. Everywhere I look, there is a dog with its feet in the air, scootching its back and neck into something yucky. Even our Muzzy, who until recently cared only about stealing tennis balls from other dogs, now waits patiently for her turn to roll in a particularly popular spot (down near Crazy Guy's house, under the live oaks). Instead of pouncing on a dog she didn't know (another new and unfortunate behavior), she simply watched and waited. When the dog trotted off, she threw herself down to sop up any stink that might still be absorbed.

In a more fastidious household, all of this rolling might result in an uptick in baths. Alas, I can hardly remember to wash my own hair let alone two shaggy, bath-resistant dogs. Plus, I don't sleep with my dogs, so I can cut them some smell slack. Still, every day, I give them the sniff test. Muzzy always smells like nutmeg—it's a dark, spicy, actually rather pleasant scent. Roma, no matter what I do, always smells like an old sponge—even after baths, so why bother. Our friend Sarah says that she knows that it's time to give Tony-boy a bath when his head smells like enchiladas. Red or green?

I have a host of excuses for not washing the dogs. Our yard is a dust bowl when the weather is dry and a mud pit when it rains. What is the point of washing the dogs if they are going to lie down in dirt while they dry? I know that I could spend money and take them to a groomer or to a local do-it-yourself dog wash that folks have raved about, but, as you know, I'm from New Jersey. I don't pay money to wash my car or my dogs. I have a hose and a bucket and soap. I just need the incentive--a smell so overpowering I can't ignore it. Skunk. That's one I'll respond to. Please don't give my dogs any ideas.

The rose in the photo is my one shining gardening moment this year. Last spring, I transplanted one of my heirloom rose plants (a gift from a Dog Parker who moved to Seattle) from a spot where it was feeling puny to a sunnier location. By May, I realized that I had made a big mistake. I watered that poor plant two or three times a day with stale dog-bowl water in an effort to keep it alive through the hottest, driest summer in fifty years. In September, I was certain that the thing had died. Then, the other day, I noticed one crimson, velvety rosebud hanging from the plant. I snipped it off and brought it inside. It is a flagrantly pungent flower. I move the little vase around with me all day long—from my desk to the dinner table to my bedside table. Dog smell, what dog smell? All I smell is roses.
-z

Friday, November 20, 2009

Who Donut Love Doughnuts?



Okay, there has a been a lot of talk at Dog Park lately about doughnuts—the best or most original ones and where to find them. Dog Parker Michelle (Mindy) writes a wonderful blog called Foodie is the New Forty. For a lovely photo array and reviews of some insanely devised doughnuts concocted at a local venue called Gourdoughs, check out her most recent entry. You will not believe your eyes, but your taste buds will be teased. Above is an example. The doughnut shown above is seasonally appropriate. It's called The Gobble Gobble. It is essentially next Thursday's dinner plopped artfully on a circle of sweet fried dough. Michelle said she liked it.

As someone who grew up believing that Entenmann's doughnuts were the height of culinary delights, I expect all doughnuts to assume the size, shape, and heft of hockey pucks, to be laden with trans fats, and to inspire a heart burn so piercing that, if harnessed, it could warm a small Midwestern city in January. Those of you who are foodies will have to convince me that doughnuts like the ones Michelle reviews are not the devil's work.

Humans are not the only creatures who enjoy snarfing sweet baked goods. For another visual treat, click here. The link is to one of my favorite blogs, Doe-c-Doe, created by a graphic designer-crafter-thrifter-photographer who lives in the Midwest. (Thanks to Erica for her recommendation. She knows all the cool blogs.) In this entry, the blogger's dog plays a key role. Can you guess what happens? Go ahead and check it out. The photos will make you smile.

Have a good weekend.
-z

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

She's Gone Rogue



On Monday, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to the sound of a dog barking outside. I was amazed to discover that it was my own dog, Roma, who had spent a cold and rainy night on the back porch. I had no idea that she was out there. She made no efforts to come inside, such as scratching at the patio door, which is mere feet from my bed. And what did the other one do? Nothing. Muzzy snuggled in her bed next to the curtained window, just inches awy from her elder sibling. 


Let me be clear that Roma is in no way a yard dog. She sleeps inside in a fluffy bed just like the rest of us. But this morning, she was not even interested in crossing the threshold. She'd gone rogue, man. She was living the Husky life—outside, facing the elements of wind and the rain, not needing nobody, nohow. She scorned me. She turned her back on my requests for hugs. She stamped her paws in the cool morning dampness and snorted like a wild beast. She all but thumped on her chest and hooted "Booyah!".


Later that morning, after I had made amends by walking, feeding, and acting contrite, Roma did come inside, and I sat down to read the New York Times online, which included a review of Sarah Palin's new book, Going Rogue. It made me smile to discover that the planet's least articulate woman actually "wrote" (she had help from a ghost writer) a book in which she bashes the very party that brought her to national prominence. The reviewer kindly provided a quotation from the opening pages, which I must share with you:
“I breathed in an autumn bouquet that combined everything small-town America with rugged splashes of the Last Frontier.”
Who doesn't love the roguish smell of small-town America? Yum. I love it and the quote. My point here is not political; I just want to point out the ridiculousness of the pride attached to the "going rogue" label. 


First of all, a glance at a any dictionary will tell you that a rogue is someone who is unprincipled and dishonest, one who acts in an unpredictable and unpleasant way. (In the world of horticulture, a rogue seed is inferior, defective.) Does anyone really want to be seen this way—especially a politician who might potentially lead the nation? Secondly, Palin, like my Roma, is roguish only in the sense that we let her think she is. Roma could no more live the life of a yard dog without her daily doses of glucosamine, Omega 3s, anti-inflammatories, smooches, and Dog Park walks than she could live on the moon. She is fairly well kept, as Palin is after nailing a multimillion dollar book deal, thank you very much. The pretense of roguishness is nonsense. 


Here's a quotation from Palin that ends the review. Again, it made me think of my girl:
"As every Iditarod musher knows, if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes." 
As someone who has spent thirteen years of daily walks staring at that view, I have to say, it's not that bad.  What's more, if the lead dog is a nutjob who can't string three words together in a logical fashion, then I'm not much interested in following anyway. Fortunately, Roma knows where she is going—back inside to sleep in the morning sun.
-z

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Flaming Poo Bag Award



Dear readers, welcome to the inauguration of the Flaming Poo Bag Award. This humble award, also known as the Flammy, is awarded to cretins and morons who impose on the dog-owning community in distinct and unique ways.  Here are some potential nominees:

  • the neighbor to whom I returned two loose, rambunctious dogs in the pouring rain on a Sunday and who did not say thank you;
  • the neighbor, whose response to finding dog poop in her yard was to pile the turds on the sidewalk, draw chalk circles around each desiccated load, and write in big capital letters, "I don't shit in your yard, so don't let your dog shit in mine";
  • the guy at Dog Park who, after his dog bit another dog, told the other dog's owner, "I never liked you anyway"; 
  • the woman at Dog Park who nags others to pick up their dog's poop but does not always attend to her own dogs' leavings.
Where, you might ask, is Crazy Guy? Why is he not on the list? Because, my friends, he wins the Flaming Poo Bag Lifetime Achievement Award for his insane dedication to protecting the drivers on 45th Street by harassing solitary women and their dogs in a field that abuts his house. Extra kudos for posting warning signs with misspelled words and for threatening to shoot dogs with "his piece." That dude deserves a real flaming poo bag on his porch every day of his life. Also, on his fancy German sedan. Also, on his motorcycle.

For those of you who would like to suggest other nominees, please click the comments button below or write directly to this blogger at busyzia@gmail.com. I will create a poll in the side margin of the blog, and readers may vote for themselves. Think seriously about your nominees. After all, we want the Flammy to go to the most deserving offender of Dog Park mores and manners.
-z

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stop Hugging that Dog!


I recently subscribed to Bark magazine, a dog-centric monthly based in Berkeley, California. I first saw the magazine more than fifteen years ago, when it was essentially a mass photocopied freebie stacked on the streets. It charmed me with its devotion to dog stories, poetry, and art. Today it is a high-production glossy more in line with the likes of Oprah's O! (which I have read only at the dentist's office, thank you) or shelter magazines. Bark is now full of ads for pet-centric services and goods, and its articles range from recipes to dog-training tips to vet advice to international relief efforts to book reviews. It maintains a deep-seated earnestness, but it has clearly lost its sense of humor. Many of the articles have the tone of "I know better than thou" when it comes to dogs.

For example, an article by an animal behaviorist that lists five common misconceptions about dog training and behavior. Now, my dogs are perfect in every way, and so are yours, so my impulse was to skip this article. What could I possibly learn, right? Until I saw a photo of a young, dreadlocked, white girl hugging a dog that looked a good bit like my Roma and also very unhappy. The photo was poised above item number 3. "Dogs love to be hugged." No, indeed, insists the writer, Karen B. London, PhD, an animal behaviorist. Here is what she has to say:

Putting your arms around a dog's neck and shoulders may feel loving to humans, but to dogs this is rude and potentially threatening behavior. Every week, I see pictures in magazines of celebrities hugging their dogs. The human stars look radiant, but the dogs look miserable and display common signs of stress such as tongue flicks, a tightly closed mouth, pulled back ears or a furrowed brow. Hugging is a primate form of affection, but not one that is appreciated by the canine set. 
Oh, those stupid, petty celebrities who will do anything, including abusing their dogs with hugs, all for the sake of publicity. As for you regular primates (primates!!), stop hugging your dogs right now, or I will be forced to report you to the Humane Society.

Okay, perhaps I am a little bent out of shape about being called a primate. But let's think about this rationally. First of all, this primate uses her large brain and detached opposable thumbs in all sorts of ways that benefit my dogs. I can work cars, doorknobs, and can openers; I can throw balls and scoop poop. In addition, this primate also puts up with a lot of annoying canine behavior, such as rolling in piles of grossness, trampling my garden, throwing up on the carpet, barking at squirrels, and chasing the neighbor's cats. So, my canines can deal with a well-intentioned, albeit rude, hug around the neck and shoulders. In fact, they seem to deal with it pretty well (see photo above). Are they being opportunistic—like those pesky celebrities? Are they putting up with my ungainly primate affection in order to get something from me later? Probably, but not consciously. Being domesticated animals and pretty smart themselves, they understand that hugs are one of many ways I show my love.

Now, do I recommend that you go up and hug a dog you don't know? Of course not. Do I recommend that if a dog shows signs of stress or unhappiness when you hug her that you continue to do so. No again. Will I continue to hug my dogs? Yes, although now I will ask nicely beforehand, like an Ivy-leaguer out on a politically correct date.

Poor dogs. The Bark article has inspired a new game at our home. I now chase the dogs around the house and yard with my arms spread out while crowing, "I'm going to hug you!" in a deranged voice. The editors at Bark will be receiving a letter that says, "Thanks for making her even crazier. Sincerely, Roma and Muzzy".
-z

Friday, November 13, 2009

Muzzy's Train of Thought



Her name is Muzzy, and she's a siderodromophobic. It has taken me weeks to figure out why she acts restless and anxious in the wee early morning hours, when the rest of us are still asleep. For a couple of weeks, I assumed that the aimless moving around, the licking of her lips, and the yawning were the result of nausea caused by antibiotics. I got her medication and a new diet to deal with the nausea and the puking, but the roaming-and-licky-lips thing has continued. And then, this morning, I figured it out. She seemed so anxious during our morning walk, a usually happy time. She even jumped up, put her paws on my chest, and looked me right in the face, as if to say, "Don't you get it? It's the train!!!!" 


MoPac and the railroad tracks lie just across the street from us. And, indeed, this morning, as we walked a slow moving freight train was rumbling north along with the morning rush hour. The trains don't blow whistles along MoPac—at least not since neighborhood groups complained to the City for years. But even the quietest of the train emits a low but persistent rumble along with just enough vibrations to set the picture frames on our walls askew on a regular basis. I usually sleep right through the trains, but I do notice that I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. I get up and go to the bathroom, and it isn't until I get back in bed and try to fall asleep again that I become acutely aware of the low thrumming of a freight engine and the steady beat of hundreds of train wheels against the track. 


Poor Muzzy. I know that dogs are highly associative. She may have developed this fear on a morning when she woke up to puke and got tossed outside to do it. The discomfort of her tummy and her dislike of being outside alone in the dark while a noisy train was passing by may have imprinted her pea-sized brain as a fear of trains. What am I to do for her? Ear plugs? Doggie tranks? A house in a trainless zip code? She's going to have to deal with this, or we'll never get a good night's sleep.


For those of you who are interested, siderodromophobia is, technically, the fear of traveling on a train. Sidero comes from the Greek and means "iron." It is used in chemical names, such as sidero-calcite. Dromo, also from the Greek, means "running." (According to the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary, a dromomaniac is one who is crazy about running or roaming.) The word siderodromophobia was first used in 1897 in an early psychology book describing newly documented fears, such as arachniphobia—fear of spiders. Fear of railways is a particularly nineteenth century phenomenon, as the iron horse made its way across almost every continent in the world during that period. Why couldn't Muzzy become aviophobic—afraid of flying? Or coulrophobic—afraid of clowns. <>  I would be so on board with her then, and we could all get some sleep.
-z

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Literary Dog: "My Dog Does Not Know I Am Human"



Recently I read a review of a collected works of a writer I had never heard of before—Lydia Davis. The reviewer raved about her. Davis is a contemporary writer of what has been called "flash fiction." Her specialty is short-short stories, anecdotes really or brief descriptions, that provide a keyhole into an unknown character's thoughts. Sometimes a piece is a mere sentence or two; yet, like a haiku, it captures the joy or despair or mundane conundrums of a person you might pass in the grocery store or at the Dog Park. I was curious about Davis and found one of her books at the local library. I was pleased to discover that the second piece in her book Varieties of Disturbance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) is about one of our favorite subjects. Here is the piece in its entirety.

Dog and Me by Lydia Davis
An ant can look up at you, too, and even threaten you with its arms. Of course, my dog does not know I am human, he sees me as dog, though I do not leap up at a fence. I am a strong dog. But I do not leave my mouth hanging open when I walk along. Even on a hot day, I do not leave my tongue hanging out. But I bark at him: "No! No!

I am pretty sure that my girls don't think that I am a dog. I am too illogical and moody to be a dog. But I do bark at them. I'll bark at  you, too, next time we meet at Dog Park. See you there.


For reviews of Davis's latest, a collected works, see here and here
-z

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Married to the Dog


There has been a spate of new books out recently about dogs, their place in the world, and their relationships with people. I have not read them, but I have perused some of the reviews, which distill all of the interesting bits for those of us who don't have the attention span for full-length nonfiction books. One interesting tidbit that I recall from one review is that relationships with dogs contain many of the thrilling elements of early courtship--plenty of eye contact, barely contained excitement at each meeting, endless enthusiasm for whatever boring activity is suggested. In other words, having a dog means that date night never ends. Or does it?

For many years, I have characterized my relationship with my Roma as a marriage. It is a secure and comfortable but occasionally contentious partnership that will last until one of us lies down for the last time. When I adopted her from the Austin Humane Society in 1996, I had to sign a document attesting to my awareness of the many responsibilities of owning a dog--financial, ethical, and so on. I rolled my eyes. She's just a dog. I'm not marrying her. Except I kind of did. And I feel that our relationship is far more solid than my actual marriage ever was in great part because Roma and I have paid attention to each other and learned how the other one thinks and feels and reacts. What's more, we have accepted each other as we are. I understand that Roma is never going to be a snuggle bunny or a comforter. She will show me the paw and head to the other end of the house if I start to cry or yell. And I know that every single time I let her off the leash at Dog Park that she will find some disgusting thing to eat. She knows that we will never get out of the house on the first try because I always forget something--bags or keys or leashes. And I know that she really does want to chase a ball if only that Muzzy would stop showboating and hogging all the attention. We can't change who we are, but we love each other despite how annoying we can be. That's family, right?

This morning on my way home from the eye doctor, I drove past a convenience store on Shoal Creek Boulevard. I remember many, many years ago riding my bike to that shop. I stopped to buy some water, and in the parking lot was a man sitting sideways in the driver's seat of his car with the door open. He was an old guy, with a grey comb-over and a gut hanging over his belt, perched in a Caddie or Buick gulping down a pint of ice cream with a plastic spoon. Even to a naive, young, single woman such as myself, it was obvious what he was doing. He had clearly snuck out of the house and away from the wife to indulge a forbidden fatty and sugary treat. Somewhere a woman was slaving away, making him a healthful meal of salad and baked potato to help keep his weight down or his heart working, and here he was snarfing a pint of Blue Bell in a Quickie Mart parking lot. And later, when he had the diabetic coma or the heart attack, his wife would exclaim, "But I took such good care of him! I watched his every move, his every bite." Oh, my dear woman, I realize now, that is impossible. So, twenty years later, I am like that wife, and Roma is the sneaky old coot who eats things she shouldn't and ignore my feelings while I do everything in my power to keep the old girl up and running. Somehow it works for us.

I suppose I would have liked that early courtship feeling from Roma, but it was never her deal. Take her or leave her; she'd find her own way with or without me, thank you very much. (She survived ten days on her own while lost in Bull Creek Park, with hardly a scratch or much weight loss when we found her.) We share a deep, affectionate respect for one another, but passion it is not. It wasn't until I met Muzzy that I realized what doggie love was really all about. More about that another time.
-z

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Good Dog, Smart Dog


I love it when science explains things that I notice all the time. A few years ago, I actually read something that explained why the shower curtain tends to balloon in towards you after you first turn on the shower spray. (A phenomenon that occurs far more often in the freezing northeast than here in balmy Texas. Living in Worcester, MA, I had to learn to turn the shower tap before I climbed into the claw-footed tub with the wrap-around shower curtain; otherwise, a cold, clammy shower curtain would creep in at me from all sides like Norman Bates and cause me to shriek. It's science! Who knew?) So imagine my lack of surprise when I read in the New York Times last week that dogs are actually pretty smart. All together now: "Well, duh." 


The article by Sarah Kershaw talks about how medical alert dogs are able to draw on their intelligence as well as their superior senses  to help their companions before seizures or panic attacks or diabetic comas strike. Apparently, until recently, most researchers and trainers assumed that the dogs who served as medical alert animals were good at their jobs precisely because they were good dogs. The thinking was that the dogs just wanted to please. Now researchers believe the dogs complete their tasks properly because they are smart. (Duh, again!) 


Kershaw cites a couple of research cases in which dogs learned enormous vocabularies (up to 250 words—more than your average 2-year-old human— and, may I add, better behaved) as well as abstract concepts, such as color and shape. One dog—a Border Collie, of course—learned 1,500 words. (That's better than many of my tutorees!) Another, a Shepherd, learned to recognize images of dogs so that he could distinguish between photographs that featured dogs from those that did not. These dogs' accomplishments are pretty amazing. 


Of course, researchers still suggest that desire to please is still a great factor in training. Dogs are opportunists. They do whatever it takes to get the treat or the pats or the boo-boo voice from their trainers and owners. If you ask me, there's nothing wrong with that. Dogs that are really smart learn how to manipulate their owners while making them feel loved. In my experience, not many humans can do that.  As one psychology professor—the one who met the BC with the brilliant vocabulary—points out, dogs are intelligent, but their brains work differently than human brains do. 
“I take the view that dogs have their own unique way of thinking. It’s a happy accident that doggie thinking and human thinking overlap enough that we can have these relationships with dogs, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that dogs are viewing the world the way we do.”
Of course! The last thing we need are animals that think like humans! Still, it is nice to see that doggie intelligence is getting its due. Break out the flash cards! 
-z

Monday, November 9, 2009

Arf!: The Dog Parkist Speaks

Q: There is a woman at the Dog Park who takes it upon herself to police the poop pick-up. That's great when she's introducing new visitors to the Park, but when she alerts regulars who are momentarily distracted with a "Hey! Your dog just pooped!" or "Do you need a bag?", it's kind of annoying. Plus, half the time, her own dogs sneak off to drop a dump and she doesn't even see it. Double annoying! What do you think?
—Pooped Out at Dog Park

A: Well, Pooped Out, thanks for your query. The Dog Parkist is so glad to be back after a month-long break! And she missed you all so very much. After all, what's an advice columnist to do without her fellow humans and their many, many problems? She just sits around and tells herself what to do. She tries to tell the dogs, too, but they don't listen. They are too busy creating budget-crashing medical problems, poor things. But enough about elle!

Pooped, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but in every aspect of life you will inevitably encounter a person like the one you describe. You or I would call her a Scold. It's an ugly word, one usually associated with women more than men, but that is the way of the world. The thing to remember, however, is that the woman herself would be mortified to know that's how others see her. In her own mind, she is a Crusader. Like Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and those annoying Supertwins, she believes that she is on the side of freedom, justice, and personal responsibility. Every day, she fights the forces of ignorance, disdain, and indifference. As a result, her vision is a little impaired. She cannot tell the difference between someone, such as yourself, who is merely not paying attention, with someone who merely does not give a shit. Or more precisely, does not care who steps in his or her dog's shit. It's fertilizer after all, and there are no garbage cans at this park that is not a dog park. (See City Code for more details.) As a result, my dear, of course you feel insulted and dismayed when this woman, a regular patron just as much as you are, calls you out like the lout she mistakes you for. Ouch.

Here is the Dog Parkist's advice. First, model correct and admirable behavior by saying thank you in a polite voice and then stepping off the trail to attend to your dog's leavings. Linger a moment and allow her to pass. Perhaps offer a compliment to her own dogs. How lovely and well behaved they are, or how cute. Take your time to tie an elaborate knot in the bag. Then, tail her. Walk just far enough behind her so that you can keep an eye on her dogs while she in engrossed in conversation or by the liberal news organization she is listening to on her digital recording device. And when her own dogs do their business unattended, nail her. Call out her infraction of city code in the most forceful and cheerful voice you can muster. Smile sweetly as she offers her excuses and lingers to scoop and tie an elaborate knot in her bag. Then take the next divergent path, lest the cycle of poop-snooping continue ad infinitum.

Remember, your local Dog Park Scold has a purpose in life, and it is a good one. Every pile of doo she forces someone to scoop is one that does not end up in our water supply. Could she be more discriminating about her scolding? Of course! But take advantage of her thick skin and forceful personality. Point her in the direction of all the newbies at the Park. She may teach them a lesson or two. She may also make them feel so unwelcome that they don't return—a gift that keeps on giving. Thanks for writing!

Dear Readers: The Dog Parkist knows that the weather is lovely and that everyone is happily running around outside making the most of the few daylight hours we have left. Still, at some point you need to sit down at your computer and compose Herself a letter with a question, a query, an outrage, a remark. The Dog Parkist gives every missive her complete attention. Ta!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Goodnight, Irene

Not so long ago, I waited at my backyard gate, leash in hand, in a sort of stand off with my Roma. She had the wide-legged stance that says "I'm not going anywhere with you," and she was giving me that look that poses the question, "And what exactly do I get out of the deal?" And without thinking, I said in an acid-drenched voice, "Let's go to the Dog Park, Irene." 

Irene was my maternal grandmother. Born in 1899, she managed to eke out an eighth-grade education before being shipped off to care for her younger half-brother while he attended a private high school. He went on to become a wealthy banker. She went on to become a widowed lunchroom lady. When she was in her twenties, she worked as a cashier in a Catskills restaurant where she met a handsome and charming cad. She ran off with him, and they married. It turned out, however, that he was already married, and his plan was to blackmail her family. He wanted money in return for not making a scandal. Her family, notoriously tight with money, had him arrested and there was a trial. My grandmother was so mortified that she left New York for Newark, New Jersey, where she worked her way through the Great Depression. She ultimately married a man she did not love, had my mother at age 40, and was widowed seven years later. By the time my mother was a preteen, my grandmother had established her reputation in the neighborhood as a cranky, beleaguered old woman. My mother's classmates called her "Mrs. Hitler."

Irene had succumbed to dementia by the time I was a teenager in the early 1980s. She moved in with my family, and for the next five years, she wandered our house day and night, not knowing where she was or who my parents and brother and I were. She was convinced that my younger brother was her own pampered brother, and she hated him. She ate the napkins her sandwiches were wrapped in, declared that cold lasagne was delicious cake, flushed twenty dollar bills down the toilet, soiled herself regularly, and muttered curses under breath all day long. Eventually, her heart gave out, and she died at age 85 in a nursing home on Mother's Day. Tomorrow would have been her 110th birthday.

So, I was, of course, shocked at myself for calling my own darling Roma by my grandmother's name. Roma is not senile, but she does share with my grandmother that unvarnished quality of old age—by which I mean that in old age, all the soft stuff is finally burnished away—the pretense of politeness and the things we do to show that we are civilized and socialized. Self-interest rules. When Irene heard that her daughter would have to undergo a surgical procedure over Thanksgiving one year, she did not put her hand out and say, "Honey, what can I do to make this easier for your and your family?" Instead, she clutched at her throat and said, "What about me? Who will take care of me?" My parents and I did. And we resented every minute. Who will take care of you, Roma? I will, you tough, old baby, and I'll do it gladly.
-z

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We Do Not Heart Central Standard Time

I'm not alone, right? I mean summer just ended. I only just turned off the A/C and used a screwdriver and WD-40 to squeak open a couple of windows, and now it's dark by 5:30? Oh, the humanity!

Maybe elsewhere in the country people are snuggling in their sweaters and settling down with hot mugs of tea at 7 pm to watch their favorite prime time TV under cover of darkness, but I think I speak for all of us when I say that we here in Texas would like to GO OUTSIDE WITH OUR DOGS. We'd like to savor the kind of  weather that some lucky people get in July and August. We'd also like to get some exercise  and marvel at how we are not sweating or succumbing to heat stroke. We do not want to go inside and watch TV, where, by the way, I have already seen Christmas commercials. I guess that is the gift of global warming—a two-season year, summer and Christmas. As a child, I would have been all over that one. Somehow it lacks appeal now, and the dogs agree. 

See you at the Dog Park. Don't forget your flashlights and the blinky collars. 
-z


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To Justify the Ways of Dog to Man

A few weeks ago, my work required me to reread a short section of Milton's Paradise Lost. My objective was to explain it to high school students who are struggling readers—a daunting task. For those of you who can't remember senior English, Milton's epic poem tells the story of Satan's fall from grace and his temptation of Adam and Eve. It's a slog even for the most ardent admirer of English poetry. Milton's inverted syntax, lofty language, and now obscure allusions to biblical lore and ancient Greek and Roman myth makes the poem an elaborate wedding cake instead of a humble loaf of bread. To illustrate, here's the opening sentence:

Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat, 
Sing, Heavenly Muse . . . 

Wha?? So you can see why I was less than confident of making this poem relevant to kids raised on Hillary Duff. I myself have never been a Milton fan. All the pro-Godness. He was a Puritan after all, and we all know that the Puritans were no fun. His first wife left him after a month. Later, after he went blind, his daughters by a second marriage did the heavy lifting of transcribing and revising his thousands of words. In women's lit classes, he was always the Bad Man. Still, I had to make some money, and so to Milton I turned. 

The part of the poem I had to work with was the opening section of Book 1, in which Milton tells the story of Satan's arrival in Hell after losing an thunderous battle with God for the throne of Heaven. He wakes up with his fellow rebel angel, Beelzebub, in a fiery lake. The two are as sore and grouchy as a pair of hungover frat boys on Ash Wednesday. After much boo-hooing, they haul themselves out of the lake and onto a prime piece of Hell real estate, where they plan their next move. Until they can get back to their proper places in heaven, they will spend their existence ruling in Hell, tormenting the human race, and being a pain in God's ass. It's a classic buddy picture, with two anti-hero schlemiels who think they can regain the upper hand. What they don't know and what Milton is perfectly clear about, though, is that God is totally in control here. It is only by his will that the two bad boys are even still around. He wants them to get their game on. He's waiting to see what they will do. 

As I read this section, I had a new insight. I imagined Satan and B-bub not as devils, but as dogs. Both Roma and Muzzy get their pouts on when I toss them out into the yard while I run the vacuum cleaner around the house or let in the furnace guy. They sit on the grass and look alternately disdainful and desperate to get back inside. (Roma, of course, is Satan, the plotter and instigator; Muzzy is the side-kick who, if truth be told, would prefer to be on God's good side than be a bad doggie.) So then I wondered which character I was. Was I God who booted badly behaving dogs out of Paradise, even for half an hour? In Milton's poem, God is the ultimate puppeteer. He allows Satan and the fallen angels to exist. They are his minions. In my case, however, even on the best of days, I don't have that kind of control over my dogs. Of course, they depend on me for food and love, but their paws are all over the remote control. I spend endless hours trying to figure out how best to serve them. I don't believe that God ever got out of bed in the middle of the night to let a dog outside to pee.

The answer is that I'm their Milton, and they are my muses. I'm the one who who documents the daily efforts of a couple of mutts to be true to their natures. I hope I'm more relevant than our man Milton, however. I also hope I have better hair. You be the judges.
Ta. z

Monday, November 2, 2009

Who Hearts Dog Park?


Well, we're back . . . Mere hours after signing off last month, I took the girls to Dog Park where we experienced a slightly surreal moment. It was a glorious Sunday morning, and the girls and I were the mutts among a pack of five Ridgebacks (the Super Models, the Role Models, and Lolo, who was celebrating a birthday) and two Border Collies (Joey and Coco). The air was cool and dry,  fresh and breezy. People were chatting amicably, in no hurry to go home. Then Erica called out, "Look!" From out of nowhere, a single, red, heart-shaped mylar balloon came drifting out of the sky. It cruised down to just above Doug's head—so let's say more than 6 feet off the ground. None of the dogs but Muzzy took note. She charged up to it and leaped up on her hind feet but could not reach its string. The breeze bounced the balloon along at this height for a few yards, and Muzzy continued to follow it across the field. Then, an updraft suddenly caught it and, within half a minute, it became a tiny dot high in the sky, leaving Dog Park far behind. 

There was a collective moment of contemplation, and then came the comments. One person called out, "Love has arrived!" Someone else cried, "Someone just lost their love!" And someone else, probably Doug, said, "I hate those stupid balloons. They're so bad for the environment!" 

All of which is just to say that Dog Park still continues to yield surprises and bring people together, even if only to disagree. 

For those of you who read this blog entry, I appreciate your attention and interest. I am thinking, though, of ways to change the focus of the blog a little. Now that the days are shorter, and the ground is too damp for sitting on, there are fewer lingering conversations and newsworthy events to report. I'd like to write more specifically about the books and articles I read and the dogs I live with. So we'll see where this takes us. As always, Muzzy and Roma and I hope to see you at the Dog Park. 
-z

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lordy, Lordy, Look Who's Fourteen (and Bye for Now)

According to an arbitrary date set by a vet, our Roma turned 14 last Monday. You may now refer to her as the Venerable Roma. Despite a few close calls—illnesses and run-ins with cars and rat poison—I knew she'd make it this far. I've been carrying the number 14 around in my head for years. I'd be walking her on a street in, say, 1998 or 2001, and I'd calculate how much time we had left. "Okay, she's 3 now, so that means we have 11 years left. Okay, she's 7 now; that means we have 7 more left." Now she's 14, and I can't think that way anymore. There are no more T minus zero years. And I don't want to set any more goals for her because, as I know now in my own senescence, that life is not a race. 

As you know, our Roma has had an excellent life and will continue to do so. My only regrets, of course, are about the moments when I was not attentive enough or when I got mad at her for doing the naughty things that dogs often do—running away, not listening, rolling in or eating the wrong thing. Those moments stand out despite the nearly five thousand good days we have had together. Roma has been my good girl for 13 of her 14 years. She has often been my best reason for getting up in the morning. I could not have wished for a better dog.

And so, my friends, I think it is time for me to take a little break from our blog. I have been working long hours recently, and I have felt a waning in extra creative juices as well as in my powers of Dog Park observation. At the moment, I don't have anything compelling to add to the Story of Dog Park as we head into a rainy fall. Thanks so much to everyone who read and especially to those who made comments online or in person. This blog kept me (and the Dog Parkist) going during months of unemployment and a brutally hot summer. Thanks again. Roma and Muzzy and I will definitely see you at the Dog Park! Ta!
-z

Friday, September 25, 2009

Old Dogs, New Tricks

Okay, so forever only lasted a day. Muzzy and I left Roma at home just one night. We had a fine time at Dog Park, but when we got home, I had to take Roma for a walk of her own around the neighborhood. Enough with all the walking. So now Roma is back at Park, but tethered, and when people ask me why she is leashed, I tell them "Because I can't find leg irons that will fit her tiny ankles."

We had a bad week, Roma and I. Granted, she may have had the worst of it, with the puking and the diarrhea, but I'm the one who had to clean it up. And after getting left behind for one night (one night!), she now is starts to wind herself up for Dog Park before I even finish eating dinner. When we finally get there, she hurls herself out of the car, writhing in my arms as I lift her out, which makes me frustrated and grouchy. I yell at her. I tell her that she's going to hurt one or both of us and then where will we be? I look and feel ridiculous, yelling obscenities at a deaf dog in the Dog Park parking lot. How undignified. 

So I was chastened and humbled when I read this blog entry by writer Dana Jennings, who has an old dog and also feels like one as he deals with cancer. My Roma is old now—she'll be 14 on Thursday—but she's a tough broad, and I realized, of course, that I should be grateful for instead of cranky about the energy she brings to the Park every night. For her, every night is game night. Go, team!

Take a minute and read Jennings' entry. It reminded me to stop and thank my lucky stars—for good health and good dogs. I hope you can do the same. 

Take care!-z

Monday, September 21, 2009

Roma: Banned from Dog Park

Warning: This entry contains grossness and anger. Proceed with caution.

Take a good look at that face, people, because you won't be seeing it for a while. Roma is grounded. She is banned from Dog Park until further notice, which means forever. 

Yep. It's true. Because, once more, I let my guard down, and she proceeded to sneak around the outbuildings and eat something that made her crazy sick--from both ends while I was at work. On the living room carpet. Right next to where I eat. And where I watch TV. And where Muzzy chews her Nylabones. I am not pleased. And I have no sympathy.

I got a frantic call from the dog walker during my lunch to tell me about the spewage, but I knew last night as I chased Roma away from the water bucket at Dog Park that whatever she was swallowing would come to no good. It looked like black razor wire, but I have to believe that even Roma has her limitations. It may have been chicken bones. It could have been anything. But I'm telling you, this episode was the last straw for me. In her long life, she has eaten glass (a broken jar of gravy on a sidewalk in Iowa City), rat poison (my neighbors' yard), ant bait (Dog Park), and human excrement (a park in lovely Worcester, MA), and lived to tell about it—although I have sprouted many a white hair racing her to a vet. I hope it tasted good going down because she's going to have to chew on its memory for a long, long time.

So, Roma sends her regards. She'll really miss sticking her nose up y'all's shorts sussing out those treats. She'll really miss having to give you the ol' paw on the knee to get your attention, too. Oh, and the dumpster. She'll miss it--and greasy grass spots--most of all. I know you'll miss her, too. You can write to her care of the Big House--where she'll be all alone during prime Dog Park hours. Muzzy and I, however, will definitely see you later. 
-z

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Toads in the Holes

The recent rains have brought out not only rain lilies and little green sprouts of grass but also toads.

The first evening after the heavy rains, the amphibians started leaping up out of the deep, drought-hewn cracks in the trail, especially along 45th Street. They must have felt the vibrations of my walking because they'd hurl themselves out of the holes and nearly land on my feet, causing me to gasp and flail my arms like a girl. Muzzy and Roma paid no mind to either the toads or to my distress. Question: Have the toads been lurking in those holes all summer? Freaky.

Tonight was the first time I was able to catch one of our toad friends in action.

Once the flash on the camera started popping, Mr. Toad hit the road.
-z

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Dog Parkist: What Exactly Is the Problem?

Q: I just love the Dog Park! In fact, I can't get enough of it. I'm there morning and night. And even when my dogs are tired of walking, I won't let them go home. I make them lie around on the grass while I chat with other people and pet other dogs. Is there something wrong with me? Is my life somehow incomplete? Is there something I can give my dogs that will make them share my passion for Dog Park?
—All Dog Park, All the Time

A: My dear ADPATT, the Dog Parkist fails to see your problem. In fact, she suspects that you are trying to manipulate her into telling you to get a life. In truth, she cannot but think that you have got a pretty sweet deal this time around on the karmic wheel, and you know it. Clearly, you have the financial means to spend your days bumming around an unused urban alottment, and you have the cheerful demeanor and mild temperament that makes you feel attracted to both people and dogs. Lucky you! If they reciprocate your interest and attention, then you have pretty much got life making you lemonade. So, please, don't whine.

If you are truly worried about your dogs, you might consider getting more and then taking them to Dog Park in shifts. Or, better yet, offer to escort your neighbors' dogs to Park. There are several dogs in the Dog Parkist's neighborhood who languish for lack of daily exercise and stimulation. Imagine the difference you could make in their lives.

If, however, all you want is validation, then by all means spend each and every day at Dog Park. Pack a lunch (but please do eat it in your car) and bring a book. But the DP-ist must insist that you not overtax your animals. Leave them at home or take them to doggie day care rather than cause them suffer from overexposure to heat, dust, and your vibrant personality. Have a lovely day!

Q: Why does the sign say "No Barking Under Trees"? Shouldn't it say "No Parking Under Trees"? —Noticed Your Sign
A: Friend, please avail yourself of the services of an opthamologist near you. Please do not drive yourself or operate heavy machinery on the way. Good luck!

Q: Why does the sign say "No Parking Under Trees"? What happens if we park under the trees?—Idle Questioner
A: Dear I.Q.—how inaptly you are named—, the oceans will boil, the human race will be cast asunder, and life on this planet will end. In addition, the weight of your vehicle will crush the tiny rootlets that conduct water and sustenance to the tree, thereby killing it. Parking = death. The Dog Parkist can't make the equation any simpler. Thanks for writing!
-z

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ready for His Close-Up

Birthdays gifts are always a dilemma for me. I always fret about finding the right gift—the thing that expresses my affection and also reflects the birthday gal or guy's personality, style, and taste. It's been a tricky thing this year, too, because finances. It occurred to me, though, that most of my friends are dog lovers and that they might appreciate drawings of their favorite animals. I love to draw, and, as you all know, I love dogs, so doggie portraits seemed a perfect way to say "Happy Birthday." 

So now when  a birthday comes up, I break out my charcoals and set to work. Above is a photo of Tony. It's a good one. Tony looks so regal and content. Below is my interpretation. 

I loved working on this rendering. Of course, it does not do Tony justice. Tony's black fur, with its reflections and ridges of old-man whiteness, was a real challenge, as were his eyes. As you can see in the photo, his right eye isn't even visible, but it seemed weird, even disfiguring, not to have one in the portrait. And it took me a long time to get the left eye to express Tony's insouciant stare. Do all artists fall in love with their subjects, I wonder? I was smitten with Tony after staring at his photo for more than an hour. Who's the good boy?

Enjoy!
-z

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Dog Parkist: Workplace Dimwit

Q: I am wondering if you could give me some advice. There's a woman at work who drives me insane. She is bossy, dim-witted, and overbearing. I have tried being rude, I have tried being nice, I have tried ignoring her—all to no avail. I am becoming obsessed with how much I dislike her, so much so that I hear her shrill voice in every night in my dreams. I haven't walked my dogs in weeks. I just sit at home and stew. Please, help! 
—Losing All Perspective

A: My dear LAP, the Dog Parkist knows exactly how you feel. It's bad enough that you feel trapped at the work place, stuck as you are in a small, badly lit cell and forced to toil among unequals. To feel as though one of those unequals is ruining your day is a constant irritation that is bound to get you down. Now, you are an intelligent person, LAP, and, intellectually, you know that Bossy Dimwit constantly interrupts the boss at meetings, natters on about the quality of her coffee, and refers regularly to her previous employment at prestigious university press simply because she feels inadequate. Similarly, you know that she can't help that incessant coughing caused by allergies, and yet every percussive little spasm of her throat travels down the hallway and spikes you in the back of the head like a bully throwing dodge balls. Of course you feel resentful and cranky.  And of course these feelings spill over into the rest of your day, including your time with your dogs. You know better, but you can't help it. Who, besides Barack Obama, could? 

Here's what I suggest, my dear. Take a deep breath and think of your dogs. Dogs are very clear about when they do not care for an individual, be it human or dog or cat or squirrel or postman. They  do not necessarily react in a vicious or even overt way. They may bare their teeth, but at the first opportunity they turn away and blithely move on to investigate the next smelly thing. 

Do you do yoga? I suspect that you do. Keep in mind that the downward dog position is not just about looking like a stretching dog and certainly not about acting submissive; it's about experiencing the Zen of dogness.  Think of Bossy Dimwit as a passing annoyance, like the meter reader or that annoying cat that sits on the fence and smirks or a cloud on a sunny day. Eventually she will pass, like a kidney stone or a car commercial. Just bark and move on, my dear. Or, if you are in a meeting, just think to yourself, "La, la, la, I'm such a lovely dog with a long, flowing tail and beautiful, brown eyes. Oh, there is that annoying woman again. Hey, I'd really like to chew on the boss' shoes. La, la, la." Remember, there are so many more interesting things to chase and sniff and pee on than your co-worker. Thanks for writing!

Dear Readers: As you can see, the Dog Parkist's expertise extends to the wonderful and wacky world of the workplace. Don't be shy, my dears! Write to her about work-a-day woes! You won't regret! Ta!

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Don't Ask Me Why . . .

. . . There's no sun up in the sky—stormy weather."
Sarah (Tony) didn't think her phone camera could do justice to the magnificent cloud formation over Dog Park last night, but see for yourselves. We stood for half an hour with her friend Eric and the  dogs, watching the clouds shift and shimmy in the evening sky. This view is of the north. To the east, there were rainbows. Pretty amazing. Thanks, Sarah, and happy birthday (a day early)!
-z

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Meet Flat Kitty


Meet Flat Kitty, Muzzy's new and best inanimate friend. FK is the creation of Erica (Joey and Coco). She concocted FK from an old sweater sleeve, a tennis ball, and some thread. I love FK's quirky leetle moustachio and his pink bump of a nose. (I wanted to keep FK for myself, but Erica insisted that I share. Darn.)

As you can see, Muzzy bonded immediately with the Flat Kitty.

"Mmm. Kitty, let me bite on you!" The first thing to go, of course, were the whiskers. Ouch!

Flat Kitty reminded Muzzy and me of her first childhood toy, Mister Poos. Mister Poos was a fuzzy, purple, four-legged octopus (a quatropus?) purchased at a local pet shop. Mr. Poos was excellent for indoor playing. He would soar down the hallway and bounce awkwardly, and an equally awkward Muzzy puppy would fetch him and shake him until her brains rattled in her head. See? Cute, no?

Eventually, Muzzy's puppy teeth were replaced with grown-up chompers, and Mr. Poos (and his successor) quickly lost his legs and his tennis ball head. Flash forward to Flat Kitty:

Mmmmmmm. Munch, munch, munch. Chew, chew, chew. Muzzy is in zombie mode: "Brains. I want Flat Kitty's brains!" You all can guess what happened next. You may want to avert your eyes from the following image. 


Aaaaaaah! Muzzy ate FK's face off entirely and ran off with her tennis ball brain (a brain bigger than Muzzy's by the way, but what good did it do poor Flat Kitty?).

Thank you, Erica, for giving us a few moments of enjoyment. FK was a brilliant, yet short lived creation. We await FK 3.0. Preferably one made from steel mesh. 
-z

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On the Dean's List

Hi, all. I got a couple of the details wrong in an earlier post about Dean's band's gigs. First of all, Dean plays every Tuesday night at Ramsey Park, not at the school on Ramsey. Also, Ramsey Park is in Rosedale, not Allandale, if you please. Finally, Bindi wants to know what was I thinking posting a picture of Muzzy on her daddy's gig list. Apologies all around. 

Here are the gigs still upcoming:

Friday, Sept 18 at Artz Rib House (7:30-9:30 pm)
Saturday, Sept 19 at Green Mesquite (7-10pm)
Saturday, Sept 26 at Botticelli's (8-10pm)

See you at one of them, I'm sure. 
-z

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Having the Dogs for Dinner

It's Tuesday, and that means it's time to peruse the Science section of the New York Times for interesting articles about dogs. Check out this article by Nicholas Wade about where, when, and why dogs were first domesticated. The where (far East China and possibly northern Africa) and the when (a really long time ago--between 11,000 and 14,000 years back) are of less interest to me and my fellow Dog Parkers, I think, than the why.

Why did we originally domesticate dogs (or wolves, to be precise; they didn't become dogs until after the domestication process, kind of like some husbands I used to be married to)? To help us hunt? To snuggle with? To chase away dinosaurs? Actually, no. We domesticated them as a regular source of protein. Before beef and pork, there was dog. Apparently, "dog food" had a wholly different meaning during prehistoric times.

Some researchers don't even give us humans credit for the domestication process. They say that wolves domesticated themselves, by hanging around our garbage sites and growing fat and less wary of humanoid activity. We can only take credit for putting them on leashes and then figuring out what to do with them. Eventually we decided they could help put food on the table in ways other than composing the main course.

With this thought in mind, I look at my two pooches. Muzzy's too skinny to eat despite the poundage of food she consumes each day, and old Roma would be a bit stringy and tough. I doubt any of the marinades touted on Create channel's cooking shows could turn either one into a tasty bit of filet mignon. Though if you ask, they both will roll their eyes and tell you that I constantly pinch their soft, tender ears and pronounce them "chomp-alicous."
-z

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Dog Parkist: Rebuffs Aplenty

Q: There is a person at Dog Park with whom I used to be friendly, but over time we fell out of touch. I thought s/he was cool with this turn of events, but now s/he is acting kind of weird. For example, when we pass on the trail, the person ignores me completely but says hello to my dog in an exaggeratedly friendly way, as if to suggest that I'm a jerk, but my jerkiness is no reflection on my dog. Again, I don't care how s/he feels about me, but I kind of resent him/her abusing my dog with his/her childish, passive- aggressive behavior. Any thoughts? 
—Friendless and Fine With It at Dog Park

A: Well, my dear Friendless, it's better that this person abuse your dog with his/her behavior than with his/her foot, now isn't it? Let's back up a bit, though. Clearly you sensed that this person was a bit of a nut job, and you backed off. But we must admit, you didn't handle the situation properly. Although you may no longer have feelings for this person, he or she obviously believes that the relationship was not resolved satisfactorily, and now you and your dog pay a price every time you meet. 

Now, you can continue along, do nothing, and see if the situation escalates. For example, in order to show you up, the person may begin to lavish your dog with expensive gifts, such as freeze-dried liver, cashmere sweaters with tail holes, or gift certificates to doggie nail salons. In which case, you will be forced to express gratitude and thereby give the person the conversational opening he/she has been desiring. You'll be forced to admit your jerkiness, but your dog will have gotten a good deal out of your failed friendship. 

On the other paw, the person may may become increasingly frustrated with your lack of interest in his/her interest in your dog and turn nasty. S/he may begin spreading rumors about your dog's (or your) sexuality,  true hair color, or off-label use of prescription medications. (No, I haven't heard anything--yet. Truly, I'd be the first to let you know.) Then, blowing him/her off would require an amount of patience and discretion that I suspect you lack. The situation will become ugly and require a show-down of epic proportions. And who wants that, especially when there are no cameras rolling? 

What I'd suggest is a polite nod of the head or a smile and a wave as you pass this person on the trail. For bonus points, say hello to his/her dog in friendly—but not overly friendly—tones. By doing so, you acknowledge the person and the dog, but not his/her beef. You treat him/her the way you treat most fellow Parkers whom you don't know very well—with a modicum of respect due a comrade. Then just keep walking. Eventually someone else in the person's life will annoy or disappoint him/her more than you have, and s/he will have someone else to manipulate into feeling badly. Truly, you simply can't maintain  your  position as this person's shit-carrier forever. Thanks for writing!

Dear Readers: The Dog Parkist can barely bring herself to read or watch the news. Drought! Wild fires! Economic collapse! Rigged elections! She entreats you to avoid the news with her and to read entertaining blogs instead. Even better, write to blogs like this one with your questions about ethical, moral, and personal dilemmas! Won't we all feel better then? Cheers!