Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Literary Dog: "Dogs Must Be Led on Chains"

In 1933, Virginia Woolf published an unusual biography of English poet Elizabeth Barrett. It was told from the point of view of Barrett's dog, a spaniel named Flush. You may remember from high-school English class that Browning was a Victorian poetess who lived in London with her oppressive father. Her existence was confined to stuffy, coal-heated drawing rooms lined with tassled velvet curtains. Barrett access to the wider world until she married rakish Robert Browning. They ran off to Italy, with Flush and several servants in tow. This excerpt describes Flush's experience as a newly liberated dog. 

And just as Mrs. Browning was exploring her new freedom and delighting in the discoveries she made, so Flush too was making his discoveries and exploring his freedom. Before they left Pisa—in the spring of 1847 they moved on to Florence—Flush had faced the curious and at first upsetting truth that the laws of the Kennel Club are not universal. He brought himself to the fact that light topknots are not necessarily fatal. He had revised his code accordingly. He had acted, at first, with some hesitation, upon his new conception of canine society. He was becoming daily more and more democratic. Even in Pisa, Mrs. Browning noticed, ". . . he goes out every day and speaks Italian to the little dogs." Now in Florence the last threads of his old fetters fell from him. The moment of liberation came one day in the Cascine. As he raced over the grass "like emeralds" with the "pheasants all alive and flying," Flush suddenly bethought him of Regent's Park and its proclamation: Dogs must be led on chains. Where was "must" now? Where were chains now? Where were park-keepers and truncheons? Gone, with the dog-stealers and Kennel Clubs and Spaniel Clubs of a corrupt aristocracy! Gone with four-wheelers and hansom cabs! with Whitechapel and Shoreditch! He ran, he raced; his coat flashed; his eyes blazed. He was the friend of all the world now. All dogs were his brothers. He had no need of a chain in this new world; he had no need of protection. 

Have a lovely weekend, everyone. Go run; go race. Let your coat flash and your eyes blaze. --z

Excerpt source: Virginia Woolf's Flush (1933/1983 Harcourt Brace), pp. 116-117.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I Think That I Shall Never See . . .

I showed you this dead pecan tree last week. I said that owls once used it as their look-out perch. Another bird is currently using it. Starlings have made a nest in a hollow branch, the lowest one on the left, above. I learned this while sitting under the tree the other evening, minding my own business. Above me was a male starling with something in its mouth. It expressed its impatience as "CHIRP, CHIRP, CHIRP!"  I was getting no peace, so I moved away, and the bird hopped right into the hole in the branch. A moment later, it flew out and a female flew in with more food. The babies, which I could not see, were amazingly smart. They cheeped only when they knew their parent was outside the nest. 

Our tree reminded me of an unusual memorial that I saw in Gettysburg. Take a look. 

Kind of crazy, right? It's a sculpture of a dead, limbless tree trunk, ringed by ivy and symbols of war, including a rucksack, rifle, cannonball, and escutcheon. The trunk itself is supposed to be a symbol of life cut short. But did you notice at the very top? There's a nest with a bird--possibly an eagle--feeding its baby just inches away from the cannonball. Here's a close-up.

I'm sure there's a book somewhere that will explain in great detail the specific symbolism of the bird and the tree. It's an old story, though: life persists in spite of death. It was true at Gettysburg, and it's true at Dog Park. 

PS: Erica (Joey and Coco) told me of another Gettysburg connection to Dog Park. Her great- grandfather was the artist commissioned to design the half-dollar coin stamped in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. His name was Frank Vittor. Here is what the coin looked like. 

You can read more about Erica's great-grandfather, the coin, and the Battle of Gettysburg at this address:,
which is where I found the image. 


Thursday, May 14, 2009

At the Carwash . . .

Am I the last car-owner in the civilized world to discover the touchless car wash? I had to stop using car washes about ten years ago because my car, a purple Dodge Neon, had a habit of moulting paint. What's more, I'm from New Jersey. Washing the car is what Sundays and AM Top 40 radio stations are for. (I can remember studying for chemistry finals and hearing the neighbors washing their cars outside my bedroom window:  "Broooce, quit standing on the @#$-ing  hose, you @#$-ing @#$#!" and "That's not how you wax a @#$-ing Mercedes, you @#$#%-ing idiot." ) 

But today I noticed that my car was filthy, and the place where I got the thing inspected offered a $5 car wash. A bargain. What I didn't realize, of course, was that I had to drive the thing through the wash myself. (The sign said "Full Service." I thought the little old guy would take care of it for me.) 

So I punched in the code number and maneuvered the car under the sprayers, shifted into park, and sat back. La, la, la. Except I couldn't relax. I suddenly had a glimmer of what old Roma dog experiences when she gets in the car. Several people have told me about the desperate, wide-eyed picture she makes, framed by the little porthole window in the back of my Toyota. Her thought balloon reads, "Help me!!", as if she were Wile E. Coyote holding a tiny, battered umbrella as a boulder falls from the sky. But I get it now. You are in the back of the car, you don't really know what's going to happen, and there are all kinds of scary noises and vibrations. The car wash had a helpful light-up menu that indicated each stage of the wash. But, see, when the windshield is all soapy, and the sprayers are gunning like Howitzers, a girl gets a little unnerved. She realizes she can't get out of the car. She thinks, "What if I have to spend the rest of my life in here?"

It's not as if I'm claustrophobic, exactly. I cruised through an MRI. For me, it was 45 minutes of bliss. All I had to do was lie down with my eyes closed, and no one bothered me to go out, to give out cookies, or to open the back door. But the car wash was different. I had a pretty good idea that this car wash would not take up the rest of my life and that the outcome would not be dire (heck, no; the car gleams! "Ting!"), but during those anxious minutes, time slowed to a bug's pace, and the air became thick with possible outcomes, all bad. And that, I suspect, is what Roma feels every time she hauls her rump into the backseat. And that's why she explodes out of it when we get to Dog Park. "Thank God! I'm free; I'm free!" she thinks. "Whatever it takes to get you through the day, baby," I think. That goes for both of us. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's in a Name?

The 2008 Top 10 Names for Dogs list has been circulating for a while, but the New York Times didn't cover it on a Sunday, so I'm kind of out of the loop. A Google search led me to several sources that quoted this list, compiled from the databases of an organization called Veterinary Pet Insurance. How do our dogs at Dog Park reflect the list? 

Top 10 Dog Names for 2008
  1. Max
  2. Bailey
  3. Bella
  4. Molly
  5. Lucy
  6. Buddy
  7. Maggie
  8. Daisy
  9. Sophie
  10. Chloe
I think we scored 90% here, folks. We've got at least one of each these names--except Chloe. 

Now check out this list of top male dog names from a few years ago. 
  1. Max
  2. Buddy
  3. Jake
  4. Rocky
  5. Bailey
  6. Cody
  7. Charlie
  8. Bear
  9. Jack
  10. Toby
  11. Duke
  12. Lucky
  13. Sam 
  14. Harley
  15. Shadow
  16. Rusty
  17. Murphy
  18. Sammy
  19. Zeus
  20. Riley
  21. Winston
  22. Casey
  23. Tucker
  24. Teddy
Again, we score pretty high here--though both Baileys I have known at Park have been girls. I believe the names we don't currently have in circulation are Rocky, Cody, Lucky, and Casey. Seriously, I have met a Zeus at D.P. He was impressive, but I didn't ask him to demonstrate any of his superpowers.

Here's the list of female dog names from the same year, 2004.
  1. Molly
  2. Maggie
  3. Daisy
  4. Lucy
  5. Sadie
  6. Ginger
  7. Chloe
  8. Bailey
  9. Sophie
  10. Zoe
  11. Princess
  12. Bella
  13. Angel
  14. Lady
  15. Sasha
  16. Abby
  17. Roxy
  18. Missy
  19. Brandy
  20. Coco
  21. Annie
  22. Katie
  23. Samantha
  24. Casey
  25. Gracie
  26. Rosie
What does it say about us Parkers that we don't have any of the really girlie names--Angel, Princess, or Lady? We are also missing Casey, Ginger, Samantha, and Chloe. 

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about giving dogs people names. It cracks me up to meet boy dogs named Bob or Tony or Joey. But my friend's husband was a little bemused when met his doppelganger in the form of a chihuahua named Dave.  I'm not sure how I would feel if I met a dog named Liz (Oops. I mean, Zia). My great-grandmother Margaret cut an imposing figure in family lore. I think she'd have a fit if she met any of our three Maggies, despite their cuteness. One day I met a woman while hiking in the woods in Massachusetts. Her name was Roma. She was amazed to meet a dog with her name. We just kept on walking. You do the same. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Speargrass and Other Sharp Objects

During the wildflower season, the folks responsible for mowing the Dog Park grounds are pretty careful about not cutting the flowers before they have faded and gone to seed (at least this year they are). One drawback of that strategy, however, is that the speargrass gets out of hand. 

Speargrass is pointy, clingy, and devious. It can wiggle its way through your dog's fur, burrow into his or her skin, and cause some serious damage. 

The most informative site I found is Australian. The Aussies call speargrass "Texas needlegrass." The grass is native to Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico, but it has migrated to Australia and caused problems there. The images here are from the Australian site, and yet they look just like Dog Park. 

Just the other day, I was petting on Roma and felt something sharp and spiny in her side. It was the stem , or the awn bends, of the grass. I gave a quick yank and was lucky enough to pull the head, or lemma, out before it had dug too deeply into her skin. She picked the grass up on her first trip to D.P. after a week at the kennel, where I know there is no speargrass. 

So, here's one more thing to check for after a trip to the Park, especially if your dogs have a rough coat that will pick up the grass. Good luck! 

Speaking of prickly things found at the Park . . . 

As I predicted, the Prickly Poppy I'd been watching carefully bloomed while I was away, but I did manage to find a few examples for you. The flowers appear so delicate, yet they are protected by some fierce looking thorns. Seems like almost everything in Texas has thorns, prickers, or sharp little teeth (fire ants, I'm talking about you). And yet, I can't imagine living anywhere else.   --z

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pooch Profile: Meet Scooter

 Scooter (pictured, left, with Muzzy)

Owner: Amy and Aidan and Jillian and Nick

Nicknames: Scoo-Scoo, Scooz, Scooster

Border collie, Husky, Aussie

anywhere from 2 to 5

Scooter's story: Aidan says, "We got Scooter from Austin Dog Rescue. He had been found in the Gonzales-Yoakum shelter in South Texas and was being fostered in Austin."

Scooter's signature move: 
His sideways gait

Habits that regularly crack his family up/ drive them crazy: 
His "don't leave me out" look

Scooter's  loveliest feature(s):  "His really, really soft fur and irresistible blue-eye-brown-eye combo."

Scooter's BDPFs (Best Dog Park Friends): 
Muzzy, Roma

Scooter's mortal enemy: 
"Daisy, a dog we meet each day on-leash on the way to school."

To what celeb/movie star/athlete/philosopher/politician has Scooter been (or ought to be) compared?: David Bowie (the eye thing)

Scooter's theme song?: 
Original song by his mistress Aidan: "I want to stay on this side of the street/I'll cross to the other when my name is Pete./I don't have any muddy paws,/although I may have that ki-ind of claw-aw-aws/I'm Scooter, rockin', rockin' scooter (etc.), the awesome!"

If Scooter could speak, what would he say?: 
"Allow me to pre-wash those dirty dishes for you," and "Don't touch my rawhide!"

If Scooter could speak, what would his voice sound like?:  
Aaron Neville or Danny Gokey (an American Idol finalist) 

Thanks, Amy and Aidan! --z

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Photo of the Week: Moon over Dog Park

A nearly full moon rising in the east over Dog Park, Thursday, May 7, 2009. (This photo was slightly enhanced to bring out the moon. Of course, the full moon rose a majestic orange ball in the sky Friday night when I did not have my camera.) 

The image reminded me of that strange and tender Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht song "The Alabama Song," which is also known as "Moon Over Alabama." Here's the first verse and chorus (mildly inappropriate, I suppose, for a Mother's Day posting. Sorry, Mum!):

"The Alabama Song" or "Moon Over Alabama"
Show us the way to the next whiskey bar
Don't ask why
For we must find the next whiskey bar
Or if we don't find the next whiskey bar
I tell you we must die
I tell you we must die
I tell you
I tell you
I tell you we must die

Oh Moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We've lost our good old mama
And must have whiskey ... you know why

What's the Dog Park version of this song? It's pretty obvious, right?

The Moon Over Dog Park Song
Show us the way to the next water bowl
Don't ask why
For we must find the next water bowl
Or if we don't find the next water bowl
I tell you we must pant
I tell you we must pant
I tell you
I tell you
I tell you we must pant.

Oh Moon of Dog Park
We now must say goodbye
It's time to watch "Idol"
And must have water ... you know why

Happy Mother's Day to all the mamas, human and canine.