Saturday, August 21, 2010

Name Tags

The other day I noticed myself doing something odd. Before putting away a fresh box of Muzzy's heart worm preventative, I found myself writing her name on the box with a green Sharpie. Next, I looked at the calendar and saw that the reminder sticker also was marked "M," as opposed to "R" for Roma. As you know, Roma shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving Muzzy an "only dog" and me an only-dog owner, eight months ago, but there are reminders of her everywhere. Her name is still on her food bucket. Her meds haven't expired and still sit in the cupboard. Her leash still hangs by the door. I feel weird about using it to walk the Muzz. Because it's not a spare; it's Roma's.

While I was on vacation in Maine, Roma appeared in a dream. She just walked through a door, and I leaned over and thumped her gently on her rib cage, feeling a surge of joy. "You came back!" was my first thought. The next was, "Oh, wait . . ."  The dream continued, but that moment with Roma is the only part I remember. Frankie's Diane says that next time Roma appears in my dreams, I need to tell her that it's okay to move on, so that she can "move on and come back for real." Roma never needed me to tell her anything important. I think she'll figure out how and when—and if—she wants to return to a plane of existence that is home to so many idiots. Since then, though, I've been thinking that I see her around the house. The big yellow bag of dog food in the kitchen corner has been making me do a double-take every time I walk by it.  So has that nightgown hanging on the bedroom doorknob. I know that Roma is not coming back, certainly not in the same form in which she left. At the same time, though, I'll continue to write Muzzy's name on Muzzy's stuff—because I am pretty sure that we won't be on our own forever. Someone else is bound to come along. And when he or she does, I have a red Sharpie for writing a new name on stuff.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Office Dogs

Occasionally I read the Freakonomics blog that appears on the New York Times Web site. The guys who write it always make interesting observations about how people spend their money and their time. The heading for today's blog was "Dogs for Everyone?", so of course I read it. I looked forward to reading about why everyone should have a dog. But the topic was actually about the impact that dogs in the workplace can have on the behavior of the human workers. Here's the premise of the study that Levitt and Dubner cite: At workplaces that allowed employees to bring dogs, workers were significantly more likely to be loyal to and trusting in their co-workers and teammates. According to the blog, the scientist running the study "also asked 13 groups of people to play a version of the prisoner’s dilemma game and found that '[h]aving a dog around made volunteers 30% less likely to snitch than those who played without one.' " Interesting, no?

Being economists and not psychologists, the Freako guys did not hazard any hypotheses about why dogs make workers feel more like, well, part of the pack. In my own case, I have a dog in my office all the time, but I don't have actual co-workers, so the study doesn't quite fit. Muzzy snores happily but often bolts the room when my cursing at the cursor gets out of hand. She also skedaddles when my tube of lip rolls off the desk and plonks on the floor  and any time the printer grinds into gear. Still, I do register Muzzy's presence during my day. If I sneeze or burp around her, I always excuse myself. And when she executes a command, I often say, "thank you" instead of "good girl." It is not that I'm worried about hurting Muzzy's feelings, mind you. (And believe me, I wish that she'd excuse herself after some room-clearing gas attacks.) But I do worry about getting out of practice of knowing how to behave around other humans. If I let what few manners I have slip entirely, I may not be able to pass as a civilized adult when the occasion calls. 

So I think what the study discussed in the Freako-blog today hints at is that dogs do appeal to our better nature. Even if they are not judging us, we read all kinds of things into their big brown eyes. They are sentient beings whose loyalty and trust in us challenge us to be better team players. Who wants to look like a jerk in front of the dog? Or let's put it this way: What does it say about a person who is capable of acting like a jerk in front of the dog? You just don't want that guy on your team. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Baxter's in the House at Downeast Dog News

One thing that I noticed while in Maine is that Portlanders love their dogs. We saw dogs everywhere on our trip--on the ferries, hanging at the docks, strolling the streets, and chilling in coffee shops. Most were on leashes and all looked well cared for--even the dogs that belonged to the grungy, panhandling kids. To reinforce this point, someone in our group picked up a copy of the free monthly newspaper Downeast Dog News.

The paper is published by Wendi Smith and distributed free at "dog-friendly locations in Maine," but out-of-staters can purchase subscriptions for $25 a year. The paper not only reports on dog-oriented events like dock-jumping contests (who knew there were so many?), but it is also full of advice about how to choose a puppy or share dog custody in a divorce. It contains photos and profiles of dogs in need of adoption as well as lists of pet services and training classes. My favorite part of the August issue, though, was a how-to column "written" by a German shepherd named Baxter. Check him out in the photo below. Don't you wish you had tall, pointy ears like that? He's the Vulcan of the dog world. Baxter's column this month is about how to stay cool during the "hot" weather in Maine. (A whopping 85 degrees!) Baxter is clearly a pro. His voice is warm and friendly but also a bit mischievous. Clearly he knows how humans think as well as the ramifications of telling fellow dogs to dig in the flower beds. Also, he's wise enough to know to leave the cat alone. Baxter, you can write a blog entry for us here at NBUT any time. Enjoy. Or, as Baxter says: Chow! -z

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bull Creek BullSh*t

I'm just getting around to looking at stuff people have recommended I read. Right before I left town, Johnny showed me an article from the Austin American-Statesman by Ricardo Gandara about the recent trashification of Bull Creek Park, which used to be Roma's other favorite park. We would go there regularly for some splashy fun and hiking. I have many happy memories of that park, but we had to stop going when it was clear that the old girl couldn't handle the terrain. (Hmm. Honestly, the last time I took her and Muzzy was an ordeal. When I let both dogs off leash, they ran in opposite directions. Muzzy was afraid of water, yet she charged up and down the creek's edge to bark hysterically at dogs playing in the stream. Meanwhile Roma had hauled arthritic bones to the top of a picnic table and was eating scraps. My cries fell on her actual deaf ears. I swore I would never take the pair of them back to the park again. Still, rather than leave Roma at home, we just quit going.)

Anyway, the article, published July 28, reminded me that the park, which was largely leash-free for many years, changed its rules last December and now requires all dogs to be on leash. The reason for the new rule was a dangerous increase of fecal bacteria in the creek, allegedly caused by too much dog poop and not enough pick up. The waters are much cleaner now with the leash rule in place (although I hear from some Dog Parkers that it is rarely enforced), but the current problem is trash.

The article documents the kinds of garbage strewn around the park--empty beer cans, cigarette cartons and butts, food wrappers, dirty diapers, and used charcoal. One regular visitor to the park told the reporter that he had witnessed people relieving themselves the bushes and even driving their cars into the creek to wash them. Two groups actually get blamed in the article for the park's trash problem. One, of course, is the City. Austin Parks and Recreation Department is so understaffed that crews can only empty the trash cans once every other day, and the cops are slow to respond to non-emergency calls. (Really?) The other group, amazingly, includes the dog-friendly volunteer organizations that once helped maintain the park. The Bull Creek Dog Off-Leash Group and the Bull Creek Foundation both used to participate in regular clean ups and park landscaping efforts. But both groups felt alienated by the City's decision to revoke the leash-free status and its refusal to compromise on the issue. As a result, both groups stopped coming to and caring for the park. Hence, the increase in trash. The director of Parks and Rec and an Austin police officer told the reporter that the park will become a higher priority for patrols, but they also pointed out that trash itself isn't crime. The article ended with a park visitor's rhetorical question, "How simple is it to pick up after yourself?" I think what he meant to ask is "How hard is it to pick up after yourself?" Answer: It isn't, if you're not an inconsiderate and lazy cuss.

I think it's interesting that dogs and their dog owners get blamed for both problems at Bull Creek Park. I get that the E. coli problem was linked to the dogs. Bull Creek park slopes downward. Anything not picked up at the top of the hill will eventually get washed into the creek. But to blame the dogs and their owners for not picking up trash they didn't make in the first place is kind of ridiculous. Many dollars have been spent recently on campaigns to get people to pick up dog waste. Have they worked? I haven't read any statistics, but I've certainly appreciated and used the bag dispensers and nearby trash cans at Turkey Creek and Red Bud Isle. But I think people may have forgotten that the motto "Don't mess with Texas" originally referred to trash, not to political beliefs or tax laws. How do you get picnickers and other park users to pick up their own waste? Would printing cute and informative ads and dispensing colorful, personalized garbage bags help? How a campaign with huge signs that simply say, "Hey, dumb*ss! We've driven away the dogs and cleaned up the water, now pick up your damn trash!"?