In Support of Children and Dogs

Oh yes, we communicators are all alike in at least one way – given time and inspiration, surely a great book will emerge from these talented fingers. Or not. Unless you’re Greg Bardsley, Al Riske, Rachel Canon or a handful of others who have actually done the hard work of writing and publishing.

I’d still be sitting there, kidding myself that any day now, my masterpiece shall write itself and bring thunderous applause, if I wasn’t approached by my friend, Rose Nielsen, last summer. Rose asked, “Would you be willing to write a children’s book about therapy dogs to support the Dog Program at Children’s Hospital?”

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Dogs? Children? Writing? Are you kidding? I was in!

What an amazing process, filled with great collaboration and mutual support…After settling on the concept (Rose’s therapy dog, Blondie, would go on a treasure hunt at Children’s Hospital), we spent a fair amount of time brainstorming what the treasure hunt would look like and what parts of the hospital Blondie would explore.  I wrote a draft, Rose had it test-marketed with a class of grade school children, I revised it, we tested it again, revised again. We went from thinking the book would be a combination of photography and illustrations to just illustration. Rose found Adonna Khare, a (fabulous) illustrator who was willing to work with us. Adonna asked for sketches for each page which I created in my clearly untrained hand, but which were a blast to do.

Then the book had to be laid out and designed. Reviewed. Revised. Reviewed. Revised.

Meanwhile, Rose was hard at work arranging printing, pricing, and marketing – all those things that I hate doing but are oh so necessary.

And so we are approaching the realization of this dream, filled with whimsical drawings and a sweet story. The book should be for sale mid-summer, with all profits going to support the Dog Program at Children’s Hospital. We hope to raise a minimum of $5,000, although clearly I’d love to raise more.

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What a journey…from casual conversation to rough draft to rough illustrations to final product… I’ll let all of you know when the book is available for purchase!

 

 

Doodly Doright to the Rescue

Have you seen the bumper sticker, “My rescue dog rescued me”? I am here to tell you this is God’s own truth.

We lost our beautiful Boo in September. We got her ashes back, and there were many nights when I thought of taking a little of the ash and marking my heart with it. I didn’t (and I’m sure Scott is grateful for that!) but I was very, very sad. We planned to get a puppy in the spring, after we got some long-planned travel out of the way. I went online and started the search.

There were some rules. Our new pooch could not look anything like Boo – it would be unfair to the pup and painful for me. I also couldn’t handle another 65-pound dog. During Boo’s waning days, she needed help getting up and I just could not lift her.  Also, the thought of trying to manage a large, all-energy young dog on a leash was unimaginable. But we wanted Boo’s sweet temperament,  good heart, intelligence and soft retriever mouth. What to do, what to do…

The answer? A miniature or medium size doodle. Here’s the scoop. You breed a standard-sized golden retriever or labrador retriever mom to a medium-sized poodle and you get…a small doodle! Brilliant.

So now the hunt was on. Soon I was up to my neck in figuring out the differences between F1s, F1Bs and multi-generation puppies. I learned about genetic diseases and traits. I looked at loads of breeders, trying to figure out who was a puppy mill and who was an ethical, caring breeder. Thanks to my friend, Jillian Dorman, I got in touch with a terrific breeder in Atlanta who was planning on puppies in the spring. I was on my way!

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Until my beloved got wind of my plan.

“Atlanta? Like in, Georgia?! You have lost your mind,” he bellowed. “And you’d do that because there are no dogs that need a home in Los Angeles? No dog who is living in a crate, waiting for a family to love him?”

OK. The big guy had a point. I whined about wanting a specific dog and how it would be so impossible to find one through a rescue organization. He didn’t budge. So I went back online. And found this face, looking for a home.

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Rescued from a kill shelter, Pups and Pals took this little guy to a safe place, cleaned him up, got him his shots, neutered him (uh, sorry, dude!), and starting assessing him for a future home. Eight to ten months old, the goldendoodle puppy was happy, friendly, and healthy – but stone cold deaf. And that is a challenge for any dog owner.

I immediately sent in an application for him, and then started doing homework on raising a deaf puppy. There’s not a lot of material out there, but I found one terrific book and a lot of good advice. Armed with our new copy of the American Sign Language dictionary, Scott and I started to figure out how we would work with our new dog, if we were lucky enough to get him.

The pup – now known as Doodly Doright (named for Dudley Do-Right on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show), the “Dood” has quickly become a member of the family. He’s progressed from sleeping in a crate to sleeping in our bed, and he is quickly picking up sign language. He’s a joy. And we are so grateful to Pups and Pals for their rescue and their caring (thank you, Valerie and Dianne!).

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And my darling Boo? Not replaced. Not forgotten. Tucked into my heart. Where Doodly is making a home of his own.

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My Girl Boo

When I close my eyes, here is what I see…

A big green field. My dog prancing in the sunlight and grass. Me kneeling, arms out, and calling, “Boo Booooo!!”. And my big beautiful red furry girl bounding through the grass and into my arms.

I loved that dog. She was my shadow, my companion, my laughter, my joy. She slept with us at night, she lay at my feet when I worked, she stayed close while I was cooking, she sat quietly (hopefully!) by the table while we ate. We started our days together, going for long walks through the hills, with Boo ecstatic from start to finish (After, all what could be better than spending an hour with your humans, smelling delectable odors, marking your spot and getting treats?). We went to Montana together, where she loved the freedom, the smells and getting her feet wet in the lake. When we out for boat rides , she would frantically run from dock to dock, afraid to let us out of her sight.

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We adopted Boo from Golden Retriever Rescue of Greater Los Angeles at age 5. I can’t speak to her first five years, but we made certain her next (almost) 10 years were wonderful. She repaid us a thousand times over with her love, good heart and devotion.

How painful is it to say goodbye? Beyond words. How small a price is that pain in comparison to the joy Boo Boo gave us? So very small.

Thanks to each and everyone of you who reached out with virtual hugs, sympathy, white light, prayers, tissues, and wise words. And thank you to my darling husband, our wonderful son and his partner for being with Boo and me as we took the last step of this journey. You made her passing a peaceful and loving experience.

I will carry Boo Boo in my heart forever.

 

Best Friends

Dogs don’t live long enough. Period. We give our hearts to them – and they give theirs to us – and then they leave us all too soon.

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We came home from a wonderful trip to the Baltic to find our beloved Boo staggering around the house, unable to walk without falling. As I tearfully hugged her, I asked Scott if he thought she’d had a stroke. When we made it as far as the kitchen, we found the answer in a stack of papers from the vet – our girl had geriatric vestibular disease – a sudden disorder of her balance system. She became quite ill on Monday and our wonderful house sitter had the sense to take her to the vet immediately.

So that was the bad news. After talking with the vet today. I feel somewhat better. This is something that just happens to old dogs, and it usually clears up within a month. She’ll never have her old sense of balance back, but the vet assured me that she would figure out how to deal with it.

We’ll have our best furry friend around for awhile longer, but this close brush with the end made me so sad. Boo is so much a part of our lives, our family, our hearts. I had to imagine yesterday what life would be like without her, and I didn’t like it one little bit.

Exit Through the Gift Shop Screaming

In the past month, we’ve taken our grandchildren to the La Brea Tar Pits/the Page Museum, the Skirball Center Noah’s Ark exhibit, and the zoo more times than I care to remember. As a result, I now consider myself something of an expert on the placement of gift shops, which is an art form in and of itself.

Let’s start with the zoo, which greets visitors with an entryway that is lined with continent-themed stores.  For example, you’ll find Australia (where you can buy a thousand variations of kangaroo and koala bear stuffed toys, t-shirts, hats and yes, umbrellas), and Africa (where you can buy a thousand variations on monkeys, elephants, giraffes, etc.).

Just in case this isn’t enough, the stores have kindly set up kiosks outside their doors with particularly appealing toys – those that make obnoxious noises, require batteries or have another characteristic that draws kids like flies to honey while making parents want to get out the Raid.

So after spending an hour putting sunscreen on the children, gathering up all the required gear required for an outing, putting together snacks, filling water bottles, arguing with the three-year old about why it’s important to use the potty before leaving the house, driving to the zoo, finding a parking space, unpacking howling children, backpacks, mediating an argument over who gets to sit in the front of the double stroller, and walking a mile in the blazing sun to the zoo entrance…after all of that, exhausted without having seen A SINGLE STINKIN’ ANIMAL yet, you have to deal with the perp walk through gift shop alley hell.

We had managed to avoid this in the past, keeping the kids trundled up in the stroller and walking very quickly through the danger zone. But our luck ran out with our latest visit. Lucas wanted to walk, after losing the fight about sitting in the front of the double stroller, and once we got to the shops, he instantly fell in love with a box of plastic animals, each the perfect size to fit inside an adult’s unsuspecting barefoot arch when walking through the family room. Carolyn managed to get him out of the store – eventually – so we could actually see real animals, but on our way out, we got to enjoy an instant replay. Because you exit through those damn stores, too.

Much more subtle is the Page Museum. They actually have the gift shop tucked away, and so you may wonder why it has made my top hits parade. Ahh, because they are so very, very clever… The Page Museum is all about Ice Age fossils and reenactments of dramas from the past – the saber-toothed cat attacking the giant sloth, the giant mammoth swinging its trunk and trumpeting a cry.

Lucas, age three, was terrified by this. Matilda, age 18 months, thought it was hilarious.

Right by the exhibit of the wooly mammoth (or “Manny”, as fans of Ice Age would say), the Page has a small play area stocked with books about fossils, Ice Age-era animals and plant life, and something else. Hmm, now what would that be? Oh yeah, plush animals FROM THE GIFT SHOP, including a particularly huggable wooly mammoth that Lucas spotted. This was instantly tucked under his arm, safely embraced as the precious object it was. Well, let me tell you, separating child from plush toy was not easy.  And getting him out of the Page Museum without him seeing that he could have his very own wooly mammoth if his parents and grandparents weren’t so cheap required a fair amount of subterfuge. Which was possible.

Unlike the Skirball Center, which is the most diabolical of them all. Now mind you, this is one amazing exhibit. All the animals are made from recycled materials, and it was fabulous.

But. They really do a dirty trick with their damn gift shops. Strategically placed throughout the museum, you must walk through them to get to the next exhibit. Nothing is behind glass – everything is touchable and playable and located exactly at kid-height. So while we loved the museum, we really didn’t much like the meltdowns that occurred when we extracted a brightly colored doodad that makes noise from the grasping hands of Matilda. Who let the entire museum know of her displeasure at being denied.

Gift shops, encouraging our children to be the best little consumers of crap possible. And forcing the adults with them to just say no.

The Life – or Lives – of a Dog

I’ve been anxiously following the posts of my friend, Kathy Knopoff, as she cared for her dog, Laszlo. Laszlo’s kidneys were failing, and Kathy was by his side nonstop, trying to get him to take his medications and trying to tempt him with his favorite foods.  My heart has been heavy for her.

Laszlo left this earth yesterday, bound for… well, really, who knows? All I know is he left an empty collar, an empty spot by the bed and lots of memories behind.

By coincidence, I’m finally reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, the story of family, love and loyalty told from the perspective of Enzo, a dog on his last night of life. I was instantly taken by the book’s philosophy that when dogs pass on, they are reincarnated as humans. In Enzo’s own “words:”

In Mongolia, when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog’s master whispers into the dog’s ear his wishes that the dog will return as a man in his next life. Then his tail is cut off and put beneath his head, and a piece of meat or fat is placed in his mouth to sustain his soul on its journey; before he is reincarnated, the dog’s soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high desert plains for as long as it would like.

I learned that from a program on the National Geographic channel, so I believe it is true. Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.

I am ready.

From the first moment that I had my own place, at age 22, I’ve had a dog. Every one of them has been the very best dog ever (Well, except for the ill-fated Nell – for more on her story check out this post). I’ve thrown my entire being into loving these dogs, and so have had my heart broken time and time again when the inevitable happens. And while sadness has, on occasion, slowed down my need to get another dog, it has yet to stop me. Because the loss is so far offset by the joy of companionship that I swallow my tears in return for the friendship of a dog. A bargain, I should add.

So here I am, this person who doesn’t believe in an afterlife of any kind and who looks at religion’s view of heaven with a roll of the eyes, totally convinced that if anyone gets to go to heaven, dogs should be first in line. That dogs have souls just as much as people have them. And now, thanks to The Art of Racing in the Rain, I have a whole new way to think about the future.

Just imagine… you meet this new person with soulful eyes, red shaggy hair and a kind face. Maybe her ears are a little on the large side.  Could it be my last Golden, Annie, come back to visit me in a different form?? Or you meet a guy who is well intentioned but not too bright, very muscular but sometimes knocks things over in his enthusiasm, who is an independent spirit who will never listen to advice… Why, my goodness, I do believe that Nell, that bad but charming girl, has returned to life as an irresponsible but charming man!

Really, the possibilities go on and on.

When my mom was dying last year, I asked her if she thought she’d see our dad again in whatever afterlife there might be. She astonished me by saying, “Absolutely not! There is no afterlife. I believe in reincarnation.” You could have knocked me over with a feather! And she then said, “I just don’t want to come back as one of those sad cows in Africa with the flies on their eyes…” I assured her that I didn’t think that would happen – surely there’s a better life form for someone as kind as my mom.

Laszlo, Annie, Nell, Marley, and all the rest of the dogs I’ve known and loved – have no fear! We shall surely meet again. Maybe next time I’ll be on the leash and you’ll be saying, “Terry, sit! Stay!”

My Favorite Books – 2010

I read some wonderful books this year, and I’d like to share them with you, in the hopes that you’ll love them, too.  And that you’ll pass on your favorites to me!

In no particular order…

What the Dog Did

In case you don’t know this already, I’m a dog nut.  I’ve  had dogs for almost 40 years, and I can’t imagine living without one.  Despite the fact they’re expensive (don’t let your dog get in an accident – the bill for the veterinarian orthopedic specialist will delay your planned retirement by a decade – or two), smelly (yes, the Boo tangled with a skunk two months ago and still has a slight whiff about her), messy (did I mention the rug in the front hall?) and heart breakers (they capture your heart and then break it by dying way too soon), I’m a hopeless dog lover.

So when I saw that Emily Yoffe, the smart, funny writer of Dear Prudence at slate.com, had written a book called What the Dog Did, I had to read it.  And I cried – with laughter.  She nails it all – the dog who eats your bra, the dog who pees on your bed, the loose eyeballs of the Boston terrier…. a very funny, very well-written book that had me write the author my first fan letter ever.

Inspector Gamache Mystery Series

I gave up on most mysteries a few years ago.  Too trite, too depressing, too poorly written, I couldn’t face them anymore.  But from the time I read my first Louise Penny book, I was hooked.  These books take place in Canada, and are just plain marvelous.  Good writing, good stories, outstanding characters… I can’t wait for her next book.  Start with Still Life, and don’t stop (you won’t want to…).

What the Dog Saw… and Other Adventures

I didn’t start off a Malcolm Gladwell fan.  I thought praise for The Tipping Point was way over the top (talk about a tipping point – the hype about this book proved its own point).  But I’ve come around.  Last year, I gobbled up Outliers, the Story of Success.  And this year, I couldn’t put down What the Dog Saw, a collection of Gladwell essays.  He made the Ronco story – and the “world’s best chicken rotisserie” – into a can’t-put-down story.  His story on Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer, was just plain fascinating.  Great book, great read.

Cutting for Stone

My book club chose this novel, and I loved it.  Abraham Verghese brings you into his story with just a few short sentences, and you can’t stop reading until you come to the very satisfying end.  Ethiopia, medicine, a doctor, a nun, twin boys and a compelling story.  A winner from start to finish…

Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth

And now for something completely different.  I’m claustrophic.  I don’t like heights.  Dark, airless cramped places make me want to scream.  And yet I loved this book about caving.  It introduced me to a sport and passion I didn’t know existed.  SCUBA diving in caves, 2,000 feet into the earth?  Who knew such things existed?  Go on – be brave.  Read this book.  With James Tabor as your guide, you won’t regret it.

Grab Bag

Other books that made it to the top of my list include The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, the story of the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the North.  Great writing, great research, compelling stories.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack, by Rebecca Skloot, caught my eye because of all the strong reviews it received.  Not ordinarily a book I would pick up, I fell in love within the first chapter.  An amazing story about the cells that form the basis of so much cancer research. (Yeah, I said it was an unlikely choice, but what can I tell you?  It was terrific.) And let’s not forget The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson.  I couldn’t put this book down – a novel that combines a love story with the supernatural with a mystery.  It was fabulous. Finally, I had the chance to read The Boleyn Inheritance while I was in London this winter.  Written by Phillipa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl, I have to say this was a wonderful book – fascinating and fun to read.  I was sorry to reach the end.

So, boys and girls, there you have it.  It was a good year for reading!  Happy New Year to you, and may you find many hours of pleasure in books that you love. (And don’t forget to pass your recommendations on to me!)