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Archives for Dogs and Dog Owners

Breeder Heal Thyself

Apr
16
2009

It comes as a relief that the top story this weekend was not about the economy, but about dogs.

Just as the Obamas finally got their Portuguese Water Dog (a gift from Sen. Ted Kennedy), news came of the breeder who produced Vice President Joe Biden’s German Shepherd Dog. It seems that back in December the kennel was cited for maintenance and record-keeping violations and found “not guilty” of any of them.

As could be expected, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ran one of their biased propaganda pieces on Pennsylvania and Delaware television and got its toadies to issue death threats to the breeder. Linda Brown has vowed to never again to sell a dog to a high-profile client. Even though what she was doing was perfectly legal, she has been intimidated into submission.

Isn’t that the goal of most terrorists groups?

Oh! Did I say PETA? I’m sorry. For the record, PETA only ran the ad, nothing more. “Animal Rights Activists” – the group that made the threats – is the term everyone banters about to avoid having to peel through the layers of bogus “associations” to find, at the heart of it all, Ingrid Newkirk and her cult of brainwashed robots.

The condition of Brown’s Wolf Den Kennel is a matter for anyone else wishing to obtain a German Shepherd dog. Brown’s breeding program has produced some nice dogs. But, personally, it does not fit my criteria for a good breeder. There are just too many red flags.

It takes more than a love of dogs to efficiently, safely and humanely run a kennel, something those in the dog world don’t emphasize enough. You can be a genius at making outstanding breeding choices. But unless you’ve got the manpower, money, time and inclination to care for a large number of dogs, your breeding program should never exceed the amount of dogs you can place in well-researched homes.

It’s the sad truth that most of these kennels are started with the best intentions by people who love dogs, but are not very good about organization. The lure is irresistible to produce more and more litters to achieve that elusive “breed perfection.” Every weekend is a dog show, taking you away from kennel housekeeping tasks that should be done regularly and leaving behind the dogs that aren’t quite up to show standards. Soon, the dog runs are looking pretty tatty and normal wear and tear takes its toll. Fencing is shot, plumbing is backed up with dog fur and the air conditioning unit has fallen prey to dander. All it takes is one visiting dog bringing in fleas and a few days to fester and you’ve got an infestation problem not easily eradicated.

That’s the very time a health inspector will show up.

And disreputable breeders who give reputable kennels a bad name and give PETA another notch in their gunstock do exist. “Dog people” don’t like to talk about them or admit they exist, but they’re out there – closer than you think.

What’s worse, local jurisdictions are responding to animal rights activists who exploit sloppy kennel management by imposing impossible limits on breeders. I can’t blame city and county councils for buying into the hype when we in the sport – the American Kennel Club included – won’t even admit the outlaws exist.

Dog people spend a lot of time protesting legislative measures being taken to limit the breeding of purebred dogs. Of course, it’s infinitely more pleasurable than scooping the poop outside, scrubbing dog bowls and attempting to train dogs not to bark at every single robin that lands in the yard. But both these aspects of the job are important, especially when there is a public relations campaign aimed at its obliteration.

And for every stinking barn fitted with makeshift dog runs crammed with filthy puppies rolling in their own feces, there are twenty breeders eating in their living room because their current litter is frisking around in a clean pen under their dining room table.

The Obamas’ requirement of an shed-free dog to mitigate their daughter’s allergies highlighted the need for purebred dogs. But whether purebred or rescued from the pound, the public needs to do the same amount of in-depth research appropriate to any life-altering event in their life: don’t buy dogs from any facility or organization until you’ve done your homework.

As for breeders – we need to clean up our collective act before someone does it for us.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 8:03 AM | Permalink

The Same Old PETA

Feb
11
2009

Prior to taking on the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) apparently had some time on its hands to take objection to a column I wrote recently on their perennially rejected Super Bowl ad.
PETA staffer Lindsay Pollard-Post writes in and – hoping no one will remember PETA’s history or bother looking up what it’s members have said and done through the years – walks the new party line. She says, among other things, that:
– PETA isn’t opposed to people “sharing their lives and homes with animal companions” but that breeding is wrong.

“No breeding can be considered ‘responsible,’ because every single litter brought into the world fuels the companion animal overpopulation crisis,” says Pollard-Post. “Every time someone purchases a puppy or a kitten instead of adopting from an animal shelter, homeless animals lose their chance of finding a home–and will have to be euthanized.”

–PETA is somehow exhonerated from it’s Norfolk, Va., shelter’s kill rate of 90 percent because Ms. Pollard-Post thinks they are the only shelter in the entire country that takes in animals who have been mistreated:

“PETA’s fieldworkers routinely find animals who have been suffering for weeks or months, left to starve and suffer life-threatening conditions and injuries with no relief from intense pain.”

- And, of course, they‘re working for animals, but you need to write a check and just hope you’re funding what you think you’re funding:

“PETA works tirelessly, through educational campaigns, by sterilizing animals in our mobile spay/neuter clinics, and by subsidizing spay/neuter surgeries at private veterinarians’ offices, to bring about the day when every dog and cat is born into a home awaiting with open arms.”

Isn’t that touching? “To bring about the day when every dog and cat is born into a home awaiting with open arms.” Why, that sounds like responsible breeding.

Ms. Pollard-Post took pains over the issue of breeding, since I’ve been open about the fact that I breed Australian Shepherds. She certainly delivered more of a position statement on the subject than you will find at the PETA website. It’s buried in there somewhere but, like all its dogma that is controversial or just plain wrong, it’s skiffed over quickly.
As I have explained before, the purchase of a purebred dog can alleviate one of the major reasons dogs are dumped in shelters in the first place. And there is never a reason for a dog from a responsible breeder to be dumped into a shelter, since breeders will take their own dogs back rather than see that happen.
These days if you go to the PETA website, you will find very little of their radical agenda. Where is the PETA that denounced even the most humane forms of animal lab testing, even if it leads to find a cure for AIDS or cancer? Where is the PETA that considered an animal better off dead than “owned”? Where is the PETA that wants to prohibit dogs from leading the blind or sniffing out bombs from airline luggage?
PETA cannot be disconnected from its president and co-founder, Ingrid Newkirk, and her wacky world view which has become cult-like dogma to her PETA apostles. And she has sent her minions into the world to do her bidding. But in recent years, her yammering din has been muted to make way for the make-believe PETA of moronic vegan-for-a-day celebrities, sexist soft porn and trivializing historic events like the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, in this animal rights shell game, PETA has been re-tooled, refunded and redressed as the Humane Society of the United States, which is nothing like your local humane society (it runs no shelters) and everything like a big Washington, D.C., lobbying group employing a huge number of former PETA staffers, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. These last two are the ones whose members firebomb medical labs and whose defense PETA funded.
To be sure, Ms. Pollard-Post’s letter was an absolute masterpiece of press spin, including a touching story of an emaciated pit bull terrier – the second time I’ve heard about this dog from a PETA staffer – leading me to believe they have this one story they trot out whenever anyone questions the high percentage of animals they euthanize.
I’m sure Ms. Pollard-Post can’t be blamed for some of her erroneous suppositions, since her information comes from her employer, whom she links to liberally and exclusively – kind of like PETA quoting itself and agreeing. In practice, however, PETA is every bit Newkirk’s disciples, carrying out her extremist views with everything from inconvenient pranks (like opening crates at dog shows so they can report “dogs running loose” to animal control) to taking what doesn’t belong to them.

Shelters all over the country, some that can legitimately be called “no-kill,” are proving PETA kill numbers an embarrassment. Having been involved with several shelters, humane societies and rescue organizations – none of which were “limited admission” (nor do I know of any that are) – I know that no dog has ever been turned away because it wasn’t “cute, young or friendly.” And every other shelter certainly gives it’s animals at least a fighting chance to be adopted, rather than immediately euthanizing them on the trip back to Norfolk.
Ms. Pollard-Post may be paid to present the new face of PETA – but it turns out to be only a mask.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 9:47 AM | Permalink

Define “Ethical”

Jan
28
2009

It’s that time of year again. You know – that special Sunday when you get all your snacks together and get all comfortable in front of the television so you can not watch the annual banned PETA ad.
You are probably familiar with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). That’s the organization that uses back door tactics to push its radical agenda that includes the banning of pet ownership; the group who sees a puppy snoozing comfortably on your bed and thinks the “ethical” thing to do would be to kill him rather than have him “exploited” so cruelly.
Every year the organization initiates this farce wherein it submits a deliberately provocative advertisement to be run during the Super Bowl and, when it is rejected, announces its outrage to the media who just love any story with the word “BANNED” in it. Good little puppets that they are, the media runs with it, usually ending with the fact that the BANNED AD can be viewed on PETA’s website.
You’re supposed to be shocked. So shocked that you go out of your way to visit their website and view their propaganda and creative statistics with all the attention you may not have given it had it run when they supposedly wanted it to run.
You can’t buy that kind of advertising. And, since 30 seconds of Super Bowl ad time is running at around $3 million, PETA is certainly getting their money’s worth.
While ads in the past have featured graphic depictions of animal slaughter, more recently PETA has been leaning toward soft porn (primarily naked women) to encourage Americans to turn to vegetarianism – because they are not quite as concerned with exploiting humans as they are, about animals.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against vegetarians. I’ve got a sufficient arsenal of vegetarian recipes that if someone of that persuasion comes to dinner, they won’t leave hungry. But I have this sneaking suspicion that vegetarians don’t love food like a food lover loves food – otherwise they would have to acknowledge their diet, in terms of enjoyment – Just. Doesn’t . Cut. It.
Well, that’s neither here nor there. Like it or not, PETA has used far-fetched statistics and sometimes post hoc fallacies to connect meat eating or milk drinking with some wacky consequences like child abuse, autism, gender change and cancer.
I suppose the most ironic of their ads connects the consumption of meat with impotency, ignoring 400,000 years of population growth and evolutionary development. No point in letting solid facts get in the way of a really explosive ad campaign.
I’m sure no intelligent adult is fooled by PETA’s manipulation of the media. But what about those who are defenseless in the face of mindless propaganda; those who are unable to think for themselves or are not smart enough to research phony statistics for themselves?
No, I’m not talking about children. I’m talking about Hollywood actors. There they are, poor things, looking all serious and clever about their dietary choice, some of them flinging off their clothes, claiming vegetarianism, not genetics and luck, landed them where they are today. They’re too smug and stupid na├»ve to realize the noble organization for which they are speaking also would like to take their pink designer-dyed Chihuahua-poo that goes so well with their pink Prada bag and kill it in the back of a van – for its own good, you understand.
By way of disclaimer, Dirtman and I breed Australian Shepherds – purebred dog breeding being yet another of PETA’s targets. And I will admit that not all breeders follow the code of ethics put forth by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and I grant that the AKC could be more diligent in backing up that code.
Every organization has its radical fringe. PETA is nothing but radical fringe. Even the lackadaisical AKC takes action when undeniable infractions take place on the part of its members
For PETA, though, the ends always justify the means, even if that means defending the criminal actions of one of their “activists,” whether it’s impounding dogs who are not strays or obtaining dogs under false pretenses and euthanizing them immediately. PETA has a 90 percent kill rate, in spite of their status in Virginia as a “pet releasing” agency. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), when in problem areas, considers anything over 25 percent as too high.
So you’ve got to wonder: Perhaps PETA misunderstands the meaning of the word “ethical.”

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 1:45 PM | Permalink

The Woofington Post

Nov
12
2008

Not since JFK’s Camelot has a happy presidential issue been as newsworthy as the choice of what puppy the Obamas are going to choose to assuage their guilt over not spending enough time with their kids during the past endless campaign.
The reasons people decide to own a dog are just slightly less neurotic than their reasons for having children. But we’ll leave that little age-old dilemma to Malia and Natasha’s future therapists. I’ll stick with what I know, which is dogs.
The Obamas’ decision to acquire a dog was as inevitable as the Washington Nationals languishing in last place. With few exceptions, every administration has had some sort of canine affiliation, whether notable for its brevity – as in the case of the Grits the dog being kicked out of the Jimmy Carter White House by Amy Carter’s cat; or its popularity – as in Franklin D. Roosevelts’s Scottish Terrier Fala, who received so much mail he required his own press secretary.
The Clintons arrived at the White House with only Socks the cat, but soon acquired Buddy, the chocolate Labrador Retriever, probably as the result of a focus group’s determination that the public overwhelmingly approved of dog ownership by a U.S. president.
So the promise of a puppy in the White House was a pretty safe one for the Obamas to make to their daughters. Would that Michelle Obama had put as much thought into election evening couture.
The breed choice, however, is proving to be more controversial than any ACORN connection ever was. A public choice of a breed of dog is a minefield of political correctness and diplomacy. The Obamas are about to learn their first lesson about dog people: we are opinionated, easily offended and rabid in our defense of what we believe. One go-round with dog people and Barack Obama will be more than ready to take on Kim Jong-II, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Bill O’Reilly.
Just about every dog organization has chimed in on this opportunity to publicize their cause, breed or agenda, from the American Kennel Club to its nemesis, the PETA-funded Humane Society of the United States. Naturally, the politically correct thing to do would be to choose a pound puppy, an idea that was nixed on account of Malia Obama’s allergies.

Naturally the Doodle People – people who breed dogs they insist on calling “hybrids” that are actually really, really expensive mutts – have chimed in with their suggestion. I’m sure somewhere in the massive Obama machine there is some wise person to tell him that not all “Doodle Dogs” are hypo-allergenic; that one dog in a litter will be allergy-free while the same litter will contain a dog that looks nothing like its mate and sheds twice as much as my mother’s faux-fur coat. That’s the way it is with litters of mixed-breed dogs.
Sadly, my beloved Australian Shepherds are out of the question, as my office floor will attest. I have adopted a policy of not vacuuming up all the fur shed and just allow it to felt into a rug as we walk on it. It’s not hypo-allergenic, though. So when the Obamas visit, Malia will have to wait in the car.
I equally don’t recommend the other breed I own, the Parson Russell Terrier, unless the Secret Service wants to monitor the breed most likely to stage a coup.
Oh – and as for the Peruvian Hairless Dog that is under consideration: Hell, no. peruvian hairless.jpeg. Trust me, these are not cuddly dogs. Petting a Peruvian Hairless reminds me of when my Uncle Vinnie used to get us kids to spread suntan lotion on his back. (That memory made me throw up just a little.) We don’t need a First Dog that looks like an internal organ (sorry, Peruvian Hairless people. . . ).
But I’m sure every breed club in the country is lobbying for their own. Your breed in the White House guarantees a demand for more litters nationwide, which isn’t always a good thing for the breed, but certainly a boon for the breeders.
I have no opinion about what dog the Obamas should adopt. But I do hope they take the advice from Doggyspace.com and start their own blog on behalf of their new pet. In that case, I’d like to formally offer my services as Official Presidential Canine Blog Facilitator – or whatever Obama calls his other bloggers-for-hire. Certainly there are funds in his coffers to pay me. And I’ll even promise to appease Sarah Palin by only blogging when dressed in street clothes.
Of course I haven’t been the most avid Obama supporter. But, then, I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to be won over to the Obama camp by the promise of cash.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 2:31 PM | Permalink

A Little Case of Over-kill

Aug
13
2008

Having written in last week’s column about the affability of Labrador Retrievers, I just couldn’t let pass the fiasco of a “drug raid” carried out by Prince George’s County (Md.) Sheriff’s Department on July 29.
A package delivered to the home of Berwyn Heights, Md., mayor Cheye Calvo and addressed to his wife had been tracked by police from Arizona and was determined by drug-sniffing dogs to contain 32 lbs. of marijuana. Arriving home, Calvo did what most of us would do with a package left on our porch – picked it up and brought it into his house.
Shortly after the PG County SWAT team stormed the house, shot the family’s two Labrador Retrievers – one as it was running away, according to Calvo -handcuffed the mayor and his mother-in-law and spent the next few hours interrogating them inches from the bodies of their dead pets.
No arrests were made that night and ultimately the family was cleared of any connection with the package. This wasn’t the first time a package originating in Los Angeles was delivered to an innocent recipient in PG County, only cooler heads prevailed in the first incident. No one tackled the 76 year-old homeowner to the ground but, then, there was nothing to indicate that he had a pet. Otherwise it seems the situation might have ended similarly.
In another raid last November, deputies read the house number on their warrant incorrectly and entered the wrong residence. Even after detectives realized they had the wrong address, a sheriff’s deputy felt it necessary to shoot the family’s boxer barking outside the house.
In all fairness, there is no denying that PG County has a major drug problem and the use and amount of force, especially in a crisis situation, can be debated and argued over ad nauseum – as it has been around here. My brother, a police investigator, leans toward giving law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. I will concede that, as my brother says, in many cases we don’t know what information the team was acting on.
In the Calvo case, though, it was a matter of not bothering to check. The local police department was not notified of the warrant or of the impending raid.
“You can’t tell me the chief of police of a municipality wouldn’t have been able to knock on the door of the mayor of that municipality, gain his confidence and enter the residence,” Berwyn Heights Chief of Police Patrick Murphy told The Washington Post. “It would not have been a necessity to shoot and kill this man’s dogs.”
The thing is, if you are going to storm into someone’s home, before you start killing stuff you’d better be damn sure that first, you’re at the right address, and, second, there is evidence actually connecting the person with the crime. That just strikes me as basic common sense, no matter how drug-infested a neighborhood (which, by the way, Berwyn Heights is not).
And as an aside – the department might also want to reconsider their choice of vehicular conveyance to their little raid parties. When he arrived home from work, Calvo noted several black SUVs parked on the street. Now, I’m just your average law-abiding citizen, but even I know that a bunch of black SUVs parked on my street means either the Men in Black are blasting aliens out of the neighborhood or law enforcement are somewhere around. If I’m involved in drug trafficking, it means I get the hell out of there.
The PG County Sheriff’s Department has had ample time to come up with something to justify entry over-kill (pun intended). There was a lame attempt at laying the blame on Calvo’s mother-in-law who, upon seeing the approaching SWAT team – so much for stealth – screamed. And who wouldn’t? Even the Atlanta police department were able to pull some dubious drug informant out their. . .uh. . . files to justify the shooting of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in 2006.
Two men, one a Fed Ex employee, have been charged in the case. But while a Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department spokesman expressed his sympathy to the Calvos, the department has fallen short of issuing an apology.
The FBI is now investigating the raid, which doesn’t help the canine population of Prince George’s County much. There doesn’t seem to be any hope in that respect, since a dog whose territory is breached has a tendency to bark – which is interpreted by PG law enforcement as a threat – or run away – which is also interpreted by PG law enforcement as a threat.
The umbrella of justification seems to get larger with the death of each dog.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 12:56 PM | Permalink

Country Dog/City Dog

Aug
6
2008

I try to stay away from shallow forms of judgment. I know many people will look at how someone is dressed or what type of vehicle they drive and form and instant opinion of them; but not me.
I observe what kind of dog they own – or not.
And I do too know people who don’t own dogs. I have two brothers who don’t own dogs and I understand they can still go on to lead somewhat normal lives.
Here in the Shenandoah Valley, we observe specific traditions in regard to dog ownership. While the area is rural, clusters of houses require the social observances mandatory in any suburban neighborhood. So the here’s the general rhythm of things:
1. You get married.
2. You inherit or are given an acre or so of land and a “starter home” from your grandparents, who inherited hundreds of acres from their grandparents. (If you have to buy your own land in The Valley, you’re a foreigner from maybe Fairfax or Fauquier counties.)
3. You acquire a Labrador Retriever.
Black, golden or chocolate, it doesn’t matter, but it must be a Labrador Retriever. Why? Because they’re low-maintenance and easily trained. Golden Retrievers can matt up and Border Collies are actually smarter than humans and, thereby, not so easily led. Certainly anything more strong-willed, like a German Shepherd or Rottweiler, is out of the question, no matter what it says about the size of a Valley guy’s. . . brain. . . because if his wife isn’t pregnant already, she will be within a year because she’s already 18 years old and her biological clock is ticking. So you need a dog that will automatically love your children and Labs love everyone.
I am surrounded by Labrador Retrievers. They sit calmly and obediently in their front yards with a bemused grin on their faces as they watch those crazy Jackson terriers going berserk behind a chain-link fence that looks like the Tyrannosaurus pen in Jurassic Park – and just about as effective.
Which brings us to who, exactly, owns terriers. The answer is: People with a vast amount of patience; or people who thought they had a vast amount of patience (the category into which Dirtman and I fall). If Border Collies are the Albert Einsteins of the canine world, terriers are John Forbes Nashes – you know, the guy from A Beautiful Mind: they’re absolutely brilliant, but can be and usually are, in a state requiring massive doses of medication.
Out in the farmland is where you will find the serious working dogs; dogs bred to toil side by side with their human; noble, functional, intelligent and loyal, here is where you will find the beautiful Australian Shepherd (and those goody-two-shoes Border Collies) – except for the ones around here waiting for me to wait on them.
The toy breeds are not plentiful out here, but I have a feeling they will be migrating soon, now that Hollywood has re-established the practice of turning living beings into fashion accessories. Because, you know that a little dog makes your breasts look bigger.
I’m sure toys breeds are plentiful in the cities and I was recently asked, what is it with all these big guys walking little dogs. My knee-jerk reaction was, naturally, they’re gay. But then I remembered Fifi.
When I worked as a groomer back in the 1970s one of my regular customers was a pink toy poodle called, requisitely, FiFi. The dyes that were available back then had caused ethical groomers to refuse to offer such services (aside from the fact that it looked just, plain silly), so apparently FiFi’s color was a home job. I never met Fifi’s “mommy.” He (yes, Fifi was a “he”) was dropped off by a sad, ex-wiseguy type – think Luca Brazi from The Godfather – who never said a word. He’d schlump in, hand me the dog, schlump back out. At the end of the day he’d schlump in again, I’d hand him Fifi and a card for his next appointment, he’d hand me $30 (back then it amounted to a 100 percent tip), and out he’d schlump. I assumed the generous tip was for not laughing.
I pictured him returning home to some fading ex-gangster moll with pink hair that matched Fifi, low-cut ruffled blouse, leopard-skin capris and matching kitten heels. She’d be chattering endlessly about her day and how cute little Fifi looks and he’d be schlumped in the corner wearing a goomba undershirt, swigging a Carling Black Label, smoking his filterless Camels and reading a racing form.
But far be it from me to make snap judgments about people’s lives.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 9:40 AM | Permalink

Too Darn Hot

Jun
25
2008

I caved in this year and turned on the air conditioning a full three weeks before I usually do.
I like having the option of AC, but I’m not fond of the artificial atmosphere it creates – or the power bill it generates. When the air conditioning is running I end up spending my spare time out on the patio in the heat. I like feeling my seasons. And it’s so sad that the sound of birds singing is blotted out by the sound of everyone’s AC compressor running.
My family, though, is not in agreement. In all fairness, Dirtman is out working in the heat. So I can’t blame him for wanting to come home, take a shower and be able to dry off from that shower instead of going directly back to sweating. Heir 1, who lives in the basement (with the dogs), insists the temperature “here on the surface” is too stifling for subterranean creatures such as himself.
We’ve only recently had the option of air conditioning. While the boys were growing up our days during a heat wave were spent at either the public library or the town pool. I’d grill food or use the crock pot out on the front porch in order to avoid heating up the kitchen. We went to the movies a lot in the summer and nearby we are lucky enough to have a drive-in theater which, at the time, cost $10 for a carload.
Before we all slip into “those were the days” mode though, I also remember there would strings of days – usually the last week of July through the first few weeks of August, where my only capability was to sit in a damp pile and pray that someone would just walk by and move the air a little.
Still, I kind of miss the days when the only way to cope with 100-degree heat was to slow down. Growing up, you knew it was a hot day when the businessmen in town actually removed their suit jackets and maybe even loosened their ties.
I remember bedtime, normally early and ritualistic with my parents, became arbitrary and casual when the heat rose. It was too hot in the house to get to sleep, so after a cool bath we’d be allowed to sit on the front porch with the adults as long as we were calm and quiet. My father would make us all what he called “orangeade,” which was actually severely watered down orange juice over ice. Everyone in the neighborhood would be out, all listening to a common radio station broadcasting a ballgame. To this day the phrase “Swing and a miss!” makes me instantly think of the smell of Johnson’s baby powder and lightening bugs winking in the darkening shadows of the yard.
Air conditioning has contributed the blandness of air, as I like to call it. Our culture has developed this abnormal fear of the odor of day-to-day living, so I guess for most this is a good thing. But in our zeal to rid ourselves of anything smelling even slightly off, we’ve lost the most potent memory trigger among our senses.
Not all summertime smells were bad and, frankly, I miss them. And it’s not just the smell of honeysuckle wafting through an open window. I remember the smell of the old Bishop Memorial Library where I grew up: all must, dust, old leather and the fragrance of yew bushes surrounding the ancient building carried in on a breeze through the open screen windows. If you got there early enough, you could score the seat next to the fan. Or, if you were truly lucky, it would rain, cooling things off and releasing a heady aroma. I spent a dreamy August week there one year it rained continually and I read every Walter Farley book ever printed through 1964. I’m sure the library is all air conditioned now and smelling of…nothing (Sadly, I also know it’s been absorbed by the Ocean County Library system).
With air conditioning everywhere there is no need anymore of a “summer wardrobe.” Or, if anyone insists on a summer wardrobe from a fashion standpoint, they walk around shivering like a Mexican Hairless.
Ice cream and Popsicles aren’t quite as good when consumed in air conditioning. There was something so gratifying about riding your bicycle half a mile or more in blazing summer air smelling of liquid asphalt and grass clippings to the 7-Eleven, rewarding yourself with a Slurpee and a Teen Magazine with Bobby Sherman on the cover. Or something like that.
Then again, there was the bike ride back home, arriving sweatier and stickier than you left. And trying to sleep at night when your parents will only run one fan in the hallway because they are afraid you or your brothers will sleep walk into the spinning blades. Or getting into a car and having to sit on towels so the vinyl won’t burn the backs of your legs.
So I guess I’ll stick with my optional air conditioning, noise and all. I guess it’s a lot better than the sound of six dogs panting. We won’t even go into the memories invoked by that smell.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 12:52 PM | Permalink

What Oprah Didn’t Tell You

Apr
9
2008

Right now, as I am writing this, dog rescue organizations across the country are being inundated with requests for adoption of their dogs. Why?
Because Oprah Winfrey said so. Oprah told everyone – well, okay, her viewers, so close enough – to go out and adopt from their local rescue or shelter, so everyone – yes, everyone – knows what that means.
Inspired by a billboard calling attention to the existence of puppy mills, Oprah devoted her April 4th show to exposing this warped manifestation of purebred dog breeding. So now the minions are on the march, clueless as to what they are getting themselves into.
The existence of puppy mills is an outrage. The American Kennel Club, in the full letter sent to the Oprah Winfrey Show that was ignored in favor of an insipid blurb, explained their method of inspection of any breeder registering more than seven litters a year, spot inspection of anyone registering four to six litters and any breeder for whom a complaint has been received. And, as a fellow breeder told me, when the AKC inspector shows up, it’s for a good involved inspection. Kennels that don’t pass, lose their ability to issue AKC papers.
The process, however, does leave the door open for abuse. No one checked to see if I am who I claimed to be when I registered our Australian Shepherd litter. Presumably, I could be registering 15 other litters in 15 other names and having paperwork delivered to post office boxes, which is how I assume puppy mills come in under the radar of AKC inspectors.
What Oprah didn’t have the time or the inclination to discuss was that most rescue and shelter dogs are little furry time bombs that can go off at any time during its life span and the pet owner needs to be prepared for that. Most have psychological issues either inbred or as a result of their previous life. They require huge swathes of time and attention. There are no records of genetic diseases like hip dysplasia or epilepsy. Rescue organizations screen what diseases they can, but usually the genetic diseases don’t manifest until much later in the dog’s life. And, when a disease or problem does show up, many rescue dogs are returned to the rescue or shelter system. What you see in a tiny furry little puppy is not necessarily what you get when that puppy grows up to weigh more than a Buick.
For us this wasn’t a consideration when we adopted our rescue dogs. We wound up with a $1,200 vet bill to eradicate a skin condition in one of our Parson Russell Terriers and we still battle flare-ups from time to time. Our other Parson Russell has socialization issues that require consistent and elaborate reinforcement on a regular basis. In both cases, these conditions were predestined. Salt’s skin condition was inherited from his mother. Gaspode’s anti-social behavior was reinforced by another family who found he required too much attention and tossed him back into the rescue system.
We went into our commitment knowing that rescues require more attention and patience. We had the time and the resources. Besides, breeders should be the most frequent adopters of rescue dogs, since we deliberately feed more dogs into the pet pool.
But there is also a place for well-bred purebreds outside the show ring. Well-bred puppies are just plain easier to train and families with children especially cannot risk the behavior and expense of some rescue dogs. Good breeders don’t breed genetically inferior dogs and they screen for temperament, making sure a pet and owner are a compatible match. But the onus is on the purchaser to find that breeder – and there are plenty of them out there. They are in abundance at dog shows and love to impart information. They will have a fanatical glint in their eye, but don’t let that scare you. And they will screen you just as aggressively as they screen their dogs. If they don’t, walk away.
A puppy should never be acquired from a pet store or online. State and local animal control and even the AKC are huge, lumbering organizations concerned with law suits and insurance matters. The quickest and most effective way to close down puppy mills is to eliminate the need for them.
At any rate, Oprah says she is a “changed woman” that will adopt only rescued dogs or dogs from pounds. Good for her. She’s got the staff and money to do it; though even that isn’t always an indication of a good rescue dog owner, as Ellen DeGeneres showed us.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 9:55 AM | Permalink

If Dogs Have a Heaven, There’s One Thing I Know

Mar
26
2008

Any Dog Person will tell you there is That One Dog that got them started, usually one from childhood. In my case that dog was Shep.

In my family, we hear a celestial choir singing when you utter “Shep,” (click this link if you dare and have plenty of tissues). His name is sacred and conjures the image of obedience, loyalty and adoration that is everything a dog should be. Every dog we’ve had since then has had to endure the disgusted look of my brother and, “You’re no Shep,” usually delivered when the dog has failed to roll over without being taught.

I was 13 years old when we got Shep. We had had other dogs before this, but Shep was mine, acquired at the age when a teenager is looking for someone or something to love unconditionally.

He was half German Shepherd Dog, half who-knows-what; he looked sort of like a Briard – more like a German Shepherd Dog-sized Yorkshire Terrier. The women at the veterinarian’s office called him The Disney Dog.

Shep lopes through my memory as everyone’s ideal pet. He never once messed in the house and did his business in one four-by-four-foot square area in the backyard. His paws never ventured any further than the boundaries of our suburban yard unless I invited him to walk with me. You could parade other dogs, cats, and even bitches in heat in front of him and he would not leave my side (bitches in heat coming into our yard, however, were. . . ahem . . . fair game, this in the age before spaying and neutering became the norm).

When I think back, his obedience led me to take chances that I wouldn’t think to take with my dogs now. I would go into a grocery store to do the week’s shopping and leave him in the car with the windows rolled down completely. He never jumped out. We’d go on picnics and it never occurred to us to tie him up and it never occurred to him to leave our site.

Of course, my closeness with Shep was partially due to my age and circumstance. I was an insecure teenager in a family going through the turmoil of illnesses and financial stress. I was easily lost in the crowd of well-meaning or needy relatives that were a constant flow in and out of our house. My trivial teenage dilemmas, while monumental to me, were dismissed by everyone else. Shep became my confidant; he noticed me; he remembered when I should be somewhere and fretted when I wasn’t. If it wasn’t for Shep, I’d still be standing outside the Silverton School of the Performing Arts waiting for my mother to come pick me up.

Shep remains perfect in my memory and since he was my dog through my mother’s death has probably assured I’ll never remember anything negative about him. Death brings out the dysfunction in the best of families and there is no such thing as a “peaceful passing” in mine. After one particularly dizzying blow-up among my father, brother, my grandmother and The Aunts, I fled on foot, not even realizing I’d walked out with a dog and without a leash. It wasn’t until I was a good three miles away from home, along a busy New Jersey highway at 9 o’clock at night, that I realized, that Shep was next to me in as perfect a heel position as I could ask and have never again achieved with my show dogs.

Lots of dogs have bounded in and out of my life since Shep. I like to think of him as the leader in a long line of familiars: From Bridgett the rescue Labrador Retriever who had me actually screaming out the back door, “Put down that deer head and come in the house!” to Quigley, the rescue Bichon Frise who was only truly happy driving in a car; to Dundee, our first Australian Shepherd, also a rescue, who thought of himself as Heir 1′s little brother and Heir 2′s nanny; to my pack of six now that my brothers refer to as “Jeanne’s Posse.”

When people look at me incredulously and ask, “How can you live with so many dogs?” I can only look back, equally dumbfounded. But I don’t bother to ask how they can live without. They’d have to have known Shep.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 9:12 AM | Permalink

Nature Calling

Mar
5
2008

T.S. Elliot may have deemed April to be “the cruelest month,” but I suspect it was only because, having suffered through February and March, he finally succumbed to a nervous breakdown on April 1. And he probably didn’t have dogs tracking in mud.
April is for pansies. February and March are brutal, joyless mud-fests of unending depression, infestation and muck.
This is the only time of year that those nice, small city apartments, with their access to coffee houses and cute boutiques, and slick suburbia, with its paved roads and driveways, trim lawns and convenient sidewalks, look vastly more comfortable than nature beating down my door and spreading itself all over the tile in the foyer.
Every other month we are surrounded with nature’s beauty. We can look out our window any day and see the breathtaking pageantry of the mountains, whether it’s the pink mists of Eastern Redbud or the ice storms that turn the forest into a store full of Waterford Crystal. But in February and March, nature looks back and it wants IN.
Oh, we have our mud rooms and our “matting” strategies. We plug up holes, lay out traps and insulate; still nature seeps through the cracks and sneaks in when we open the door. It taps us on the shoulder while we sit in our S.A.D. stupor and spits in our eye.
Every year I start the season with the “no shoes in the house” policy, which usually results in a pile of shoes and muddy socks by the door and the accompanying smell to greet visitors. Then I try to redirect entry to the back door, resulting in a second pile of shoes because I’ve now lost my voice screaming about the first pile of shoes and trying to head off residents attempting to access the house by their usual route. Pretty soon the arrival of anybody sends me in a frenzy of issuing orders and blocking access until, by the third day, I crumple in exhaustion and just let the filth wash over me.
Naturally, the dogs account for much of the muck. The terriers aren’t so bad because they can be scrubbed down pretty quickly. But bathing an Australian Shepherd is a major production. Bathing four Australian Shepherds – well, it’s just easier to let the mud dry and flake off. Since I’m vacuuming several times a day anyhow, it’s just quicker.
As soul-sucking as this time of year is for us, our Jack Russell Terriers, bred to hunt rodents, are in their glory. Every day a new buffet enters the ground floor, field mice who don’t like it outside any more than we do. When Gaspode (named after Gaspode, The Wonder Dog) starts his vertical jumping, we know dinner is served. We simply open the basement door for him, listen to the carnage of growls, barks, and plaintive squeaking and then open the door to let in one self-satisfied terrier. If we’re lucky, he’ll wait until he’s outside to bring it back up. If we’re lucky.
It’s a good thing we have the terriers for rodent control because our cats have declared themselves “off” during late winter. Our tabby Whiskers hasn’t left her spot on my bed since Valentine’s Day. I check for a pulse every now and then, which seems to annoy her. She has no interest in the birds fluttering within her vision outside the window nor the open front door ten feet away. During February and March she is no longer a cat; she is a throw pillow.
And then there are the tease days – one or two days during these months when the sun shines and the temperature creeps into the 70s. People peek out of their houses. Can it be? Is it spring?
Fools! This is nothing more than nature’s ploy to get you to open your doors and windows and let it in. Because tomorrow it’s going to be 35 degrees out with sleet.
I’ve always felt that during this time of year is when someone should organize some sort of major holiday or festival to cheer everyone up; give us something to look forward to. Only everyone is too tired and depressed to do it. Surely somewhere there is a group of people jacked up on Diet Dr. Pepper or coffee or crack who can organize this for the rest of us. Then maybe I’d have the impetus to mop the floor for the third time today.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 7:32 AM | Permalink

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