Saturday, July 29, 2006

See the Adopt a Scruffy Dog Blog!

As you may have noticed, I have started a second blog, Adopt A Scruffy Dog, dedicated to scruffy dogs around the country who are available for adoption. "Scruffy" here and "Moe" at the bottom are just two of them.

Unlike this site, that one has advertising, which means after a LOT of "click-throughs" on the Google ads, I'm supposed to get some $, all of which I will donate to an animal shelter. Shelters do NOT pay for any of the photos on my site, I just troll the net looking for the most adorable scruffy dogs I can find who are available for adoption and provide links to their shelters. Google picks out related ads, and they do a pretty good job, I must say.

I don't think the revenue model is doing much in the way of raising funds at the moment (so tell your friends), but I do hope someone who is reading this and loves scruffy dogs will find their perfect match over there.

And even if you aren't looking for a scruffy dog of your own, you should check out the page to see some of the cutest scruffies on the Web.

I update the site weekly, so go have a look, maybe click an ad or two and check back often!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Eau de Cat and Other Suspicious Things

Certain things set dogs off. Our obedience instructor years ago explained to a room full of puppy owners that, most likely, there would be certain things that would trigger odd or fearful reactions in our dogs. For some it may be umbrellas, for others it may be wheelchairs or strollers or any other contraption they haven't encountered before. For Baxter, it has turned out to be two things: 1) backpacks and 2) people who smell like cats.

1) The Mysteries of the Backpack: Baxter is great with children. He approaches them quietly and gently and waits for them to reach out their hands to pet him. He doesn't jump or slobber or gush in any way. He will tolerate amazing things from babies -- a toddler once ambled up to him on a hiking trail, giggled, grabbed him by the nostrils and held on with a vicelike grip. He just stood there looking back at us like "um, is somebody going to get me out of this?" My infant neice did the same thing. He gave her a wide berth after that, but it hasn't stopped him from walking up to other babies and letting the same thing happen again. But if a child wearing a backpack tries to approach Baxter, he usually freaks out. His little tail is pressed firmly against his bum and he starts backing up and making a little "voof" sound under his breath. I can see the whites of his eyes. If the backpack-wearer continues to approach, Bax will run behind me and start barking. If the exact same child had approached him without the backpack on, he probably would have been greeted cheerfully. I don't know if it's the Quasimodo-like change in profile that throws him or if he had some bad experience with a backpack in his early life (certainly not with us), but it never fails to upset him. Oddly enough, we can go hiking with backpacks on and he's not phased at all. He knows the biscuits are in there. And he even has his own backpack and seems to enjoy wearing it. Go figure.

2) Eau de Cat: All his life Baxter has had fearful reactions to specific people who seem perfectly nice to me. I've always tended to believe that dogs are pretty good judges of character, so when Bax had a fearful reaction to a stranger, I also used to regard them with some suspicion. But now I'm thinking I can't take him too seriously, because I've realized that, probably not coincidentally, most of the people with whom he has a fear reaction have one or more cats at home. There is no such thing as a cat owner that doesn't have cat essence all over them, or at least their legs...which are right in Baxter's sniff zone. I think he gets one whiff of cat and immediately puts the person under suspicion. Are they hiding a cat somewhere under that coat? Then, if the person approaches him too quickly or reaches a hand out in an assertive way, he starts the duck and cover routine. Does he think they're somehow related to that mysterious realm of catdom and are, thus, dangerous? Or perhaps it's because these people are primarily cat people and have their own wariness or awkwardness around dogs and Baxter somehow senses that and reacts in kind?

I wish I knew what was going on in that scruffy head of his...but then again, maybe I don't!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Review: Scruffy Dog's Favorite Eats (and no, they don't pay me for this)...

Every dog has his or her favorite products. Baxter is Scruffy Dog's product tester, and he has just the right mix of enthusiasm and discernment to make him the perfect arbiter of taste. Here are a few of Baxter's favorites, in case there are other scruffy dogs out there who might like to give them a try:

Merrick Canned Dog Food, "Grammy's Pot Pie"
This is far and away Baxter's favorite food after seven years of experimentation. He sees me opening the can and begins his Pavlovian drool-fest (which, in a Griff, is a wet moustache...Bax never actually drools). This food looks and smells just like human stew (the lady at the pet store told me she actually tried it once and it wasn't too bad...I have not been so brave). It is made with "all natural" human-grade ingredients and has no grains and no preservatives, so it's perfect for allergy-prone dogs. Ingredients include: chicken, red jacket new potatoes, carrots, snow peas and red apples, among other things. I give Baxter a quarter can along with his dry food at each of his two meals a day. Merrick's "Thanksgiving Day Dinner" comes in a close second, and he also likes Wellness foods, but Grammy's Pot Pie is the IT food for Baxter. This one gets the top rating: Four Paws.

Innova EVO Dry Dog Food
Every dog needs his or her crunchies and this food is solidly above all the other premium dog foods Baxter has tried (including: Science Diet, Eukanuba, Canidae and California Natural). It is an all meat and vegetable food without any grains whatsoever. I should add that since Bax has been on his grain-free diet, his coat is shinier, he no longer has dandruff and his skin allergies are totally gone. While I can't attribute all of this to EVO, it is certainly playing a large role as his primary food. My only complaint is about the small size of the nuggets in the regular (and easier to find) variety. These would be perfect for a smaller or older dog. But if you can find it, the large bites are more suitable for a larger dog who loves to chew. We'll give it Three Paws.

Virbac's C.E.T. HEXtra Premium Chews
These are known in our house as "chewies" and Baxter flips when he sees me going for the bag. They are strips of rawhide coated with a veterinarian-approved substance that cleans dogs' teeth. Baxter got his first bag from my friend the veterinarian, who assured me they were safe and effective. These really work. Whenever Bax starts getting a bit of plaque build-up on his teeth, I give him one of these every week for a few weeks and the plaque is reduced considerably. But beyond that, Baxter absolutely LOVES them. He loves to chew and the beef flavoring on these drives him wild. At seven years of age, our vet says Baxter is still far from needing a professional cleaning (and I am not a regular dog tooth brusher). If there is anything about the chemicals that are harmful, I'm weighing that against the fact that Bax has thus far avoided needing to be knocked-out with anesthesia just for a tooth cleaning. Just on Baxter's enthusiasm about these chewies, we'll give them Four Paws.

Biscuit Tie: Nutro Natural Choice Chops and Innova EVO Dog Treats
Before he went on his no-grain diet, Baxter LOVED his Lamb and Rice biscuits and would do almost anything to get one. Ok I have to confess, Baxter loves ALL biscuits, but these were particularly good. Now that he's on his no-grain diet, we're giving him the EVO biscuits. Baxter seems to like these even better, and I'm sure they're very good for him, but I would only notch them down a tad because they have a rather pungent odor so I can't carry them in my pocket without having them in a ziplock bag. But what else can you expect from a biscuit made from baked poultry, fish, eggs and vegetables? We'll give these both Three Paws.

Four Paws = Outstanding, Three Paws = Excellent, Two Paws = Good, One Paw = Don't Bother, Zero Paws = Leave It

As noted, neither Scruffy Dog nor Baxter receive any sort of treats from the manufacturers. The opinions expressed above are just that: opinions. Take 'em or leave 'em (but we recommend you try 'em)!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Baxter's Cat Obsession

Baxter is obsessed with cats. But this hasn't always been the case. When he was a younger puppy, Baxter showed absolutely no interest in cats. We'd walk by them in the neighborhood and he'd either look at them and move on or miss them altogether. That changed when he was about nine months old, after a week at my friend's house. My friend, who is a veterinarian and cat aficionado, offered to sit Baxter while we were away on a trip. What a great deal, we thought. It would be like summer camp for Bax, because between my friend and her roomate, they had two dogs (an older dog and a 3-month-old 1/2 border collie-1/2 pitbull puppy) and five cats. We thought Bax would enjoy the playmates and learn to live harmoniously in a cat-friendly environment.

We were oh so wrong. When we came to pick-up Baxter, he ran frantically to us. Most of his moustache and beard had been pulled out by the over-cranked puppy, whose idea of "play" was continuously jumping up and grabbing Baxter's face in his little vice-like jaws (that's another story). Then there were the cats. I should have known this wouldn't be a lesson in peaceful co-existence. When I dropped Baxter off, he hadn't been in the house ten minutes before I heard a hiss and yowl coming from the kitchen, where one of the cats on the counter had taken a swat at Baxter's head. By the time I picked him up about a week later, he had already developed a love-hate relationship with members of the feline persuasion, and for the rest of his life thus far, he has been obsessed with them.

If he sees a cat on a walk, he practically dislocates my shoulder dodging after it. If he spots one from a car window he starts howling. His vigil at the window is punctuated by fervent, whining annoucements every time the neighbor cat walks along the fencetop. And if he sees a cat set foot in our yard, he goes ballistic -- wild-eyed, running in circles around the room, howling and barking and growling at the door, etc.

On a couple of occasions when my husband spotted a particularly bird-hungry neighbor cat sitting beneath our bird feeder, he deliberately let Baxter out to chase him off. This is quite a involves a lightning-fast burst out the back door, followed by running at break-neck speed and howling all the while. The cat usually makes a beeline for the fence. But I always wondered what would happen if Baxter actually caught a cat. Would he harm it or is this just all in good fun?

We had our chance to find out with Lucky, the neighbor cat who used to loll in the sun on our porch, right outside our back French doors. Baxter would stand at the door silently, trembling and frozen on point for hour on end. Occasionally Lucky would get up and stretch and rub up against the door, right where Baxter's nose was pressed to the glass. Lucky knew he had the advantage. But one day the cat decided to nap under the tree, and when we innocently let Baxter out, he caught Lucky off-guard and trapped him between the tree and the fence. I thought for sure there would be hissing and swatting and Bax would end up with claw marks on his eyeballs, but no. They both just stood there, frozen. I think Lucky was in shock. But Baxter appeared to be waiting for the cat to do something. It was rather like "ok, now what do we do?" Lucky finally responded by wiggling past Baxter and up over the fence. This has happened since then with another cat and Baxter's reaction was the same. It's as if he expects the cat to join in the game, to turn around and chase him for a while.

I think Baxter's fundamental misunderstanding of cats is based on his assumption that cats want to play like dogs do. Of course, this will never be the case, but it doesn't stop him from trying. Perhaps some day Baxter will have his own cat to play with (preferably a kitten who learns how to play with him). But in the meantime, Bax will just have to keep his vigil at the window.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Scruffy Meets Fluffy

I may have a passion for scruffy dogs, but a puppy of any variety draws me in like a magnet. This past weekend we brought Baxter over to visit some friends and their new puppy -- an adorable, fluffy, rambunctious 10-week-old Bernese Mountain Dog who reminded me a bit of a living teddy bear. At seven years her senior, Bax didn't quite engage in the same play style, but they had a good time romping around the yard. And we just enjoyed soaking up some of that enthusiastic puppy energy (despite the occasional chomp of needle-teeth).

What a sweetie!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Panting at the Beach

Baxter at the Beach
Originally uploaded by ScruffyDog.
Baxter at the beach. Definitely a happy pant.


Dogs pant. This is not news. But until Baxter came into our lives, I didn't realize just how strategic a pant can be. The first of my scruffy dogs, a little Cairn Terrier named Katie, had a tiny little pant and she mostly used it for cooling off -- both physically (in the Midwest 90-degree heat/90-percent humidity) and emotionally (when panic ensued in the car). But beyond the cool-down pant (giant tongue, squinting eyes), Baxter has a whole repertoire of pants which he uses quite effectively. Just to name a few:

"I want to go outside NOW" aka The Breath Pant - This "smoke 'em outta their holes" pant (no association with the President intended) is usually employed when Bax has already been out to do his business, but there is a cat or squirrel or some other such irresistable entity in the yard. When the silent stare doesn't work and the tap on the leg with the paw is ignored (such as when I'm on the phone with a client or in the middle of a DVD), Bax breaks out a pant that must come from deep inside his belly. There's no jaunty tongue hanging out. No, this is just an open mouth and a very hot, stinky breath directed right at my face. I can stand this for approximately 10 minutes then I have to let him out. He knows this. I think he saves up his worst breath for these moments.

"Here comes the dog park!" aka The Unbridled Enthusiasm Pant - Baxter knows when he's within a mile of the dog park from any direction. I know this because he starts whining. Then, as we get closer and closer, his eyes get wild and the whining turns to howling intersperced with a sort of chimplike vocalization as he pants rapidly. No matter what we say, we cannot get him to stop. At this point we usually call him "Monkey Boy" and count the minutes until we get there.

"You are packing your suitcase" aka The Take Me With You Pant - This one is sort of in between The Breath Pant and The Unbridled Enthusiasm Pant. His eyes squint down, his tongue gets long and he follows me around the house, breathing hot air on the backs of my knees. The temperature in the house is irrelevant. And it doesn't stop until one of two things happen: 1) his dog bed gets loaded into the car or 2) he hears "You be good, I'll be back," at which point he lays down on the floor and lifts up his back leg as if to say "Go ahead, eviscerate me, it wouldn't be any more painful!" This doesn't usually work, but it doesn't stop him from trying.

"I'm in the truck" aka The Smile Pant - This isn't really a pant, per se, but all dogs do it. It's the contented look of a happy dog. Some say dogs pick this up from humans. I don't know, but I see it when Bax is riding between us in the truck or when he's sitting happily in the mountains or at the beach. This is my favorite pant of all.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Joys of Fainting

This has nothing to do with scruffy dogs, but it was an interesting experience, so I felt like sharing...

Like Baxter, I have a wonderful doctor. An MD who actually does more holistic practices than your average AMA type. Part of that practice involves doing a very thorough, fasting blood work-up. This morning, after 14 foodless hours (I couldn't miss the end of the Tour...poor Floyd), Mr. Phlebotomist couldn't quite find the vein (it felt like the needle went up to my shoulder) and when he did, he (oh-so-slowly) sucked out five (yes five) vials of blood.

After about three vials the room was starting to spin. I mentioned it. He said "hang on." Another vial, I started feeling my body relax and my mind was sliding into a peaceful place. "One more, just hang on...Hey Dave, this one's gonna pass out!" Dave (or whatever his name was, I barely knew he was there) arrived with a small packet of ammonia-laden stuff that yanked me out of my bliss immediately and kept me that way long enough for them to help me lay down without hurting myself (I could have made it to the floor, but they didn't want any accidents). I mustered the words "Oh, how embarrassing..." and the floor felt so, so good as I melted into it. I remember saying, "I hope you got enough blood out of my arm, because there sure isn't any left in my head."

The lights didn't totally go out (I can still smell the ammonia), but I was probably closer than I've ever been to actually passing out. If it weren't for the fall, fainting wouldn't be so bad. Quite blissful and painless, actually. As opposed to the blood-letting. He got all five vials. High five. So glad that's over.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Master of Persuasion

Baxter, master of persuasion, workin' it.

You know this look. It's the look that charms us, captivates us and persuades us to take action. This is the look that brought dogs out of the nomad's junk pile and into the cave with us.

Whether it's an innate skill or a master strategy, I don't care. I melt when I see it anyway.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Baxter Gets Acupuncture

I've been going to acupuncturists and naturopaths for years, in conjunction with going to my regular doctor. But for some reason, up until recently, I had only taken Baxter to a conventional veterinarian. I suppose some of this was cost -- it has been expensive enough just to take him in for his shots and heartworm tests and the recurring ear infection that seems to happen a couple of times a year. Also there just aren't very many holistic veterinarians around, at least not where we live.

Since he was a puppy, Baxter has had occasional bouts of little red sores on his tummy, which his vets have attributed to allergies. We changed to a premium dog food without preservatives and they got a bit better. We moved to a drier climate and that seemed to help as well. But after four years of eating the good food and living in the dry climate, Bax suddenly started getting his little red welts in record numbers, and this time they were getting infected and growing to the size of a quarter in diameter. Of course we took him to the vet as soon as we saw this wasn't going to go away by itself. The vet put him on antibiotics for the infection. They cleared up. Two weeks after the antibiotics they were back. He went on antibiotics again, and the vet put him on an "allergy free" prescription diet. Again, about two weeks after the antibiotics they were back and Baxter did not look well. His eyes weren't bright, his energy level was low and his skin had a waxy dandruff.

This time we were visiting in Arizona and I decided it was time for a second opinion, so I went to see Dr. Pema Mallu, DVM, a holistic veterinarian and veterinary acupuncturist in Sedona. (Interestingly enough, she is also a Buddhist nun, which I'll mention in another post...) Dr. Pema looked at Baxter and immediately diagnosed an underlying condition (I believe "too much dampness" was the Chinese medicine way of describing it) and she said this condition related to his skin and his digestion and his whole system. She said it was caused and/or exacerbated by a couple of things: 1) not spending enough time working (not as in sitting at the window, but as in running around loose outside, hunting, etc.) and 2) too much grain in his diet.

Dr. Pema pulled out her needles and gently inserted them in a number of places around Baxter's back. He didn't seem to mind at all. She also prescribed us some herbs and digestive enzymes to help get rid of the infection and balance his system, and she explained how his diet was not working for him. Dogs wouldn't normally eat very many grains like wheat and that some grains can actually irritate the lining of a dog's intestine as they pass through. This creates inflammation, which can exacerbate infections, lead to allergies, etc. Most dog foods, including the premium ones, have a lot of grain in them. She recommended we switch Bax to an all meat and vegetable diet.

I bought some Innova EVO for his dry food and picked up some Merrick's "Grammy's Pot Pie" and "Thanksgiving Day Dinner" in which to mix Baxter's herbs. We went back for one more round of acupuncture before we left town.

The change in Baxter's skin has been amazing. First the welts cleared up -- not quite as quickly as with the antibiotics, but almost, and they have not come back after a couple of months. He no longer has dandruff and that waxy feeling to his coat. His eyes are bright, he's energetic and he LOVES his food. Also I've noticed that products of his digestion are a lot healthier. During his treatment, a couple of latent ear infections came to the fore, which Dr. Pema did treat with antibiotic ointment (apparently this is normal as the animal's body rids itself of inflammation). His ears are now pink and clean and healthy and the ear infections have not come back either.

I think we have finally broken the cycle of allergies and infections and I have Dr. Pema to thank for that. We haven't substantially changed the amount of "running around" time he's's still the daily walk. But we're going to make a concerted effort to take him up to the mountains more, where he can run free and so can we. I think this will be good for all of us.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Truck and the Biscuit Hut

Far and away, Baxter's favorite vehicle is our little pickup truck. It was the first vehicle Baxter ever rode in -- the day we got him he claimed the extended cab area behind the seats as his own, and his puppy hairs have been woven into the upholstery ever since.

Another reason Bax loves the truck is because he is one of us. There is no gate separating him from the alpha male and female in the front seats. (After a couple of scary events with Baxter climbing into the driver's seat of the Subaru as we were driving, we decided to invest in one of those doggy gates that keeps him in the back.) Of course, while he still loves to go for a ride in the car and wouldn't turn down an opportunity for a spin in the Subaru, the truck enables him to sit on the floor in the back and lean into the front seat in such a way that he's almost in line with us. This is enough for him. In the truck, he never attempts to get into the front seat.

But far and away, the main reason Baxter loves the truck is because he has unfettered access to the side window (well, almost unfettered...over the driver's shoulder) through which he can put on his best "please may I have a biscuit, I'm starving" face for the sweet young gals who work at the local drive-through coffee hut. This strategy is a slam-dunk for Bax. Trouble is, he now recognizes any sort of small hut with windows as a potential biscuit opportunity and starts whining. It doesn't take much to convince us to stop for a latte. However he also does this at toll booths, drive-through banks and, as we learned yesterday, the DMV (I don't think the biscuit-free vehicle emissions testing guy appreciated Baxter's enthusiasm).

We have run into a snag, however. Baxter's holistic vet has put him on a grain-free diet for his allergies, which means no Milk Bones or other such treats from what has become known as the "biscuit hut." Here's where our true colors as dog parents shine through. For us, maintaining the mythical status of the biscuit hut is rather like Santa Claus for parents of human children. We now pack special grain-free biscuits in the car so when he gets to the drive-through, we can hand one to the barista to give to him. I know, it's kind of pathetic. But the baristas (most of them) seem to enjoy it and we know for sure that Baxter does. After all, he doesn't care where the biscuit comes from. And we get to enjoy our lattes without a side of guilt.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Keeping Me On Task

Baxter gave me the paw this morning. This is not unusual...putting his paw earnestly on my arm or leg and looking directly into my eyes is his way of getting my attention and letting me know he wants something. He's great about communicating that way. I, however, often lack the canine telepathy to know just what he is asking for. Food? No, he'd just been fed. Go outside? No, he had just returned from a walk. Play? No, usually the paw is accompanied by Bear or Bunny or Ball in that case. I was once again watching the stage finish of the Tour de France on TV when I got the paw, and I believe Bax was letting me know it was time to "go to work." (I managed to ignore him long enough to watch Floyd Landis get the yellow jersey...)

Dogs are creatures of habit (aren't we all?). Bax seems most content when the daily pattern is followed. Outside, breakfast, walk, shower (mine) and then go-to-work. Go-to-work usually involves me pouring a cup of coffee or tea and heading for the back bedroom, which serves as my home office. On the way I ring a little string of bells hanging in the hallway. Baxter always responds by picking up one of his favorite toys and trotting along behind me to the office. He waits patiently as I open the shades so he can take his position at the window. I look at my Windows and he looks at his. It's quite a nice arrangement. Only I broke the pattern today. I skipped the shower and flipped on the TV. The Tour de France may seem like a special occasion to me, but Bax was there as my reminder that life (and thus work) goes on. So cheers to my little slave-driver (who has now decided to take a break and is sacked-out on the office floor).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Perfect Parasite

This morning as I was lying on the floor, with Baxter's head resting comfortably on my shoulder, and watching the end of the Tour de France, my thoughts drifted to two distinctly different things I had read recently. Both related to the long-held belief that humans saw potential in wolves and actively went about capturing and domesticating them to do our bidding -- a concept that never quite worked for me.

I ran across a website for a dog sanctuary that invites people to give up their pet dogs, saying that it's cruel to keep dogs in your home and that they should be allowed to run free to hunt and roam in packs like their wolf ancestors did. I'm easily prone to guilt, especially when it comes to my loved ones, so that site forced me to do some thinking about Baxter's "captive" life. Is it cruel to keep a dog in the house, with tethered walks and hikes and romps around the dog park as his primary outside social activities? Is it cruel to feed him every day instead of letting him hunt for his own food and, if he's lucky, tear into a carcass once a week?

No. Something just doesn't feel right about that "dogs are captive wolves" idea. Baxter seems really happy in his domestic life and I can't shake the feeling that he wants to be right where he is. Yes, I'm a human reading the situation and Baxter has never had it otherwise. But still, it's hard to deny that a dog feels comfortable when he's snoring on your shoulder. Would he leave if he had the chance? I don't think so. When he does get the rare opportunity to run freely in the wilderness, he always comes back. He doesn't even like to be out in the yard by himself for more than 15 minutes at a time. He wants to be near us. WE are his pack.

An explanation that makes sense. The Truth About Dogs (as discussed previously) casts the whole dog/wolf domestication scene in a new light that, for me, makes a whole lot more sense. The author postulates that dogs are, and pretty much always have been, parasites on humanity...but he means it in a GOOD way. Bear with me here, because I won't begin to do justice to the fine explanations in the book, but I think the concept is pretty compelling.

Scientists are rethinking the whole dog-human relationship based on archeological and DNA evidence that suggests dogs may have been much more willing partners in their shift from wild animal to foot warmer. Somewhere along the line there was a genetic anomaly that allowed a wolf (and subsequent generations) to lose their natural fear of humans. This occurred long before we started using dogs to herd sheep and hunt wild boar, however. Looking at fossils and piecing together the archeological and DNA histories of dogs and humans, scientists now believe that early dogs, who were scavengers as well as hunters, used to follow humans around, eating out of their garbage piles and hanging around the fire pit where the smell of food was irresistable. Some of us probably threw rocks at them for a while, but I'm picturing the scene that developed:

An early cave woman, eating dinner by the fire, looks down and sees an early dog (probably quite scruffy) sidling up to her. The dog gives her that sweet, innocent, "I really need a piece of that meat, I really, really do" look we all have come to know and love. It's a short trip from that to "Look, he can sit up!" and "Oh he's soooo cute, can we take him back to the cave?"

Scammers. They have been working the food angle from the very beginning. Then they got shelter too. And all they had to do in return was be sweet and loveable and, when man decided to try to train them, do just enough to be useful and keep their happy home. Let's face it, dogs domesticated us. And we love it. And I now have scientific evidence to back up my claim that when Baxter is snoring on my shoulder, he really is content to be my perfect parasite.

I have to go now. Bax is putting his paw on my arm and asking to go outside. I will do his bidding.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dog People

I'm not sure what it is that makes someone a dog person, but we all know the signs. We're drawn to them like moths to flames. Not just our own dogs, but all dogs. Ok, most dogs (for me, Mini-Cujo excepted). When I'm walking down the street and see interesting dogs trotting by or sticking their heads out car windows, I am mesmerized. I'm drawn to them. I want to meet them, greet them, scratch behind their ears. Most of the dog people in the neighborhood know each other's dogs better than they know each other. Every morning it's "Hi, how's Sparky today?" Not "Hi Dorothy, how are the children?"

Dogs have the most wonderful combination of wisdom and innocence. And I think the same is true for dog people. We have learned things about the world from our dogs. We've become more perceptive (I can't tell you how many rabbits and quail and lizards in the grass I would have missed had Baxter not pointed them out to me). We have connected with something more primal, more direct and infinitely more playful than ourselves. And, at the same time, I think we like to believe a lot of things about our dogs, some of which are true and some of which probably aren't.

I recently finished reading The Truth About Dogs by Stephen Budiansky. I found it to be a fascinating read because it challenged a lot of my assumptions about what's going on in my dog's head. The author's interesting perspectives on dogdom are based on some of the latest scientific discoveries, from archeology to animal intelligence studies, and he writes with wit and a respect that can only come from being a dog person himself. If you begin reading this book, I ask that you be patient. I initially bristled at some of the comments on why dogs do what they do (you mean it's not just because they're loyal?), but as I read on, I developed an even deeper appreciation for the amazing creature we share our lives with. I'll share more on this at another time, but if you have read the book, or are reading the book, I'd love to see your comments.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Convenient Look-Away

Little rant for the day: I want to let all of the Look-Away people know that we're onto you. You know who you are. You take your dogs for walks on extra-long leashes and right about the time they decide to leave a present on the neighbor's lawn you are conveniently counting the leaves on the oak tree across the street or checking out the contrail left behind by a jet or perhaps just staring off in the opposite direction pondering the issues of the day. Then once fluffy's job is done, you snap back into consciousness and continue your walk, sans pick-up-bag.

Yes, once upon a time our ancestors lived in rural areas and their pets could roam and fertilize with abandon. But now we live in towns and cities where your dog's mess is MY problem. As a conscientious pick-up-bag user (New York Times bags work quite well), I object to those of you who think it's perfectly fine to allow your dog to do his or her business in other peoples' yards, and as long as you don't see it you don't have to pick it up.

Once, a few years ago, when I was taking Bax out for his evening walk, I witnessed just this occurrence. The man, whom I didn't recognize, was allowing his cocker spaniel to dump on my neighbor's lawn. It was dark, but it was quite obvious what was going on. The man seemed to be star-gazing at the time (even though the street was covered by a canopy of trees). I'm not usually one to speak to strangers in the night, but I couldn't help blurting out "Hey, your dog's going in the neighbor's lawn here!" He replied "No she's not." I was stunned. I said "Yes she is, look at her." He replied angrily, "No she's not, she just does that and nothing comes out." It was too dark to go digging through my neighbor's grass and he was a lot bigger than me so I let it go.

I do know someone who finally had it with the Look-Away people and did something I'd never be brave enough to do. After years of living in New York City and stepping over (and in) dog messes on the street, he just lost it one day. He witnessed a woman conveniently looking the other way while her little doggie was making a mess on the sidewalk. He said: "Ma'am, your dog just pooped on the sidewalk, aren't you going to pick it up?" She just looked at him, turned and walked away. "Either you pick this up or you're gonna be wearing it!" She continued down the sidewalk. He reached into a nearby garbage can, pulled out a piece of newspaper, picked up the dog poop and started chasing her down the street with her doggie's gift in hand. He realized that the woman was obviously terrified and that he had probably gone too far, so he stopped. But I bet she'll think twice next time. Maybe. Well, probably not. But it won't happen in front of him again, I'm sure.

I'm not big enough or scary enough to do what my friend did, and I'm pretty conflict averse as well. But I am going to be more vocal from now on when I see someone doing the Look-Away. After all, maybe they really are counting the leaves on the oak tree and just need to be reminded of their civic doody duty...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

City Dogs

Last week we decided to take Baxter to the big city for a holiday weekend mini-vacation in Portland, Oregon. We stayed at the 5th Avenue Suites, a dog-friendly Kimpton hotel. As we checked-in, Baxter was given a warm welcome by the hotel staff and his name was put up on the chalkboard in the hotel's well-appointed lobby. Bax is an experienced traveler, however our road trip digs are usually of a more discount variety, so this was a treat. We ate at outdoor restaurants, where Baxter was allowed to lay down at our feet (thanks to the Monks of New Skete's The Art of Raising a Puppy we taught Bax early-on to behave himself under the dinner table). I was pleased to find so many places where dogs were welcome to sit outside. It almost felt like we were in Europe. I must express my disappointment, however, that some of our favorite Portland area McMenamin's pubs, restaurants and hotels are NOT dog-friendly, even if they have large green lawns and plenty of places to safely tie up dogs away from food areas. They have great ales, by the way, if you are ever traveling without a pet, but they've lost a few points on my "best places" list.

Our friends (the ones who took us to the dog show where we first met a Griff...) invited us to their lovely home to celebrate the 4th of July. As Baxter played with their Portuguese Water Dog, Phoebe, we discovered that our dogs really are middle-aged. Phoebe, who is eight, and Bax used to create a small whirlwind when they got together. But this time they just followed each other around the house, occasionally rubbed noses and took turns barking at the fireworks.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


I've come to the conclusion that our neighbor dog, a tiny Chihuahua-Pom cross, is certifiably insane. Let me start by saying I love dogs of every shape and size and fur type (despite my particular attraction to the wirehaired types), and I seldom meet a dog I do not like. Even the grumpiest of dogs usually has a few nice qualities; and with dogs, as with people, I try to focus on the finer points and work from there. But despite my best efforts, I have yet to find any redeeming qualities in this dog.

Let's start with the fact that he barks almost incessantly when he's outside, and when any living being enters his field of perception, he barks with a fervor that suggests he's on the brink of a complete emotional melt-down. If anyone outside his family tries to approach him, even in the most unassuming, dog-friendly manner, he lunges at them like Cujo...his tiny lips curled back, needle-like teeth gleaming, frothing and growling in the deepest tone he can muster (which is somewhere between a gargle and the sound of stretching rubber).

"Don't go near him, he bites," I'm warned. "We don't know why he does that," says his owner, who is a sweet person with sweet children and other dogs who are friendly. "It's just how he is."

Ok, it would be tempting to say this dog is just over-compensating for his diminutive size. Or perhaps he is just a bit high strung and could, with some psychological counseling and medication, get to a point where he was tolerable. I'm not so sure. In any case, sadly, I've reached a point where I've given up on trying to establish a relationship with this little dog.

Originally uploaded by ScruffyDog.

Baxter has found his own way of dealing with the situation. Mini-Cujo provides a certain entertainment value for Bax, who has discovered he can wind up the little guy by running in circles around our back yard. Then, as Mini-Cujo reaches the peak of apoplexy, Bax runs up to the six-foot wooden fence that separates them and stands there, about two inches away from the slightly warped board that leaves a gap just wide enough for Mini-Cujo to stick his tiny snout through. All one can see is a snarling mass of tiny teeth with a little black nose on top. Bax just stands there, silently, and watches as the little guy threatens to rip the fence down, splinter by splinter, until either I come to get Bax or Mini-Cujo's owner comes out to get him.

Ah, the joys of summer.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Baxter - June 1999

Originally uploaded by ScruffyDog.
This is Baxter, just a few days after we brought him home. He used to stop traffic. I'm serious. People in cars would stop and back up and roll down their windows to ask what kind of puppy he was. It's always nice to connect with the other scruffy dog lovers out there. We know.

Love at First Scruffy Sight

I'm sitting at my desk looking at my scruffy dog, Baxter, who is looking out the window. He's doing his job. Every day I pour a cup of coffee, say "Ok Bax, let's go to work" and he dutifully follows me to my office where he takes his seat at the window. While I go about my day working on the computer, he watches the birds and the tops of the neighbors' heads over the fence and he feverishly announces the appearance of any backyard visitors of the feline variety.

When I look at him I can't believe it has been seven years since we first met. Every day I see him and I am still amazed by his presence. And at the same time I feel like I've known this dog forever and have a hard time imagining my life without him.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT: Flashback to June husband and I are driving up the Columbia Gorge (which is spectacular) and I'm overwhelmed with anticipation. We're off to look at a couple litters of scruffy puppies: Airedales and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons. The Griffs were first. We never made it to the Airedales.

We drove up in the driveway of a modest home with a nice big yard. The breeder met us and said he'd like to introduce us first to the sire of the litter. We drove a short way to another modest home with a nice big yard and running around it was one of the most handsome dogs I had ever seen, and at his feet was one of the cutest puppies I had ever seen -- a little female, the pick of the litter. By this time I was brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of soon seeing the rest of the pups.

We returned to the breeder's house and he told us there were only two puppies available out of an original litter of 10 -- four were still there, but two were spoken for. He told us to come around the side of the house and he met us there. He opened the tall wooden gate and sitting inside, right smack in the middle of the pathway was the most adorable puppy I had ever seen. He was looking right up at us, his golden yellow eyes were extremely direct and inquisitive. Our gazes met and it was love at first sight.

I didn't feel we should make a rushed decision without seeing the other puppy, so we proceeded on into the yard and the little pup happily followed us. There we saw three other 10-week-old puppies, each one just as adorable as the next, frolicking around the yard.

We played a bit with our welcoming puppy, who was a bit smaller than the others, but definitely held his own. He had an air of puppy confidence and he stuck to us like glue.

"This is the other one here," the breeder said, as he pointed out a sweet but very timid puppy. He had scars all over his ears and had obviously been chewed-on by the other pups for quite some time. I felt quite sorry for the little guy. But as I picked him up to hold him, the welcome puppy had a complete fit. He started running over and when the breeder picked him up to keep him away, he started howling and scrambling with his little legs. I interpreted this to mean "No, he's not the one you want, I'M THE ONE! CAN'T YOU SEE I'M THE ONE? I'M THE ONE!"

"I guess he thinks he's the one," I said. We put the puppies down and watched them play some more. My eye was on the welcome puppy.

"The trouble with this little guy, " said the breeder, gesturing at the welcome puppy, "is he doesn't show any promise as a hunter at all." This is, apparently, why he was one of the last two to be adopted. We were primarily looking for a pet, so lack of hunting ability wasn't a huge deal to us. But to demonstrate this, the breeder took a fishing pole with a bird wing on the end of the line and cast it out into the yard. To my amazement, three of the puppies immediately went on point.

"See?" he said pointing to the welcome puppy, who seemed to be standing there assessing the situation. Then a little miracle happened. The puppy looked at us, looked at the wing and made the most beautiful little 10-week-old puppy point you've ever seen.

"Well I'll be darned, he's never done that before!" exclaimed the breeder.

We knew he was doing it for us. I like to think he was saving himself for the right family. We paid the fee, picked-up the puppy and carried him out to the truck. He never cried and never looked back. He seemed completely at peace and happy to be with us, as he has from that moment forward. We decided he looked like "Baxter." And so he was.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Baxter, most sincere.

Loving Scruffiness...

Ever since I can remember I've had a soft spot in my heart for scruffy animals. The scruffier the better. One of my first (and favorite) toys as a young child was a stuffed pink bunny that came wedged between two bottles of some cleaning product my mom used. His name was Cornwallis. Corny for short. I loved that bunny. And as his hair became matted and his eyes were replaced with buttons, he took on a certain air of dignified scruffiness that made him all the more endearing.

As I grew older, my attraction to scruffiness blossomed. Remember the game "Mystery Date?" I was the girl who actually thought the "Dud" with the two days' growth of beard and the scruffy hair was the cute one. All the other guys looked a bit too much like my Ken doll. Yeah, I had a Malibu Ken, but my favorite guy doll was my GI Joe, the one with the real hair and beard. Only mine came with some of the hair rubbed off. He was cool.

I didn't convince my parents to get a dog until I was 13. This was a full-on marketing campaign that began with research: I checked out dozens of dog books from the library and thoroughly studied dog care and feeding. I then checked out more books of dog breeds and marked the pages of some of my favorites. My goal: win Mom over and she would convince Dad. I hit the sweet spot with the Cairn Terrier (apparently Mom had a thing for scruffy dogs, even though Dad was quite well-polished). Within a few months we had Katie. She was scruffy and feisty and she had all of us wrapped around her paw within about a day. I'll share some Katie stories at another time.

Fast-forward about 23 years...My husband and I decided it was time to grow our family. Not to have children just yet, but to get a dog (this was a huge commitment for a couple who took six years to decide to get married). We went with some friends to a dog show, just to check out a few breeds. Luckily my husband also turned out to be a scruffy dog enthusiast, and we found ourselves looking longingly at the Irish Wolfhounds and Deerhounds and Airdales. Then we saw Six...he was in the ring with the winners of the hunting dog breeds. While the retrievers and setters and German Shorthaired Pointers eagerly stood at attention, practically vibrating as they waited for their turn to run around the ring, Six took a look around and decided to lay down. Amongst all the commotion, he actually looked bored. We soon learned that he was a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. We met Six after the competition (which he didn't win, even though he was obviously the best dog there) and we fell in love immediately. The owner refused to give him up. We figured the breed was rare enough and expensive enough that we'd probably never get one.

We were planning a two month sabbatical in Europe and decided to get a puppy as soon as we returned. My husband says I brought up the subject when the airplane wheels touched the ground. I picked up the local paper that weekend, checked the pet section and to my amazement, there was an ad for Wirehaired Pointing Griffons in a town just a few hours from our home. Up next..."Baxter: Love at First Scruffy Sight"