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Archive for June 16th, 2010

Don’t mess in Texas

Not unlike the one we showed you in North Carolina — Texas has some ridiculous designated dog areas at its highway rest stops, too, like this one we encountered while driving down I-10.

Call it the cage of poop — almost totally unshaded, lined with large hunks of rock that can’t feel good on the paws, and about the size of a prison cell.

What better way to let your dog unwind from being cramped in the car than to stick him in a cramped, brutally hot, rock-lined, chain link-surrounded pen?

Wake up, highway departments. Our dogs, generally speaking, are traveling with us on vacation, not serving time. If you’re seeking tourists with pets, show a little respect for them as opposed to providing an Attica-like experience.

Howdy! from, and adios to, Bandera, Texas

Now we can call him Ace reporter.

For the past three days — thanks to the gracious staff of the weekly Bandera County Courier — Ace, while he’s gotten no scoops, has been able to beat the heat and get the vast quantities of attention he requires.

While he was never welcome at the big mean Baltimore Sun, Ace was met with open arms in this tiny newsroom, our home base for the past several days.

We’d never been to Bandera, Texas. Though we’ve spent time in San Antonio and Austin, we’d never lingered in the Hill Country in between — and it’s well worth lingering in, which might explain why we’ve been here three days.

Not to mention the fact that Ace is being named Bandera’s tourist of the week.

Bandera, both a city and a county, are situated amid countryside so scenic you think you must be in some other state. It has given us a whole new respect for Texas, some of which we may sweat out today, as we cross a few  hundred far flatter miles of it on our way to New Mexico.

Here’s how we ended up in Bandera, population 957 (not 975 like I said the other day). A few months back the editor of the Bandera County Courier, a former Baltimore resident named Judith Pannebaker — she and her husband Bill, a dentist, moved here 14 years ago — contacted ohmidog! about using some of our stories in her newspaper.

Negotiations were intense. She asked. I said why not, figuring it would make me a syndicated columnist. (If your newspaper is interested, feel free to get in touch, though our prices have gone up since Judith called.)

When Judith heard about my trip, she invited Ace and I to drop by, and bunk down at her home.

The lodgings have been wonderful, and Ace, a bit lackadaisical before we got here, really grew more spirited, thanks in large part to the four dogs and four cats, acres of running room, and frequent treats at the Pannebaker home.

Ace has gotten along great with three of the dogs — Doc Holliday, Johnny Ringo and Kate, who looks like a miniature version of Ace and who, when she chases a squirrel up a tree, literally goes up the tree herself.

Ace got along slightly less famously with their fourth dog, Jake, a big black pit bull. So we kept them separated. Sorry, Jake, for inconveniencing you.

For Ace, it has meant new friends, new sights, new brands of bugs and prickly plantlife, even new sounds — the cicadas have been singing up a storm at night.

I’ve been similarly refreshed, spending some of my time at a small town newspaper — where it seems journalism is still important  still, usually, principled and still, judging from the laughter in the background, fun.

When I made my trip Monday to Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, Ace went to the newspaper, riding with Doc and Johnny in Judith’s car, and he was happy to spend the day there, hanging out in the air conditioning with his newfound friends.

Bandera, it turns out, is just the sort of place we had in mind when we departed on this trip, preferring to pass through small towns with character as opposed to big ones that all look alike.

Bandera takes great pride in its cowboy heritage, and some spots, like the legendary  Silver Dollar Saloon haven’t changed much since the days of the old west, if you don’t count the addition of neon, pinball and Merlot. I just finished quaffing an ice cold $1.50 Lone Star there and smoking a cigarette INSIDE THE BAR while hearing customers say things in conversation that sounded like country songs, like, “It may not be right, but it’s right for me.”

Today, Bandera is dappled with dude ranches, teeming with tourists, and the county has about an equal number of people and deer, I’m told.

It’s the sort of place you can still see scenes like this:

Or this:

The city park runs along the Medina River, with huge cypress trees providing abundant shade. Young people play freely. Unleashed dogs romp freely. Individuals — human and canine — still have some liberties. And the fairly intense heat — not nearly as humid as some other parts of Texas — seems to slow people down just the right amount.

Of all the places we’ve been so far, it’s the hardest one to leave — and not just because of the free lodging.

(To see all the installments of Dog’s Country, click here.)

(Photos By John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

Kinky Friedman’s dogs are … well, kinky

Three years ago, author and musician Kinky Friedman had six dogs — not counting the 50 or so awaiting homes at his Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch.

Today, he’s down to two — Chumley and Brownie, who, though brothers, spend an inordinate amount of time making out.

The dogs who have passed, though, aren’t far away. Just outside Kinky’s front door, a couple of decades worth of pets are buried in a colorful, well-tended garden, including his beloved Mr. Magoo, whose gravesite is topped with all of “Goo’s” favorite stuffed toys.

On our Monday visit to Utopia Ranch, we got to meet and spend some time with the author of  “Roadkill,” “God Bless John Wayne,” “The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic,” and more than 25 other books — including his most recent, “Kinky’s Celebrity Pet Files.”

You might think all that writing wouldn’t leave him time for anything else, but Kinky, from appearances, likes to stay busy. He ran for governor of Texas in 2006, capturing about 12 percent of the vote, writes a column for Texas Monthly, and, with help from friends, funds Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. Next month, Kinky, along with two members of his band, the Texas Jewboys, start a west coast tour.

In between performing tunes like “Ride ‘Em Jewboy” ” and “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,”  Kinky, 65, often referred to as the “Mark Twain of Texas,” will also be selling his wares at the concerts, including two of his more recent books, “Heroes of a Texas Childhood” and “What Would Kinky Do?” He’ll be hawking his cigars, as well.

Kinky, who was an infant when his family moved from Chicago to Texas to start a summer camp for Jewish children, spoils his dogs, in life and death — from grilling them steaks to interring them in the blooming shrine he has created at his front porch, the centerpiece of which is the grave of Magoo, who died at age 14

He has a long history of rescuing pets, starting in New York City in 1979, when he found a kitten a shoe box while walking through Chinatown. He took it home and named it Cuddles.

In the summer of 1996, he found another cat, Lucky, while driving from his parents’ ranch to Medina. The cat, found in the middle of the road, had been shot. He took the cat to a veterinarian, paid for the surgeries and amputation of an injured leg, then took Lucky home.

Because he traveled frequently, Friedman turned to friend Nancy Parker-Simons to babysit his pets, and that arrangement evolved into Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. In 1998, the rescue operation started on Parker-Simon’s seven acres in the town of Utopia. Three years later, it moved to the Friedman ranch.

In fact, it was another rescue that led to Friedman’s highly popular series of detective novels. In the mid-1980s, Kinky rescued a woman being robbed at a midtown Manhattan ATM. Based on the experience, he created the character Kinky Friedman the detective. After that, he branched out into children’s books, memoirs, historical reflections and, most lately, “Kinky’s Celebrity Pet Files.”

In it, Friedman recounts the connections many of his celebrity friends have and had with their pets — how Beach Boy Brian Wilson, on the “Pet Sounds” album, closed one song with the barking of his two dogs, Banana and Louis; how Dr. John’s dog, Lucy, once ate menthol-flavored condoms; about Fats Domino’s bichon Frise, Winnie the Pooh, who perished in Hurricane Katrina; Billie Holliday’s boxer, Mister, who would sit backstage while his master sang;  Tom Waits, who had his pet white rat stuffed upon its demise; and Jim Nabors who on the eve of every Fourth of July would fly his four Staffordshire Terriers from Honolulu to Maui, where they wouldn’t be bothered by fireworks.

He deals with his own pets as well in the book, from their daily hijinks to their bedtime rituals:

Then we all go back to bed and dream of fields full of slow-moving rabbits and mice and cowboys and Indians and imaginary childhood friends and tail fins on Cadillacs and girls in the summertime and everything else that time has taken away.

“It shows the animals in the lives of great and famous people, and the importance they attach to their pet,” Kinky said.

Friedman gave me two of his books, and autographed them for me, but he didn’t have any of his newest. So after hanging out with him for an hour or so — a period in which his cigar rarely left his mouth — I drove up to Kerrville to buy a copy at Wolfmueller’s, a new and used bookstore worth checking out if you ever pass through.

Kinky was supposed to be going there, but wasn’t going to be able to make it.

“Tell them I’m not coming today,” he told me.

I bought the book, passed on the message, ate some Mexican food and headed back to Bandera, where my own dog was spending the day in the air conditioned offices of the weekly newspaper, the Bandera Courier, the editor of which has been supplying me with dogsitting, story ideas and Texas-sized hospitality.

But that’s another story.

(To read all of the installments of “Dog’s Country,” click here.