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Archive for July, 2010

Sit, kudzu dog, sit

I came across Sitting Kudzu Dog as I approached Oxford, Mississippi.

Tell me you see him, too.

Otherwise, I might start thinking I’m crazy — for all the things I see in kudzu … and clouds. Nature’s ink blot tests, that’s what they are.

I’ve been seeing things in kudzu for many years now– ever since I harvested kudzu with a woman in Georgia (for a newspaper story), who was putting the south’s evil and fast-spreading weed to good use, making baskets and other crafts out of it.

It was not long after that when I came up with Retirement Plan 11 — opening “The Kud-Zoo.”

I’d buy some large, kudzu-contaminated parcel of land in the south, just off an interstate highway, and get one of those trucks with the hydraulic man-lifting buckets, like the phone and cable companies use, and begin trimming all the unwieldy growth into the shapes of animals. Actually, I would see the animal within first, then, through trimming, free it, so to speak.

Also, along with my staff, we’d train young kudzu, using clothesline and wooden forms, to grow into the shape of animals. The Kud-Zoo would also serve as a commune for kudzu artists and craftsmen, and kudzu artisans who’d make kudzu wine, kudzu tea and kudzu cigarettes on the premises.

We would have an old school bus, painted as if it were covered with kudzu, which — when we weren’t busy running the roadside attraction (i.e. the non-summer months) — we’d drive to schools to give presentations about kudzu, and how the more things we can figure out to do with it, the better of we’d be.

I put the Kud-Zoo right up there with my all time great ideas, and share it now only because I don’t think I’m going to get around to it. If you want it, it’s your’s.

Gourd is great, gourd is good

Here’s an exit sign that piqued my curiosity — enough to make me veer off the interstate to figure out just what makes a pumpkin Baptist, and why they need their own center.

Are Baptist pumpkins preachier? Do they go all fire and brimstone? Do they achieve life everlasting, or is that dream just pie in the sky?

I pictured a chapel filled with orange orbs, sharing fellowship, singing hymns. I wondered if other denominations of gourds had similar facilities — say, Catholic Cantaloupes, Jewish Watermelons, Seventh Day Adventist Squash?

What makes these Baptist pumpkins so holier than thou to think they deserve their own center, even their own exit sign, I wondered as I exited Interstate 55 in Louisiana, not far from Hammond.

Before I was even off the exit ramp, I realized I was barking up the wrong vine.

Baptist was one way, Pumpkin Center the other. Less intrigued, I just got back on the interstate.

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)

Seeking preference, envisioning acclaim

Inspired, in part, by a roll of toilet paper — one sold under the name “envision” — I set out from Baton Rouge thinking big, and with thoughts of breaking out of my self-imposed budget limits.

Too many Motel 6’s can begin to erode one’s self-esteem. I envisioned something better — if only for one night.

And when I found a La Quinta in Jackson, Mississippi — one that’s not among those in the pet-friendly chain to have raised its per-night prices into the $60’s, $70’s, even $80’s– I checked in, paying not the $40 rate I’d gotten when I made the reservation, but $45 (because I’d made it for the wrong night.)

For $10 more, I got shampoo. I got an in-room coffee maker. I got a complimentary breakfast. I got clean carpeting, a slightly less polyester bedpsread, slightly fluffier towels, a big TV, with batteries in the remote, a more restful sleep and an improved outlook.

And I got some upgraded toilet paper, as well. Instead of “envision” by Georgia-Pacific, the La Quinta was stocked with “preference” by Georgia-Pacific, which I can only presume (“presume” might be a good toilet paper name) is the next level up of “green” toilet paper.

I envision the day when my finances are such that I can always use “preference,” even though I don’t really prefer “preference.” In truth, I noticed no difference. Then again I don’t pay too much attention — despite my latest blogs — to toilet paper. Generally, at that time, I’m too busy envisioning other things.

Such as whether there’s another level of Georgia-Pacific toilet paper — with an even higher status than “preference.” I checked online, but I couldn’t find any. But I did learn that Georgia-Pacific’s jumbo-sized, public restroom toilet paper rolls are sold under the name “Acclaim,” which used to be the name of a model of Plymouth.

The Plymouth Acclaim — despite its name —  bit the dust in 1995 after only six years on the market. I’m guessing the executives at Georgia-Pacific (and what brand of TP, I wonder, is used in the executive washrooms there?) took note and snapped up the name for their giant toilet paper roll, feeling it was deserving of such.

Communion for dogs? Why not?

An Anglican priest in Canada who drew criticism for feeding a communion wafer to a dog has apologized.

Donald Keith, 56, and Trapper, his German shepherd-Rhodesian ridgeback mix, frequented a park outside St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Toronto, and would sit on its steps as part of their daily routine.

Last month, Rev. Marguerite Rea welcomed both inside and gave them both a wafer during communion — an act of kindness that, as can happen when it comes to religion, created a furor. One parishioner filed a formal complaint with Anglican Bishop Patrick Yu, leading Rea to apologize this week.

“If I have hurt, upset or embarrassed anyone, I apologize,” Rea said on Sunday. “It was a simple church act of reaching out.”

Keith, a 56-year-old truck driver, got Trapper three years ago from a shelter, where, after three previous owners declared him unmanageable, he was likely going to be euthanized, according to the Toronto Star.

Every day, the two sit on the front steps of St. Peter’s for “reflection and spiritual renewal,” Keith told the newspaper. In late June, police urged the two to move off the spot, and Keith stepped inside the church to complain. Rea, the interim minister, invited Keith and Trapper to attend church.

When offered communion, Keith accepted. Trapper only sniffed the wine, but gobbled up the wafer.

Bishop Yu called the act a “misguided gesture of welcoming.”

But Rea says she’s received support through phone calls, visits and emails. The congregant who complained has since left the church, and others have no problem with the minister’s gesture.

“We’re all God’s creatures,” said one of them, Suzette Mafuna. “If a dog goes into a church, he’s entitled to every service that’s offered, including spiritual nourishment.”

(Photo: By Colin McConnell/Toronto Star)

Please don’t squeeze the “envision”

Now that’s a toilet paper name.

None of that puffy-cloud, bed-of-cotton, heaven-and-angel imagery. No, when Georgia-Pacific chose a name for its toilet paper, it picked “envision.”

A lofty moniker, even in lower case, but not fluffy — like Cottonelle, Charmin or White Cloud, or other Georgia-Pacific brands (Quilted Northern, Angel Soft and Soft’n Gentle.)

I’m no expert on toilet paper marketing trends — other than noticing that most companies try to portray their product, often with the use of clouds and puppies, as the softest substance on earth. But there has also been a slightly less ballyhooed move toward more environmentally friendly products.

envision describes itself as 100 percent recycled, which, even though it doesn’t really mean that 100 percent of it comes from recycled waste paper, is a step in the right direction — one also taken by brands such as Seventh Generation, Ecosoft and Small Steps, from Marcal.

I’d never run into envision before, but it seems to be the brand of choice at Motel 6 — the chain that, in our continuing travels, we often end up in because of its combination of dog-friendliness and affordability.

With its greenish wrapper, and its Obama-esque name, envision not only starts with same four letters as “environment,” but seems to convey, if you read between the lines — or in this case, plies — a message of hope for a cleaner planet. Of course one could draw other connotations. Most people in the midst of their constitutional, if they’re not reading, are envisioning — thinking lofty and throneworthy thoughts about what they are going to accomplish in the day ahead, or at least about the successful completion of the deed at hand.

Either way, it’s a very hopeful sounding toilet paper, one that seems to tell us to shoot for the stars, be all you can be. If you can view it, you can do it. You, like it, are on a roll.

Doggie market goes even more pupscale

Just when you thought the pet gear market couldn’t get any more precious, Martha Stewart and Crate & Barrell have launched new lines of upscale doggie products to further spoil our pooches.

Crate & Barrel is offering “a colorful pet gear line, which includes toys, beds, collars, leashes and more — all under $70,” according to PeoplePets.

It reports: “While we love the patterned cotton bones and catnip-filled mice, our pets are drooling over the dishwasher-safe porcelain bowls ($6.95-$14.95) adorned with conversation bubbles that say “Woof,” “Ruff” and “Meow.” Porcelain treat jars ($14.95-$19.95) are another charming accent for your kitchen. Dog jars feature a black-and-white fire hydrant motif and a bone-shaped handle, while the cat ones have fish and mice graphics and a fish-shaped handle.”

The new line is available in stores and on the Crate & Barrel website.

Martha, meanwhile — shown above during the taping of a commercial — has teamed up with PetSmart to premiere her Martha Stewart Pets line, which includes bowls, feeders, tote bags, toys, collars, leashes, beds and grooming accessories, all “designed with dogs and their owners in mind.”

Vick dog finds happy home in Dallas


I never expected our year-long cross country trip would include Ace riding in the back seat of a car with a former Michael Vick dog.

Then again, I never expected we’d be hanging out in a strip club, either.

But our visit to The Lodge in Dallas led us to meet Mel, a still meek and fearful, sad-eyed, mostly black pit bull — small in stature, short on confidence, and sweet as pecan pie.

Mel was adopted from Best Friends by Sunny Hunter, manager of VIP services at the swanky Dallas gentlemen’s club, and her husband Richard Hunter, a talk show host whose outlook on life isn’t as bleak as his goth appearance may lead you to think — especially since Mel came into their lives.

Meet Mel and the low esteem in which you may already hold Michael Vick — and, yes, we know he served his time — plummets even lower.

For one thing, you see — in his fearful eyes, his tentative stride — the effects of the torture Vick inflicted; for another you see a true innocent; a mild-mannered dog whose lack of killer instinct led him to be designated a bait dog, a living chew toy.

But you also see a dog who, despite all that humans did to him in his first year of life, seems to hold no grudge against the species.

Mel was only about a year old when he was seized from the Vick estate in Virginia. He was one of 47 survivors, and one of the 22 who, deemed most hopeless, were sent to Best Friends, the animal sanctuary in southern Utah.

He spent nearly two years at Best Friends, where trainers worked to help him overcome his fearfulness and eventually pronounced him adoptable.

Richard and Sunny already had an application in by then — starting off a process that would take more than a year. Sunny had grown interested in adopting a Vick dog after seeing a documentary. Richard had one of Best Friends’ trainers on his talk show.

The couple waited for nine months, then underwent a criminal background check, and a home visit. Finally, they were invited up to Best Friends to spend a week living on the grounds and getting to know Mel. They brought their dog Pumpkin, a terrier mix, along as well.

Pumpkin immediately became friends with Mel, and became his guardian — a role he continues to fulfill.

Last fall, the adoption having been approved by the same judge who sent Vick to prison for two years, Mel was delivered to the Hunter’s home in Dallas by a Best Friends trainer and caregiver, who stayed in town for a week, visiting daily.

Richard describes the adoption process as “daunting,” but worth it. Mel slowly came out of his shell, and though he still quivers at first when strangers show up, or when he’s in new surroundings, he’s getting more used to meeting people. It used to take three visits before he was comfortable with a stranger, now it takes only 20 minutes or so.

Pumpkin, who is 13, has been a huge factor in his transition.

“At home, when a new person shows up, Mel sits in the corner with his back to the wall, like a statue. Pumpkin gets in front of him and screens him. Pumpkin has been instrumental in getting him to relax,” Richard said.

Mel has never barked, or made any sound, in the time they have had him. At night, if Mel needs a trip outside, Pumpkin takes note of him standing by the door and barks for him.

Mel seems most comfortable when he’s in a car, Sunny and Richard said — so we decided that’s how we all should meet. We greeted Mel and Pumpkin through a window, then loaded Ace into the backseat with them — a tight fit, but no one seemed bothered by it. Pumpkin shielded Mel the whole time, allowing him to be sniffed and petted, but never leaving his side.

After a spin around Dallas, we all got out and sat in a patch of grass outside The Lodge. Mel skulked and quivered at first but within a few minutes grew at ease.

Richard says Mel was used as a bait dog, due to his small size and mild temperament. He was likely muzzled when he was thrown into the ring with other dogs being trained to fight. He was not one of those that Bad Newz Kennels terminated — sometimes by drowning or hanging.

“Most people really didn’t take the time to look at the details of the case – the jumper cables, the hanging, the drowning, the distance throwing contests. That’s just bizarre. It’s diabolical,” Richard said. As for Vick’s return to the NFL, he said, “It was very disappointing to me that the American public stood for it. He’s psychopathic, like a serial killer.”

While Vick’s dogs were, in most cases, rehabilitated, Richard is among those who doubt the same was truly achieved by Vick, despite his appearances in an anti-dogfighting campaign.

Mel’s tail, which was broken in his youth, stayed between his legs for the first few months, Richard said. “Now, he smiles and he walks with his head up. His tail was broken, so it doesn’t really wag.”

“When he plays, he plays in secret,” said Sunny. “At first he would just sit there and shake. Now he waits on the couch for me and gives me a kiss when I come home.”

“His resilience is amazing to me,” Richard said. “He really has changed my life. It’s amazing to me that he’s willing to love us — that he’s still able to judge people individualy when for the first year of his life, if he saw a human being, it meant something terrible was going to happen to him.

 “We just want to make him as happy as can be.”

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)