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Tag: bandera

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.

Utopia Ranch: Kinky Friedman’s dog haven


Yesterday, as can happen in life, I took a wrong turn on the way to Utopia, ending up instead on a dead end dirt road.

So I turned around, drove back through my own dust, took a different road and finally spotted the driveway I was looking for — the one into Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, founded by mystery novelist, musician, social commentator, humorist, columnist, guru, gubernatorial candidate, good old boy, singer, songwriter and purveyor of both cigars and salsa, Kinky Friedman.  

Mr. Happy

The prolific Texas author — with more than 30 books to his name — funded the rescue organization when it started up 12 years ago in Utopia, Texas; then he offered a good-sized hunk of his family ranch in Medina, Texas, allowing the rescue to relocate and expand three years later.

The shelter’s day-to-day operation falls to Nancy Parker-Simons and her husband, Tony Simons, who, with help from volunteers tend to the 47 (as of yesterday) dogs under their care until permanent homes can be found.

That doesn’t always happen quickly, as the case of Mr. Happy attests. He’s been at the shelter all 12 years since it opened. “He just always seems to get overlooked,” Parker-Simons said. 

Among the other residents, some of whom Parker-Simons has taken to naming after celebrities, are Bob Dylan (that’s him to the left), Ben Stiller and Mister Rogers, who spent years as a stray on the streets of Kansas City. 

All now spend their days in large and shaded fenced lots, enjoying walks with volunteers, dips in the swimming hole in the summer, and homemade garlic and cheese quesadillas in the winter. Garlic seems to relieve their stress, Parker-Simons says.

She says Friedman has been rescuing strays for most of his life — and people, too, she says, counting herself among them. After she became the unofficial caretaker of some strays Friedman had found — not to mention babysitter to his dog Mr. Magoo — they decided to make it an official rescue organization.

Annie Oakley

The no-kill shelter gives dogs another chance at life, she said. “The way our world treats dogs, sometimes I feel so sorry for them. People just dispose of them.” That casual attitude caused her to fly off the handle once, she said. She’d gotten a lot of calls from women, surrendering their dogs because their boyfriends didn’t want them around.

“Finally I got fed up hearing that,” she said, and suggested to one woman that any man who demanded something like that wasn’t worth keeping around, ‘Why don’t you euthanize him,” she told her, “because the guy doesn’t have a clue about love.”

Utopia is slightly picky about who they let adopt dogs, wanting to make sure they are destined for good homes. “I think most of the dogs are living in better homes than we are,” she said.


Ben Stiller

Even Friedman — tune in tomorrow for our visit with him — lives in an unassuming cabin, which served as the lodge for the summer camp, still operating, that his parents started for Jewish children.

The undulating Hill Country of Texas made a perfect spot for that — just as it makes a perfect spot for dogs. While waiting for adoptive homes, the dogs enjoy acres upon acres of land, and an inviting looking swimming hole. 

While Utopia houses primarily dogs, it has also taken in horses and some other animals, including wild hogs, two of which were adopted by bed and breakfasts, not to serve as breakfast, but to serve as mascots.

Mister Rogers

Among the friends of Friedman that have helped support the rescue are Dwight Yoakum, former Gov. Ann Richards and Willie Nelson.

‘”Every dream has to start somewhere. This may not be the slickest operation, but these dogs are all loved and cared for,” Friedman told the Austin American-Statesman back in 1998. 

More recently Friedman has donated all proceeds from the sale of his new Kinky Friedman’s Private Stock Salsa line to the rescue organization.

Parker-Simons has written two books about life at Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. You can find more information about them and about the ranch on her blog.

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

Dog’s Country: The journey so far

Today –19 days and 1,750 miles since our journey began — Ace and I pull out of Houston, destined for Bandera, Texas (population 975) and points west.

We’re over budget, sick of fast food and a bit weary and leery of cheap motels — though thankful for the air conditioning they have bestowed upon us. I don’t want to say our most recent motel was a fleabag, but both Ace and I are scratching more than usual, and I know for a fact that at least one spider and one roach were still there when we left.

On the other hand, it did have a crack security squad — one 61-year-old man who left Baltimore after a nasty divorce 16 years ago and circles the parking lot at night in a beat up old van, at least until next April when he plans to retire. As you might guess, he’s now an official Friend of Ace, and by the time I left, I almost had him talked into going to the shelter and adopting a big but friendly dog to assist him in his job duties.

Searching for inexpensive dog-friendly lodgings is a pain — even with the convenience of websites like Bringfido.com and dogfriendly.com. Before heading to Houston we perused both, only to find most motels listed in our price range had weight limits and required non-refundable deposits.

Question: Is it really a deposit when you don’t get it back? I think not. It’s a fee, giant motel chains, and you should call it such. Non-refundable deposit is a contradictory term.

Normally, we stay at a La Quinta, knowing that almost all of them allow dogs, with no fee and no weight limits. This trip though — frugal trek that it is — we’ve opted for Motel 6’s (generally dog friendly and slightly cheaper), and have stayed at a few motel 5’s, 4’s and 3’s, at least on a scale of 1 to 10.

We found our last stop on Bringfido.com — where it turned out to be one of the few whose rate was actually what the website listed. It turns out their “as low as” price and the motels actual prices were most often two different things, leading me to waste hours on the computer.

It’s a good thing John Steinbeck didn’t have Internet, or he and Charley wouldn’t have covered nearly as much ground.

Our goal when we left Baltimore — well mine at least, Ace doesn’t really care — was to spend no more money on the road than I was at home. Less than 20 days in, though — and despite 12 days of free lodging mooched from family — we’ve spent close to $300 total on motels and about $350 on gas, our biggest expense.

We probably should start using that tent rolled up atop my car, which has yet to get unrolled. Before leaving New Orleans, we looked into the possibility of volunteering to help rescue and clean up oily wildlife, especially after we heard trailers were being provided for volunteers. But my phone calls didn’t get returned and the websites I checked all were accepting only trained wildlife rescue professionals.

There’s still some hope of meeting my goal of spending less than $1,000 a month on the road. We’ve finagled some free overnight stays this week, which you’ll be hearing more about in the week ahead.

By the time you read this, we’ve departed Houston — after a planned stop at the Millie Bush Dog Park, west of the city. Assuming my Internet connection works in Bandera, and all else goes well, you’ll be seeing our report on Houston’s dog parks tomorrow.