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Tag: books

Learning to love your lover’s dog

katz

What do you do when the woman you’re falling in love with has a dog that, seemingly, can’t stand you?

Beef jerky, trust and patience are key, but it also helps to be Jon Katz.

The author of numerous dog books recounted in Parade last week how he came to marry Maria – an artist who was using one of his barns as a studio – and how that required much woooing of her Rottweiler-shepherd mix, Frieda.

Katz was still married when he met Maria and cut a deal with her allowing her to use a barn as a studio in exchange for helping with his animals (a herd of sheep, four donkeys, four chickens, three dogs, and two cats) at his farm in upstate New York. Both later saw their marriages end, and they began developing a friendship — or at least to the extent Frieda would permit.

Frieda was fiercely protective of Maria and, Katz writes, ”whenever I approached the barn, Frieda would fling herself against the door in a frenzy, barking ferociously.”

Frieda had been dumped, pregnant, along the New York State Thruway by a man who had been using her as a guard dog. She lived in the wild before she was captured and brought to a shelter. That’s where Maria met her and adopted her, Katz says:

“They were the perfect pair, the human-canine version of Thelma and Louise, united in their devotion to each other and in their great distrust of men.”

As Katz and Maria made the transition from friends to something more, Frieda continued to act out in the presence of Katz and his dogs. At night, Frieda stayed in the  barn. Even though it was heated, it was not a desirable arrangement.

“I was falling in love with Maria,” Katz writes, “and I hoped she would agree to marry me one day, but I knew I had to work things out with Frieda first.

Katz says he bought $500 worth of beef jerky, and began a morning ritual, tossing a piece to Frieda every day. He started getting a little closer to the dog on each visit and, after months, Frieda let him put a leash on her and walk her. “My goal was to get her into the house by Christmas, as a surprise for Maria, evidence of my commitment and good faith.”

Katz and Maria and their animals are one big happy family now, and you can read all about it when The Second-Chance Dog: A Love Story, comes out next month.

To learn more about Katz and his other books, visit his website, bedlamfarm.com.

(Top photo: Maria and Frieda and author Jon Katz at Bedlam Farm; by George Forss)

Toying with your affections: Cute, cuddly, and cheaper than real dog clones


It’s a cute and cuddly little idea.

So why does it give me horror-show-like chills?

I was thumbing through the latest issue of The Bark magazine –  print version — when I came to a page devoted to spotlighting new products, including “Cuddle Clones, one of a kind plush animals made to look just like your dog! Capture the essence of your dog in this adorable product…”

Having written a book on dog cloning — the kind that takes place in a laboratory, with pet owners paying $100,000 or more to get genetic duplicates of their dogs – Cuddle Clones struck me as far less expensive, less intrusive and much more innocent way to have your pet re-created. Yet  the concept was still mildly troubling. Leave it to me to find the ominous in something as harmless as a plush toy.

And then to write about it, as if, behind the toy, there is some deeper meaning to be unearthed.

I think, as with real cloning, there may be — in regards to what it says about the essence of dog, and the essence of us.

For starters, you’re not going to recapture the essence of your dog in a stuffed animal, or by stuffing him, or by cloning him.

I’d even go so far to say that, even the most expert of breeders, even if they do manage to ensure many of the same traits are passed from one generation to the next, can’t recapture “essence” — a fuzzy term that, in this case, may be most synonymous with “personality” or ”soul.”

One can breed for looks and traits, but the essence of your dog — what makes him him — is uncapturable. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that what makes him him is all that he has experienced, including, and perhaps in largest part, you.

With cloning — real cloning — I arrived at the point where I viewed it as a selfish pursuit, most popular among wealthy and stubborn people who refuse to to accept that the rules of nature apply to them and their dogs. And I wondered whether, as much as having a dog re-created from a single cell might seem an homage to the original, it’s really an insult, like telling your dog, “You’re instantly replaceable; I can quite easily, if I pay enough, have another you fashioned in a laboratory.”

In reality, the clone, while a living, breathing genetic duplicate, is not the original dog. Though some customers believe otherwise, the original dog’s soul does not occupy it anymore than it would a freeze-dried version of his corpse — another alternative for those who insist on keeping a physical, though unmoving, version of their dog around the house.

Cuddle Clones, being toys, are far less creepy — and if it weren’t for the name I’d probably have no problem with the product.  A plush toy that roughly replicates your living or dead pet is not all that nefarious. And the plush toy company, unlike the real cloning companies, hasn’t directed its marketing strictly at bereaved, or soon-to-be-bereaved pet owners.

That does come up, however, in the “Top 10″ reasons the company gives for buying a Cuddle Clone. (Expect to pay $300, or, for a life-sized version, as much as $850, depending on weight.)

Those reasons, according to the Cuddle Clones website, include:

 ”Your pet is so cute or unique looking that you must clone him or her immediately.”

“Your pet has passed away and you miss hugging him or her.”

“Your daughter can’t bear to leave her best friend behind when she leaves for college or the military.”

“You lost the pet custody battle in a breakup.”

“You’ve wanted to scientifically clone your pet for some time now but can’t quite afford the $50,000 price tag.”

“Cuddle Clones can go places real pets can’t go (work, vacation, the grocery store, nursing home).”

Cuddle Clones aren’t going to wag their tails (at least not yet), or greet you at the front door. For that you’d require a real clone, though we’d advise against it, even if you do have more money than you know what to do with.

Those are manufactured in South Korea, and the price has dropped from the $150,000 the earliest customers were charged to around $100,000.

(How dog cloning came to be, how it was marketed, and the experiences of the first pet owning customers are detailed in my book, “DOG, INC.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commerical Dog Cloning Industry.”)

Only one South Korean lab is still offering cloning to pet owners, and it’s working on broadening its customer base — mostly American — by holding a contest in England that will reward a discounted cloning to the person who has the most “special and inspiring” reason for cloning their dog. Contestants are invited to submit essays, photos and videos, and the winner will get a 70 percent discount on the $100,000 price.

It’s sponsored by Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which is headed by Hwang Woo Suk, the former Seoul National University veterinarian who headed the team that produced the world’s first cloned dog, Snuppy. Hwang also claimed to have cloned a line of human embryos, but he was fired after those claims turned out to be fraudulent.

After starting his own lab, Hwang teamed up with an American company that held an online auction for six dog clonings and an essay contest in which a free cloning was awarded to a man who said his former police dog found the last survivor of 9-11.

As dog cloning hit the marketplace — actually doing so before dog had even been cloned — some of those who would become the first recipients of clones were chosen at least in part because of their heartwarming stories, which served to put a warmer, fuzzier face on the cold science of cloning.

Small stuffed dogs, all identical, were handed out as a promotional tool by one of the labs. Customers shared their stories, sometimes in exchange for a discount, and marveled at how much their clones resembled the originals.  Then there were the best ambassadors of all — the puppies. Whatever fears and concerns surrounded cloning — from animal welfare issues, to where it will all lead, to the utter lack of government regulation, especially in South Korea — images of nursing and frolicking puppies had a way of pushing them aside.

Cuddle Clones — even just the marriage of those two words — could similarly, if unintentionally, serve to make real cloning more palatable to a public that may not know that dog cloning isn’t cute at all.

It involves the use of numerous dogs for egg harvesting. After the cells of the donor dog are merged with those and — with help from an electric jolt – begin dividing, more dogs yet are needed to serve as surrogates. More than 1,000 egg cells were harvested to clone the first dog. While the process has grown far more efficient, multiple attempts are still required to ensure an exact lookalike is born — into a world where dogs are routinely put down because of overpopulation.

The American company selling clonings — all carried out by Sooam – later shut down for reasons that included concerns about whether proper animal welfare protocols were being followed in the South Korean labs. RNL Bio, the company that cloned the first dog for a customer, has stepped away from dog cloning, citing negative public opinion as one factor.

But canine clones are still being churned out at Sooam, and the price — once $150,000 a shot — is continuing to drop, meaning more people will be able to afford a laboratory-produced replica of their dog.

For those who can’t, there are Cuddle Clones – soft and huggable plushies, filled with synthetic fabrics, that seem to send the message that clones are adorable.

And clones may be just that  – both the real ones and the stuffed ones.

Dog cloning, though, when it comes to the process, is not so pretty, not so heartwarming, and not so cuddly.

You  might even say – though it would be too late — that it’s nothing to toy with.

(Photos: Top three photos courtesy of Cuddle Clones, bottom two photos, of dogs being cloned at Sooam, by John Woestendiek)

Privileged Pooch: Going pupscale in SoCal

After perusing “The Privileged Pooch, Luxury Travel with Your Pet in Southern California,” I’ve decided if Ace and I ever run into author Maggie Espinosa and her dog, Marcel, on the road … they’re buying.

Unlike my Travels with Ace project, “The Privileged Pooch” – not to be confused with the fine pet boutique in Baltimore of the same name – is a guidebook that focuses on high end luxury travel with your pet.

“Now you can share Southern California’s celebrity lifestyle with your furry friend,” reads the summary on the back of the book. “The days of staying at substandard hotels and dining at drive-thru’s when traveling with the family pet are over.”

Not for me, they ain’t. But that’s not the point.

Espinosa’s point is that bringing a dog along on your trip no longer automatically relegates you to economy-level accommodations. And her book, provides plenty of examples, in highly readable form, of where you can stay, play and eat with your pet — in Palm Springs, Orange County, San Diego, Santa Barbara and greater Los Angeles.

High-end establishments are starting to wise up to the fact that about 10 million pets each year vacation with their owners — and that many of those owners are from the demographic at which tourism-related businesses commonly take aim.

“The Privileged Pooch” lists 69 hotels (not a Motel 6 among them),  55 restaurants, 56 dog-friendly activities and 38 “trendy shops” where you and your dog are welcome.

Espinosa has done some culling, weeding out those establishments that have too many restrictions or silly and unrealistic weight limits. (For the dogs, I mean. Southern California doesn’t have weight limits for people. Yet.)

She uses a rating system of one wag to four wags for pet friendliness — one being “pooches permitted,” four being “pooches paradise.”

Maggie and Marcel

At the latter, you might find such features as special puppy menus, a “togetherness massage” for you and your dog (at Casa Laguna Inn & Spa) or ”blueberry and plum pet facials” at a dog-friendly spa called The Healthy Spot.

Espinosa and her bichon frise, Marcel, tested all 69 hotels, and each section of the book, region by region, includes recommendations for everything from dog-friendly beaches to emergency veterinary care.

Our favorite example was the Doggie Bus in Tustin, which totes dogs and their humans to the beach at no charge. An Orange County man started providing the service not to get rich, but simply because he enjoyed doing it.

Now that’s dog-friendly.

Serenity? I second that emotion

Ace’s Valium is really working for me.

No, not in the manner you might assume. I am refraining from sharing his stash. Nevertheless, I have calmed down – because he has calmed down.

When I get on the floor next to him, or even glance at him there, it’s as if the drug is somehow passing into me. Seeing him more comfortable makes me more comfortable, just as hearing his yelps put me on edge.

By way of background, I took Ace, 6,  to the vet last week after, a few days earlier, he began yelping every time he made a sudden motion. A herniated disc was the diagnosis, and the course of action recommended by the vet was NSAIDs to relieve the inflammation and doggie valium — Diazepam to be precise — to keep him unnaturally calm during the two weeks of bed rest prescribed.

I’ve heard of some negative side effects associated with NSAIDs and dogs, and I’ve never been big on pharmaceuticals that mask symptoms and alter moods, but the conservative – and least expensive – approach struck me as worth trying first.

The effect was almost immediate. Ace had been restless, pacing slowly and holding his head carefully, as if anticipating another burst of pain. His tensing up made me tense up, which made him tense up more, which made me tense up more.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed before – how our emotions and moods tend to play off each other and snowball.

Say a big scary bug comes in the house. I, upon seeing it, will jump up and reach for a magazine, shoe, or other instrument of death. Even before I jump up, though, Ace, even if he hasn’t seen the bug, mirrors my startled (assuming the bug is scary enough) reaction, almost as if he can sense, like a pending earthquake, my heart rate increasing from the other side of the room.

There’s a kind of emotional synchronization that occurs between dog and owner – and maybe it’s true of any two beings that co-reside, even spouses.

In our duality, we find a oneness, to the point we think we can read each other’s minds – and often we react based on that.

When Ace is happy, which is usually, it makes me happy, which makes him even happier, which makes me even happier. One of the things at the root of our love for dogs, I think, is that spiraling contentment and joy. Of course, the same is true, at least with Ace and me, when dog or human are unhappy.

Our dogs are a reflection of us, and we are a reflection of our dogs.

This reflection stuff gets reflected on a lot in my book, “DOG, INC: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” which recounts the history of cloning dogs and its emergence as an industry that, in the view of critics, exploits the grief of bereaved pet owners.

One of the reasons losing a dog is so tough – on top of it bringing an end to all that respect and admiration we see in their eyes, all that loyalty and unconditional love – is, I think, that we see ourselves in them.

Cloning our dogs – as some people are doing – is not just a futile attempt to skirt death, but also, it can be argued, an attempt to recapture one’s own youth, via a puppified version of their own dog. When the old mirror dies, we can get a new, genetically identical one – one that looks exactly the same, but has the added benefit or making us feel younger when we look into it.

How dogs reflect their owners is the subject of another new and fascinating book, “Your Dog is Your Mirror,” which we will get around reviewing soon. (Those of you who visit ohmidog’s dog book page may have noticed it’s a bit behind, and doesn’t even include my book.)

Written by dog trainer Kevin Behan, “Your Dog is Your Mirror,” puts forth the theory that a dog’s behavior is driven by its owner’s emotions — that dogs respond to what their owner feels, even when the human isn’t aware they are feeling it. Behan says dominance – or being the pack leader — is not the key to dog training. Instead, it’s understanding what emotions you, the human, are passing on to the dog.

It’s the heart — more than dominance, treats or anything else — that connects dogs and humans.

Sometimes the dog helps carry your emotional baggage. Sometimes, as with Ace’s current situation, you try to help it with what it’s carrying.

For now, controlled substances are giving us a hand, providing Ace and me with a symbiotically snowballing sense of serenity. Yes, it’s somewhat artificial. And yes, I worry that the drugs will make him feel better before he actually is, leading him to attempt things he shouldn’t attempt.

So we are staying mostly in our current temporary lodgings — a mansion basement in North Carolina. He is under orders not to romp. So I shan’t romp, either. Instead, we’ll limit our outings. We’ll pop the occasional pill. We’ll read, and watch TV,  and watch each other, the way we do, having plenty of time for some quiet reflection.

From “The Office” to the dog house

For all those wondering what Steve Carell would do after “The Office,” now we know: He has agreed to star in and co-produce a new movie about talking to a dog.

It may sound cutesy, but it’s not.

“Dogs of Babel” will be a film adaptation of the 2003 novel by Carolyn Parkhurst, described as a tragic story of love and loss, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Carell — pretty much a virgin when it comes to serious drama — will play a linguistic professor who comes home to find his wife dead in the backyard.

When the police rule the death an accident, the professor has some doubts, and he attempts to teach his dog Lorelei — the only witness – to talk, so he can learn about the final moments of his wife’s life.

“DOG, INC.” struts its stuff

“Thought Provoking?” It’s not like winning best in show at Westminster, but I’ll take the sign my book appears under at this bookstore as a compliment.

A friend sent me this photo, taken at the Barnes & Noble in Towson, which shows “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” getting some pretty decent display (at least better than the bottom shelf of the astronomy section, as was the case at an area bookstore that shall remain nameless).

I can think of no other sign I would like my book to be under — except maybe ”New York Times Bestseller.”

Alas, it’s not there yet, but it did rate the “Page 99 Test,” a website by Marshal Zeringue dedicated to the proposition that the quality of a book can be judged by turning to, and reading, its 99th page.

I lucked out in that page 99 of “DOG, INC.” contains a revelation — namely who it was that located Genelle Guzman, the last survivor found after 9/11, and held her hand until she could be freed from the mound of debris she was trapped under.

(Clue: It wasn’t the volunteer firefighters who took credit for rescuing her on CNN)

If you’re wondering what this has to do with cloning dogs, you can click the link to Marshal’s blog or, better yet, buy the book and allow your thoughts — and perhaps more — to be provoked.

How much is that dog book in the window?

Four of my favorite things — dogs, books, bargains and good causes — will come together this weekend at The Book Escape in Federal Hill.

The Baltimore bookstore will feature not only me, signing my new book, but a storewide used book sale. Ace will be there, and your dog is welcome, too. (The Book Escape, located at 805 Light St., is dog-friendly.)

And to top it all off, we’ll be donating 20 percent of the store’s Saturday sales of “DOG, INC.” to the Franky Fund, which helps provide care for sick and injured animals at Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter.

The signing will be Saturday (Feb. 5) from 1 to 3 p.m.

The Book Escape has made “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” its featured selection for the month — giving it prominent display not just on its website, but in its storefront window.

Ace and I, temporarily living in a friend’s empty house as we continue, for now, our roaming ways, are located right around the corner. So we pass the window often, sometimes pausing as I point out to him my book … look … right there … in front of Tom Wolfe’s. It fails to impress him.

In addition to the signing, The Book Escape will be holding a big sale this weekend, according to owner Andrew Stonebarger.

All used books will be 50 percent off for “book pass” members, and 25 percent off for everyone else. Book passes cost $50, but those who buy them get $50 in store credit at regular prices, on top of reduced prices everytime they present the card.

Stonebarger says that means a person who bought two copies of “DOG, INC.” –  one for themself and one for a present, he suggested (and who am I to argue with that idea?) – would “get a free book pass and get big discounts for the whole year.”

In light of this week’s disturbing revelation of another pet set on fire in Baltimore — a cat named Mittens who, thanks to the Franky Fund, is recovering — we (meaning The Book Escape and me) will be donating 20 percent of each sale of “DOG, INC.” on Saturday to the special BARCS fund.

It’s not the first time I’ve worked with BARCS (where Ace came from), or raised money for the fund, which I’m a fan of because it gives a chance to abused and neglected dogs and cats that, because of serious injuries, might otherwise not have one. In addition to passing along all profits last spring from my photo exhibit, ”Hey,That’s My Dog,” I’ve done a couple of stints as Santa Claus, for ”pet photos with Santa” fundraisers.

Saturday’s book signing seemed a good opportunity to raise a little more for the Franky Fund — without having to dress up in a funny suit, freeze, or swallow wisps of polyester beard hair.

Ace and I hope to see you there.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch”

“My Dog Tulip” — J.R. Ackerley’s classic account of how a dog entered his life, stimulated his curiosity, broadened his horizons, and brightened his otherwise cranky golden years — is now out as an animated movie, and the book has been reissued in paperback.

“Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs,” the British writer wrote in what’s perhaps the most famous line of the 1956 book about the bond between dog and man.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch,” reads the tagline, updated for the times, of the new movie.

The movie came out late last summer, directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, who are also responsible for the hand-drawn animations that, on screen, are like a New Yorker cartoon come to life.

The film is narrated by Christopher Plummer, in the role of Ackerley, and also features the voice of Lynn Redgrave, who died in May and to whom the movie is dedicated. One review called it “the most sophisticated dog movie ever made.”

It tells the story of a lonely gay man who has all but given up on finding a longtime companion and “ideal friend” in the human world.

Enter Tulip, or, as was her name in real life, Queenie, a German shepherd Ackerley acquired from his neighbors when he was “quite over 50,” and with whom he would spend the next 15 years.

“She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer.”

Ackerley died in 1967, and though the book is now 55 years old, it retains a sense of freshness attributable to the fact that Queenie was his first dog. His keen observation of inter-species interaction is that of someone who just landed on the planet, as opposed to being an old hand with dogs.

“It seemed to me both touching and strange,” he says at one point, “that she should find the world so wonderful.”

We long-time dog lovers know exactly what he means. It’s what makes dogs so lovable — they see the world as wonderful, and, no matter how curmudgeonly we may be, they help us see it that way too.

Back in Baltimore, looking for a home

 

The past week has been a hectic one, mostly spent avoiding snowstorms, seeking out landlines for radio interviews and, just when we thought our traveling was done, traveling some more.

No sooner were Ace and I back in Baltimore than we left again — this time back to North Carolina for my mother’s 85th birthday celebration.

Now we’re back again, just in time for a snowstorm – that’s the ohmidogmobile at the bottom right of the picture — seeking a place to squat for a month or so while we ponder our long terms plans.

Step one is to visit my storage unit to try and find some winter clothes.

We packed for a three-month summer trip. It turned into a seven-month one that didn’t wind up — and in a way still hasn’t — until January was upon us.

Living out of one’s car — convenient as it is in some ways — is a pain in the butt in others. I can easily locate most things I need in the course of a day, but when it comes to things that I only sometimes need, and are thus buried deeper, it’s nearly hopeless, requiring a good bit of unpacking and repacking.

It will be nice to have that chaos straightened out. And Ace, though he has said he enjoys the constant traveling — 22,000 miles of which we’ve done since May – is, in my interpretation, ready for a return to something resembling a routine.

Back from North Carolina, we lodged one night at the home of his godmother, and we’re freeloading for two nights at the home of my teacher friends.

Our goal is to find someplace dirt cheap to stay for a month or two before we wear out our welcomes. I have not been focusing on it as I should, and I think, deep down, it might be because I don’t want to return to the routine.

I want a bed, and a refrigerator, and a TV and heat. I want a big table on which to spread things out. But part of me hesitates to get back into that situation of paying all those bills every month — rent, utilities, Internet, cable, telephone, and all those other things I’ve come to see as sucking away not just my money, but my freedom.

Then, too, promoting my new book “Dog, Inc.: The Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” — is also taking up a lot of time, most of it spent searching for landlines to borrow for radio interviews.

Speaking of the book, which has been out about 10 days now, it has been having some pretty nice things happen to it.

It got nice mentions in Mother Jones and Real Simple magazines, and was chosen by Parade magazine as a “Parade Pick.” This week, it was named one of January’s ”Mover and Shakers” by Goodreads.com, where it has also gotten some good reviews from the public.

Thanks, public.

“Dog” returned, 76 years later

Seventy-six years after he checked it out, Mark McKee has returned “A Dog of Flanders” to a Michigan library.

No late fees will be charged.

In 1934, McKee, then a 13-year-old, checked out “A Dog of Flanders” by English author Marie Louise de la Ramee, from the Mount Clemens Public Library in Michigan.

Seventy-six years later, he found it among his possesions and mailed it back, according to an Associated Press report.

McKee, now 89, said in a letter to the library that  he was initially “entranced by the book and kept it with my prized possession.”  Later, it got lost in the shuffle of life until he recently discovered it.

“My conscience took over,” wrote McKee, who is former publisher of The Macomb Daily in Michigan, and now a winter resident of Chandler, Arizona.

“A Dog of Flanders,” an 1872 novel published under the pseudonym “Ouida,” is about a Flemish orphan named Nello who befriends an abused dog named Patrasche.

Library Director Donald Worrell Jr. said he was thrilled to get the book back.

In his letter, McKee said he estimated the fine on a book overdue for 76 years could total thousands of dollars. But Worrell said there won’t be a fine.

“We figure the story is better than the money,” Worrell said.

These benefits are especially dangerous.