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Tag: darcy

In praise of the dogged American worker

Some of you might remember Darcy — the too cute to strangle Boston terrier for whom I’ve served as babysitter while her mom and dad were away.

Twice, I took Darcy into my home for multi-day stays, where she proceeded to test my patience half the time, and be adorable the other half.

That was back when I had a house. Now, upon my return to Baltimore — having given up my home for the purposes of our continuing road trip – the tables have turned, and Darcy and her humans have most graciously taken Ace and me into their’s.

Where, as you might guess,  I proceeded to test their patience half the time (going so far as to clog up their toilet yesterday morning … the house guest’s worst nightmare), and attempted to be adorable (once I had my coffee) the other half.

And all this just before the start of school, no less.

Here in the city of Baltimore, yesterday was the first day of school — so,  with both Darcy’s mom and dad being city schoolteachers, it’s all the more impressive that, with everything else that was on their minds and agendas, they agreed to house one road-weary man and his 130-pound dog over the weekend.

There, in addition to the hazards of using too much toilet paper, this is what I learned:

Teachers — or at least teachers like Dan and Marite – should be appreciated much more. I say this not because they gave us shelter, but because in the days I spent with them I’ve seen how much of themselves, their own time, their own money, their hearts and souls, they pour into what they do.

Yesterday, as Ace and I sat drinking coffee on their front stoop after they left, I watched as children headed down the sidewalk for the start of a new school year, many of them tightly holding the hands of their parents. And I thought how fortunate they were — even in a school system as troubled as Baltimore’s — to have teachers like Dan and Marite. And how much worse things would be if they didn’t.

Dan spent the bulk of the weekend on his computer, finalizing his lesson plans, sweating the details. Marite cooked up some do-it-yourself orange Play-doh out of flour, water and food coloring. When we walked with the dogs down to the shopping center for lunch, Dan and Marite hit the Goodwill store, and came out with a full bag of classroom supplies.

They spent most of the weekend copying, printing and working away on their laptops, sitting side by side and sharing the couch with Darcy and Ace, who generally makes for a pretty jam-packed couch.

But Dan and Marite take chaos in stride. They seem to have mastered patience, which I guess all teachers must. They are so easy going that she probably won’t mind that I — lacking the technical know-how — am writing her name without the accent thing over the “e”.

While their home has plenty of clutter — I would describe their decorating scheme as contemporary-tornado — Ace and I only added to it, what with our leashes and dog bowls and dog food and camera and laptop and dirty laundry. We just wedged ourselves and our stuff in, and felt right at home. (Virgo that I am, I will admit I feared putting anything on a counter for fear it would disappear immediately under a stack of paperwork, laptops and school supplies. By the way, have you seen my glasses?)

The clutter, though – I’d say it’s 85 percent school related — is just another sign of their commitment.

One of the things that has struck me in our travels across America — and maybe it’s because I don’t at the moment have a “real job” — is how commited American workers are.

Most people seem to truly cherish their work — though not always their jobs. And there’s a difference. One’s “work” is doing what they got into a career to do, whether it’s teaching kids, righting wrongs or driving trucks, whether it’s lawyering or newspapering. One’s “job” is what that work has evolved into — thanks to managers, supervisors, corporate chiefs and stockholders.

We the workers, in a way, are their Play-Doh, and they tend to mold, bend and stretch us, sometimes to the point of snapping.

They take your one job and squeeze two more jobs into it; then shovel layers of bureaucracy on top, burying you under piles of  seemingly meaningless paperwork, and doing away with anything that might serve as support. They tell us to do more with less, and, at times, seem to be doing everything in their power to prohibit us from doing our jobs right. Then they — those at the very top — reap the benefits of the more, while we scrape by on the less.

I don’t think that makes me a Communist, just a pissed off worker — or a pissed off former worker, to be precise. (I kind of like the boss I have now, who looks a lot like me.)

As a nation, we fail to show enough appreciation for those doing the heavy lifting. And yet the heavy lifters keep lifting — they, and teachers especially, manage to stay fired up about the work, if not the job, despite shrinking benefits, paltry salaries and all the forces that seem intent on extinguishing that fire.

So, a little early for Labor Day, I salute the American worker, who, like the American dog, keeps at it — leaping obstacles, heeding commands, summoning up energy even when exhausted, snapping at and shaking off all the annoying little bugs that come down from above, buzzing in our ears and getting on our backs.

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

Hey That’s MY Photo Exhibit

“Hey That’s MY Dog!” a photo exhibit featuring more than 150 South Baltimore dogs — on display until May 10 — got off to an amazing start last night at Captain Larry’s.

Dog lovers packed the joint. Close to 50 of them took home photos of their dogs. And I only ripped off one customer.

Before we get to that, allow me to point out that proceeds from the exhibit go to Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS), and to issue special thanks to two Philadelphia friends — Margaret Grace, who helped me put the exhibit up, and Don Groff, who took the accompanying photographs

Thanks as well to Adam and his singing dog Sierra. While there were too many distractions for Sierra to focus on her singing, she howled a bit, and her presence, and Adam’s sidewalk saxophone playing, were appreciated.

The idea behind the exhibit — the culmination of about two year’s worth of my dog photo-taking — was that dog people would pay big money for photos of their own dogs. (The prints, all hanging from clotheslines, are selling for $25).

One of the first friends to drop by was a former Baltimore Sun colleague who owns a Boston terrier named Buster. She was very happy to see Buster’s photo hanging in the exhibit.

Sadly, I informed her that the photo was not Buster, but another Boston terrier friend, the irrepressible Darcy.

Not long after she left, Darcy’s owners showed up and forked over the money for the photograph. Then they took a seat and looked at it a little more closely. The dog in the photo looked older than their’s, and the markings were slightly different.

Turns out it wasn’t Darcy (top); it was Buster (bottom).

Most graciously, they did not demand their money back. And, since I have dozens of Darcy photos from the times I’ve babysat her, I’ll be getting a new print to them — their own dog this time.

We’ll be back tonight at Captain Larry’s, 601 E. Fort Ave., in hopes of selling more photos, and none of them, we hope, under false pretenses. The exhibit will be up through next Monday.

Calming dog biscuits? I’ll take two

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There’s an unusual energy in my house these days.

Her name is Darcy.

That bouncing bundle of Boston terrier, who has graced both my home and the pages of ohmidog! before, is back with me for another week as her parents get hitched in Hawaii. That’s fine with Ace, who enjoys periodically frolicking with her, followed by long periods of rest. Ace rests, anyway. Darcy rarely does. 

zendogLabelSo it seemed the perfect time to test — with her owner’s permission, of course — the new “Zendog Calming Biscuits” that were sent to me by Cranimals, makers of organic cranberry dog treats and supplements.

There were a limited number of the ring-shaped treats in the sample package, and I debated whether it would be best to give them to Darcy, or myself. Going the latter route had the potential advantages of (A.) Me being so calm that Darcy would pick up my calm vibe and be calm herself, and (B) Me being so calm that I really wouldn’t care if she was bouncing off the walls.

Seeing as Darcy — who possesses both an overactive mind and an overactive bladder — doesn’t seem to absorb any of Ace’s calmness,  and seeing as I just rent the walls she’d be bouncing off, I opted to try the biscuits on her.

First, we tried one in the morning. Darcy scarfed it down, then continued running around the house like a maniac, before settling down and gnawing on a long-since-spent marrow bone like there was no tomorrow. After about 30 minutes, she hopped into my chair, positioned herself behind me and fell asleep.

Was it the treat, or just her natural cycle? There’s really no way of knowing.

The next day we tried one in the afternoon, and it failed to slow her down at all. We tried one in the evening, but that’s when she usually quiets down anyway — apparently accustomed to an early bedtime. This morning I gave her another. She played all out with Ace for about an hour, which was enough to send Ace upstairs for a nap. Darcy kept going, like a pinball, for another hour — moving blankets around the house, gnawing the marrow bone, and looking for Miley the cat, who generally stays upstairs to avoid her.DSC08051

Finally she laid down at my feet, farted a few times (not necessarily from the Zen biscuit, it’s just what she does), looked around, got up, sniffed around, licked the kitchen floor, ran some more, acted like she needed to pee, went outside, didn’t, came back in, went outside again, peed, came back in and eventually dozed off. Again, there’s no way of knowing if the biscuit played a role in that, or if she just played enough to get tired.

I was probably overcautious with the biscuits, not giving her more than one a day, but I didn’t want her to OD and get stuck in a permanent state of Zen. (Cranimals say there is no danger of that.)

The biscuits are formulated with organic pumpkin extract, a natural source of tryptophan. Tryptophan — the same thing that makes us humans doze off after a big turkey dinner — helps induce calm by promoting the synthesis of sseratonin and melatonin, which Cranimals describes as the Zen hormones of the body.

Cranimals says the biscuits calm nerves and stomachs and are made with all natural, healthy, human-grade ingredients. Sources tell us that the inventor of the treats, Dr. Wilma Pretorius, the managing director of Cranimals, enjoys them with cream cheese.

As for my experiment, it’s inconclusive. Darcy was a dervish for a good two hours after her most recent Zendog Calming Biscuit. Then again, praise Buddha, she is sleeping now. As for the last biscuit in my sample, I’m thinking I’ll save it for myself.

Doggedly surviving the winter of 2010

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Here in the winter of our discontent in Baltimore — the snowiest city (believe it!) in the continental United States –  we are getting by, getting sore and getting a little tired of it.

Most dogs still seem to be loving it, but I think even among them, all the slip-sliding around might be starting to wear thin. Even these two American Eskimo dogs seemed to think it has all been a bit much.

As of  Monday, 79.9 inches had fallen so far this winter, and more is coming down as we speak. We’ve had more than Rochester, more than Syracuse, more than Binghamton, and more, I think we can all agree, than enough.DSC08084

The streets are lined with icebergs. Schools have been closed for a good week. Parking spaces are like gold. Getting anything accomplished takes four times as long as it normally does. Our back hurts, and we’re getting a little antsy, perhaps a little cranky.

Pets help us get through the cabin fever — as comforting as an old movie — countering the stress and loneliness and keeping us connected, however cut off from other humans we might feel.

I’m lucky enough to have three this week — my dog Ace, Darcy the Boston Terrier, who’s spending another week with me while her parents tie the knot in Hawaii, and my temporary cat Miley, still available for adoption, should you need a cat to help you through the winter.

All are co-existing nicely, if not as playfully as Ace and Darcy, who are more fun to watch than 90 percent of what’s on TV.

Sure, there is a downside. As we’re not getting to the park as much, my back yard is no longer the blank white canvas it was after the first snowfall, but a series of abstract yellow stains — like those inkblot tests — all punctuated with brown exclamation points.

I will get to it as I will get to most everything else this winter, including shoveling today’s snow:

Eventually!

Company for Christmas: Resolved

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It’s 2010 and I’m down to one dog.

The last of my holiday guests has been returned to her owners, leaving Ace and me on our own again. However tested we might have felt at times, I think we both agree it’s way too quiet now.

DSC07586I’d like to think that Ace and my guests gained something from the experience — that Darcy will remember to relieve herself outdoors; that Cheyenne will remember how Ace helped guide her to the park; that Lucas will never forget that I can bark louder — though not for as long — as him.

Maybe I taught them a thing or two, but they — as often happens when humans and dogs connect –  have taught me much more.

Hence, my New Year’s resolutions:

DSC07662Be more like Ace: Share. Allow new beings, after a good sniffing out, into my life. When others get on my nerves, just walk away. Don’t whine. Don’t get cranky. Take things in stride. Adjust.

Be more like Lucas: Speak up when circumstances so dictate, or maybe sometimes even when they don’t. Keep plodding along, despite any aches, pains or inconveniences. And, if there’s a particularly attractive mud puddle, do not hesitate, even if wearing white, to jump on in and splash around. Get dirty once in a while.

Be more like Cheyenne: When I bump my head, keep going — with quiet grace. Persevere. Don’t whine about the obstacles; find a way around them. Step lightly, but keep moving forward.

Be more like Darcy: Seize the day. Live in the moment (even though, at the moment, I’m quite sick of that phrase). Grab the bone. Fart loud and often. Explore. Stay excited — maybe not to the extent she does — but stay excited by life.

DSC07575Be more like Ace and Cheyenne: Be willing to help and be helped, to guide and be guided.

When you can cushion the blows somebody is taking, cushion them.

Don’t hesitate to hold somebody’s hand. Let others lean on me. Allow myself to lean on others. 

Be willing to adjust my gait, my habits and my routines for good purposes.

Trust.

Share the couch.

Share the bowl.

(To read all of the “Company for Christmas” series, click here.)

Company for Christmas: Down to Darcy

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The saint is gone. The sinner remains.

After a four-dog Christmas, I’m down to two — my dog Ace, and the visiting Boston terrier, Darcy.

Cheyenne, the blind Lab, went home today, and with not a single demerit on her record.

Darcy notched up a few, resulting in her serving some time (above) during her stay with me. But she spent most of her days playing with Ace, in my lap, or on the couch with a marrow bone (which would keep her occupied for hours).

She was the pup of my pack — not yet two, and not entirely aware, it seemed, that she’s a dog. She was sort of the opposite of Lucas, the big yellow Lab whose personality seems to shout, “I’m a dog, dammit.”

I tried to convince Darcy that she too was of the canine species, but I don’t think she bought it.

DSC07736As the youngster of the group, she was everywhere — and she never walked to get there. Instead, she’s always in a speedy little trot, which makes it appear she needs to go to the bathroom, which was sometimes the case. Trouble was, it was impossible to distinguish betweeen her hurry-hurry-gotta-pee-now trot, and her usual trot.

So I’d open the door to let her out and she’d stand there with a look on her face that said “what are you kidding? It’s 20 degrees out there.”

When one dog got attention, Darcy would inevitably run over and demand some as well. And whenever I left my TV-watching chair, she’d hop right into it, refusing to leave when I came back.

Darcy slept in the crate at night. The first night she cried for a minute, and Ace, who normally beds down with me, stayed downstairs with her. Other than bedtime, she only did a couple of other short stretches in the crate — either for disciplinary infractions or during visits from my landlord, who chose this week of all weeks to repair my leaky ceilings.

Darcy, I found out, enjoyed drywall almost as much as the marrow bone, gobbling up the crumbs the landlord left behind.

I yelled at her for that, and for a few other things, but all in all she was a joy to have around. Despite her dribbles and dumps, mostly remedied after the first couple of days, her lack of any visible off-switch and her tendency to enthusiastically explore everything, she brought me more smiles than anything else.

She’s full of personality, a master of the “who-me?” look, and far too cute, with those big bulging eyes, to stay mad at for more than 15 seconds …

OK, maybe 30.

(To read all of the Company for Christmas series, click here.)

Company for Christmas: The pack breaks up

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I’m thankful for my Christmas packages, but I’m more grateful yet for my Christmas pack.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I volunteered to take in three canine guests over the holidays — all dogs of friends who were leaving town.

There was Darcy, the high-energy Boston terrier; Cheyenne, the blind Labrador who, ironically, was bred to be a seeing eye dog; and, just for Christmas day, Lucas, a big plodding, vocal, yellow Lab who, I guess because of the combination of his gruff exterior and his underlying sweetness, always reminds me of Lou Grant in the old TV show.

They all joined my dog Ace and I over the holidays. After the first chaotic day, I questioned my sanity. On the second day, things calmed down. By day three we’d become a well-oiled machine, having learned each others’ ways. We became synchronized, as pet and person do over time.

Perhaps the best example was on our walks to the park. The first trip resulted in a tangle of leashes, with one dog — the smallest one, of course — tugging me all the way, resulting in me not paying enough attention to the blind one so she could avoid bumping into trash cans, all while my own dog Ace added to the tangle by veering off to pee on every tree.

Once at the park, Darcy, the Boston terrier, not liking the cold and the snow so much, would hop up on every park bench and sit down, as if to say, “You guys go ahead, I’ll just wait here.”

Sensing she wasn’t the rugged outdoors type, I started taking Darcy along only on about every third park trip, leaving Ace and Cheyenne to work things out between them. It was an amazing thing to watch.  After a few trips Cheyenne took to walking directly alongside Ace, using him as a guide and buffer. By listening to the click clack of his claws on the cement, she was able to trot alongside, correcting herself when she would gently veer into him.

Ace seemed to realize he had a new job — instead of peeing on every tree, it was to serve as Cheyenne’s assistant, as a guide dog to the dog who was supposed to be a guide dog. And Cheyenne seemed to trust him fully, or at least more than she did me after I –  not paying attention – allowed her to walk into a stair rail. When that happened, though, she’d just back up, adjust and carry on.

Feeding time, complicated at first, became a breeze as well. Darcy would eat in the crate, and Ace and Cheyenne seemed content to stick with their own bowls. Since Cheyenne only eats once a day, she generally got a carrot — her favorite treat — in the evening.

DSC07751Cheyenne, noting I spend entirely too much time at the computer, took to curling up between my feet at the base of my desk, allowing her to keep track of me and get some rest and me to keep my feet warm.

Darcy, who kept things lively, underwent a vast improvement in her toileting habits after the first two days  — partly due, I think, to my sphincter-sealing yell, partly because I insisted she go outside frequently — and we mostly avoided further accidents. Darcy and Ace continued to play the paw in mouth game — until Ace would get bored and go upstairs to be alone.

I’d try to give them each 30 minutes of individual attention a day, be it snuggling or wrestling. When I’d go upstairs to give Ace his time, and find him in the bed, I’d join him, and we’d generally fall asleep.

It was inspiring to me how well Ace handled the visitors — not a snarl or whine the whole week. To me, that’s the most impressive thing about dogs — how well they adjust, Cheyenne being a prime example of that. We adjust, too; we’re just not as good at it as dogs.

Now I need to adjust to my pack leaving. Today it shrinks to two dogs, with Cheyenne’s return home. And tomorrow Darcy will depart.

I expect, once we’re alone, Ace and I will both heave a big sigh — and it will only partly be one of relief.

(To read all of the Company for Christmas series, click here.)