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Recognizing a gift when it lands in your lap

Nala isn’t an officially certified therapy dog.

Her presence at a Minnesota nursing home, apparently, didn’t require her owner to navigate a bureaucracy or fill out mounds of paperwork.

She was never trained to make people feel better. She just, like many a dog, magically does.

The tiny teacup poodle, who comes to work with her owner — medications assistant Doug Dawson — makes the rounds daily at the Lyngblomsten care center, somehow figuring out not just how to ride the elevator to get from room to room, but who at the nursing home might most need a visit from her.

It’s another one of those feel-good stories about a dog bringing comfort, hope and smiles to residents of an otherwise impersonal institution.

Let’s hope this one doesn’t get crushed.

On Wednesday, we told you about Ivy — a Siberian husky whose owner, a janitor at a University of Rhode Island dormitory, brings her to work with him everyday. And how Ivy, through bonding with the students who live there, has made it, in the view of most, a better place to be. And how the university, after the school newspaper ran a feature about the dog, banned Ivy from campus — even though she is certified as a therapy dog — citing things like rules and liability concerns.

Today we bring you Nala, who, fortunately, is spreading her magic at a facility that — rather than fretting about pests, bites and liability — seems to recognize a gift when it sees one.

Dawson brings Nala to work with him each morning, then lets her go her own way.

She spends the day popping into the rooms of residents, hopping in their laps and getting petted and nuzzled before moving on to the next room, according to this report by KARE 11

“She’s an angel,” 90-year-old resident Ruth New said. “I love her and she loves me.”

Nala, Dawson says, seems to have an uncanny knack for knowing who needs a visit, and knowing how to get there, even when it involves riding the four-story building’s elevator.

nala“There’s something about her,” said Dawson, who inherited Nala after she failed in her debut as a potential therapy dog at another facility.

He says Nala was too young at the time, and had spent too much time in a kennel.

Now 5 years old, Nala has redeemed herself at Lyngblomsten.

“If you put her down she’ll pick out the person with Alzheimer’s,” said Dawson. “She has a way of picking the sick.”

After the recent death of one resident, Nala entered her room and stationed herself at her side.

“She had died earlier in the morning, but Nala knew and went and sat with her,” said Sandy Glomski, a Lyngblomsten staffer. “It was wonderful and we were all in tears.”

Dawson says he’s constantly amazed by both Nala’s compassion and her ability to navigate the nursing home’s floors on her own.

“She’s here for a purpose,” he said. “She really is doing God’s work.”

That’s kind of what dogs will do when humans — and especially bureaucrats — don’t get in the way,

Bella’s back home, woman charged with theft

bella2Bella, the Maltese mix who mysteriously disappeared two weeks ago from a home in Durham, N.C., has been returned to her family — and in an equally mysterious manner.

Bella wandered away from home on March 11, and, minutes later, a neighbor saw the driver of a car stop and pick her up at an intersection.

A day later Scott and Kerry Holmes received a phone call from a person claiming to have found their dog. But when they didn’t specify a reward amount, the caller hung up without supplying any additional information.

The family contacted police, and began putting up “lost dog” flyers.

Near the end of  last week, a third party contacted the family in an attempt to arrange the return of Bella. The family later met her at a nearby church and picked the dog up.

But neither the Holmes nor police, who have made an arrest in the case, are saying much more than that.

Scott Holmes, an attorney, said Bella was safely returned home Thursday  night. “Our family is so happy she is home. We are celebrating her return. She has slept a lot and seems to be perking up today,” he said.

He declined to offer any specifics about the dog’s return, but did say that his family is collecting reward money for a single mother in Chapel Hill who provided information that led to Bella’s return.

bynumMeanwhile,  police arrested Amanda Shanese Bynum, 28, of Carrboro, and charged her with extortion, larceny of a dog and felony conspiracy, according to the Durham Herald-Sun. According to police, Bynum threatened not to return the dog unless she was paid $600.

According to WTVD, Bella traveled at least as far as Charlotte during the time she was missing. A photograph of her at a Charlotte pet supply store, wearing some  new dog clothes, appeared on Bynum’s social media page, the Holmes family said.

Holmes said that after being returned Bella was lethargic over the weekend, but that she is bouncing back. He said she appeared to be in good shape physically.

“My wife and Bella are catching up on their sleep and are really, really glad to be reunited,” Holmes said. “They’re very close, and they’re doing really well. There’s been a lot of joy in our house since we got Bella home.”

Sochi’s strays: Heck with the gold; here’s to bringing home some dogs

jacobellisAt least two Olympic athletes from the U.S. are reportedly planning to bring home stray dogs from the streets of Sochi — and that has prompted another chorus of grumbling from the “they-care-more-about-dogs-than-people” crowd.

You know the type — they assume that if you show compassion for dogs, you must have none for people, and they think that is some kind of disorder, and that they must inform the world about it

The truth is, people with compassion for dogs usually have more empathy for people too, and often dogs are the ones that taught them that.

Yet, to read recent pieces like this one in The Guardian, and this one in Slate – or at least their headlines —  the writers make is sound like it’s an either/or proposition: One who rescues dogs must not give a whit about humans.

You might look at Gus Kenworthy, the skier who’s bringing home four stray pups and their mother from Sochi, or Lindsey Jacobellis, the snowboarder who’s bringing a street mutt back to the U.S., and see people doing something heroic, good and noble.

But some people — and they’re not all journalists, more often they are nameless Internet commenters — have an innate need to find, or manufacture, a downside, and broadcast it, portraying an act of kindness toward a dog as proof that the world’s priorities have gone topsy-turvy.

kenworthySo Kenworthy is bringing home five dogs, they’d say, what’s he doing about human rights issues in Russia?

It’s true that there are plenty of those in need of attention. It’s true there are people who find dogs easier to love, and easier to help, than humans. It’s true, too, there are millions of homeless dogs right here in America.

But where does one person get the right to question and critique another person’s charitable acts — to whom they should give, exactly what they should save or rescue, and where they should do it?

I may lack the appropriate Olympic fervor, but I am far more impressed by an athlete bringing home a stray dog than I am by how fast he or she can slide down a snowy hill; and I think the dogs will bring them, in the long run, far more joy (though fewer commercial endorsements)  than a medal.

The athletes aren’t there to rescue dogs, and they aren’t there to solve human rights problems. Any action they might take regarding one or the other is bonus to be appreciated, as opposed to grounds for criticism.

Yet, a headline in Slate asks the question,  ”Why are Olympians putting puppies before people in Sochi?

(Maybe because the athletes aren’t finding people starving and sleeping in alleys, and couldn’t bring them home even if they wanted. Maybe because it’s easier to toss a dog a sandwich than it is to end government oppression. Maybe it’s because they know the city of Sochi has a contract out on strays, and a company is exterminating them.)

Josh Levin, Slate’s executive editor, wrote that, while he finds puppy-saving commendable, there are far bigger issues in Russia in need of addressing, such as:

“…the country’s 2013 passage of anti-gay propaganda laws, as well as a number of other disturbing transgressions: the fact that more than 50 journalists have been murdered in Russia in the last 22 years; that Sochi’s venues were built by more than 70,000 migrant laborers who toiled ceaselessly in violation of Russian law …”

I’m not sure your average bobsledder is equipped to single-handedly rectify issues like that — at least not during the couple of weeks he’s visiting.

A stray, hungry dog, on the other hand, is something a single person can do something about — whether it’s tossing him something to eat, or slaloming through enough red tape to bring him back to their home country.

So we say “Go Team!”  

And good luck with those athletic events as well.

(Photo’s: Jacobellis with the dog she befriended in Sochi; Kenworthy with the four pups he plans to bring home /Twitter)

Roscoe: He’s like a brother to me

roscoe 007

Here is how I greeted my little brother when — after decades of living on opposite sides of the country — he moved to the same North Carolina town I live in:

With a quick one-armed hug, a pat on the back, a bagful of barbecue and some words to the effect of, “Howya doin’?”

Here is how I greeted his dog, a yellow Lab named Roscoe:

welcome 006With a welcome sign, balloons, flowers, treats, oodles of hugs, playing tug of war, copious amounts of head-petting, belly rubs, laying on the floor and spooning,  some of the aforementioned barbecue,  and words to the effect of “Roscoe! Roscoe! Hi buddy! You’re a good boy! What a good boy! Yes, you’re a good boy! You’re just a good, good boy! Yes, you are! Yes, you are!”

Sometimes I think dogs were created so that men might be able to show emotions.

I am happy as heck that, after 40 years living in different states, my brother and I are occupying the same one. I freely admit that. But do I show him that? Of course not. I reserve my shows of affection for his dog. Maybe that’s what most men do. At least it’s what this one does.

In greeting a friend I haven’t seen for years, in visiting my father, or mother, or sister, I tend to act, on the surface, as if I just saw them yesterday. I don’t get teary, or engage in long embraces, or scream or jump up and down. I don’t effervesce, for my personality is a decidedly non-carbonated one.

I don’t get as visibly excited about people as I do dogs, but I think the reasons for that go beyond the fact that I’m of the non-bubbly male persuasion.

It’s only natural to have some inhibitions with humans. For one thing, you can’t automatically, 100 percent, trust them. For another, we tend to worry what another human might think of what we do or say. But mostly, they don’t reciprocate quite like dogs do. No other animal does.

If a long lost friend were to madly wag his tail upon seeing me again, it might be different. That might lead me to rub his belly, making him show even more delight, leading me to wrestle on the floor with him, or play some tug of war with a pillow. But being human, we’re content with a hug or handshake, and then using our words, which we — especially us men — generally keep a leash on as well.

When a dog makes me feel all warm and mushy inside, not only can I let it out; it’s hard not to. Scientists would probably say it’s because loving on a dog triggers the release of some chemical holed up in some body part.

roscoe 011But I think it’s mostly just human nature. We all want somebody to lay some love on. Dogs are the easiest creatures on which to lay it, and the most likely to clearly and immediately show they appreciate it. Dogs aren’t going to reject you, or judge you – no matter what stupid thing you say, or what sort of baby talk you’re babbling.

Somehow, with dogs, that dividing line between the love you feel, and the love you feel comfortable exhibiting, doesn’t exist.

But back to Roscoe, and, oh yeah, my brother.

His partner, James, moved here for a new job about a year ago, and he’d been sorely missing Roscoe, who he considers his dog. This week they all drove from Arizona. Roscoe, despite some concerns about how he’d do on the road, behaved wonderfully and seemed to like the cross-country trip.

They arrived in Winston-Salem earlier this week and Roscoe seems to be adjusting nicely, though he did run through a sliding screen door, not  realizing it was there. (Did I mention he was a yellow Lab?)

I visited as they continued unpacking Tuesday, and on the ride home started thinking about the disparity between the love I showed Roscoe and the love I showed my brother (even though, I’d argue, bringing barbecue shows pretty much love). I didn’t exhibit, or verbally express, how happy I am he’s here.

I only showed Roscoe.

I’m that way with all dogs — even those I’ve just met. If I were to behave when meeting a human as I do upon meeting a dog, I would probably be arrested. But I can’t help but wonder whether I should come a little closer to that, and let my feelings out more when around humans, especially those I hold dear.

Maybe that’s another among the infinite number of purposes dog serve: to be surrogate recipients of the excess, bottled up, or otherwise unexpressable love that we — or at least some among us —  hold back.

The fuzzy — and not so fuzzy — sides of the federal government furloughs

justwalkPoliticians aren’t happy about it. Americans aren’t happy about. But there may be one group can see a bright side in the federal government shutdown.

Dogs. (Then again, they see the bright side in pretty much everything.)

With their owners spending more time at home, the pets of furloughed federal workers are likely getting more attention, more dog park time, more time to snuggle while watching daytime TV on the couch.

Let’s just hope no one gets too used to it.

The shutdown, while already hurting some pet-related business, is helping some others. The  Huffington Post reports that business is booming, for example, at Muddy Mutt, a self-serve dog wash next to Shirlington Dog Park in Northern Virginia.

“I’m getting more business because people aren’t working,” said Andrew Low, owner of the Muddy Mutt, where dog owners commonly bring their dogs in after romping in the river. Low said the business is usually quiet during the week. But since the furlough? “Twenty-five on Monday, 14 on Tuesday, 23 yesterday… We don’t even ever come close to that.”

The furlough might be bad news, though, for professional dog walkers in the DC area.

Christina Bell, owner of Doggy Daze DC,  said that business is down by about half since the shutdown went into effect. JJ Scheele says her business, Dog Walking DC, has also taken a hit.

“All the walkers are down anywhere from one to three dogs,”  Scheele said.

At Just Walk DC, a dog-walking cooperative, Meg Levine said the decrease of customers, three days into the shutdown, has been slight. But between government-employed pet owners having more time, and less income, a protracted shutdown could hurt dogwalkers badly — not to mention the rest of the country.

“There certainly is a sense of frustration from a lot of my clients, who feel that this is just needless roadblocking,”Levine said. “For the most part, we are continuing to chug along and feeling very hopeful this will end soon. I like D.C. when it functions. Oh, this town.”

(Photo: Dog walker Meg Levine, courtesy of  Just Walk DC)

Alaska town’s feline mayor is back home

stubbsmayor

Stubbs, the cat who serves as honorary mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, is back home and recovering from injuries inflicted by a town dog.

The 16-year-old cat was released earlier this week from an animal hospital in Wasilla and taken home by his owner, Lauri Stec, manager of Nagley’s General Store, the Associated Press reported.

Stec said Stubbs will be cared for at a house connected to the back of the store for a few days before returning to his regular sleeping spot — in his bed on top of a freezer. There, Stubbs sleeps in a mushing sled piled with furs of fox, caribou, beaver and lynx.

Stubbs was mauled by a loose dog in Talkeetna, 115 miles north of Anchorage, on Aug. 31. The attack left Stubbs with a punctured lung, a fractured sternum, bruised hips and a deep gash on his side.

Stec said she knows the dog that attacked Stubbs, and that she reported the attack to animal control officials.

The community of 900 elected the orange and beige cat mayor in a write-in campaign 15 years ago. There is no human mayor in the town.

Stubbs greets customers at the store, but also ventures over to the tavern next door, where he often is served a water and catnip concoction in a wine glass. The dog attack was not his first scare. He has been shot with a BB gun, fallen into a fryer vat and once rode on a garbage truck before jumping off, the AP reported.

The cat’s popularity has increased since his hospitalization. Two walls of the general store are covered with cards and letters to him, donations toward his medical care have come in from around the country, and get-well messages have been posted on his Facebook page, which has almost 22,000 “likes.”

On Facebook, Stubbs reports : ”While at this point in time it is impossible to know whether my attack was politically motivated, I do hope that the government will seriously consider providing me with some Secret Service protection in the future to assist in preserving my remaining 8 lives. I am thankful for the opportunity to continue leading the great town of Talkeetna onwards to brighter tomorrows.”

(Photo: Stubbs’ Facebook page)

Much ado about poo in Spain

There might not be any town as intent — you might even say obsessed — with wiping out dog poop as Brunete, Spain.

First, officials in the town on the outskirts of Madrid launched a social awareness campaign, aimed at encouraging pet owners to pick up after their dogs.

Part of it included a remote control pile of poop on wheels, which approached citizens bearing the message “Don’t leave me, pick me up!”

“The amount of dog poo on our streets dropped considerably as a result,” a town spokesman is quoted as saying in this article.

When “volume” started rising again, the town opted for a sneakier approach — though it, too, has an in-your-face element.

In February of this year, officials in the town of 10,100 assigned 20 volunteers to patrol the streets in search of dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs.

Upon seeing an offense, the undercover volunteers approach the owners and strike up a casual conversation — not mentioning the poop, just feigning interest in the dog and asking about its name and breed.

Once the dog walker departs, the volunteer would pick up the dog poop and put it in a box. Then, using the town’s database of registered dogs, they find out the address of the dog walker. Then they’d deliver the surprise package by hand to the pet owner’s home, along with an official warning.

If that weren’t embarassing enough, they film the reunions between dog owners and their dog’s poop.

Brunete Town Hall estimates the program has reduced the amount of unpicked up dog waste by 70 percent.

Officials aren’t sure whether it’s the threat of the fine, receiving a package of poop, or getting humiliated on camera that’s doing the trick, but they say the program seems to be working.

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