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Tag: people

Dog park humans: A breed apart

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One of the things that strikes you if you spend any time at a dog park is the amazing diversity you see — in appearances, in personality types, in behavior patterns.

And that’s just among the dog owners.

Just as there is a vast array of breeds and mixes, shapes, sizes and behaviors among dogs, there are certain “types” when it comes to the human denizens of dog parks.

So let’s slap some labels on them, shall we?

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Yes, it is wrong. But as much as we tend to slap labels on dogs, it’s only fair to give humans a turn. All in fun, of course. We’re not criticizing any of them (hardly), just making some observations.

All the characters we are about to describe are fictitious, though based on actual observations over the years at dog parks in well over a dozen cities and towns. If one or more bears a striking resemblance to you, old or new friend, it’s purely coincidental. And any exaggeration or irreverence that follows is purely for the sake of humor.

In other words, don’t get mad at me.

DSC06870leashes1The Dog Talker:
This person is constantly talking to their dog — an ongoing one-way conversation: “C’mon Princess, you should you meet these other dogs over here. Oh look, there’s your little friend Barney. And look at this big boy. Do you like him? I think you like him. He looks a little like your friend Bowser, doesn’t he? Let’s play with him for a while before we go home for dinner …”

Often members of this type are also members of another type, making them doubling annoying. The Baby Talkers: “Yesums you’re a good boy, yes you are, yes you are. Did you step on a burr, oh poor baby, come here, let me see your little pawsie. Awwww, it’s OK little baby. There, there, all better now.”

There is one more sub-category of these talkers, and they are those who actually seem to expect their dog to answer them. They are prone to asking their dogs the same question repeatedly, as if, on the third or fourth asking, the dog is suddenly going to respond with words: “Are you ready to go home for dinner, Fluffy? Hmmmm? Fluffy, you want to go home for dinner? Does Fluffy want dinner? You want to go get dinner, Fluffy?”

The Experts: They can and most assuredly will tell you more than you want to know about training, about breeds, about care, about feeding, about anything. Sometimes they may actually have some expertise. More often, they haven’t a clue. Still, they feel the need to conduct mini-lectures that conclude with something like “And that is why dogs eat grass” or, “That’s how they came to be known as Lhaso Apsos.”

DSC06874leashes1The Device-obsessed: They are the largest, fastest growing group at the dog park, and one of the most dangerous, totally ignoring their dogs as they tap away on their little screens. They really should look up now and then. See your dog? He’s living in the moment. You should try it.

The Social Butterfly: Must meet and engage every dog, and every human, in the park. He or she flits about, asking your dog’s name, your dog’s breed, telling you about his or her dog, remarking on the weather, etc., before moving on to the next dog and person. One of these — they often being the sort that prefers a monologue over actual conversation — recently began talking to me, even though I was on the big dog side of the fence and he was on the small side. Without any response, or any acknowledgement from me, he continued talking, non-stop, to the back of my head, for 30 minutes.

DSC06948leashes1The Loners: They go to remotest corner, avoiding interaction and engaging, most likely, in some fetch — silently, relentlessly, repetitiously, and most often using one of those flinging sticks so their hands don’t get slimy. Both owner and dog, generally something like a German shepherd, seem to tense up if you or your dog approach. Often, the loner person has a loner dog, which brings up a point we’re not addressing here: How a dog’s personality comes to resemble its owners.

The Rescue Hero: The second, if not first, sentence out of this person’s mouth about their own dog is “he/she is a rescue” and it is followed by the dog’s tale of woe in its previous life. His coat was matted, his ribs were visible, he was a bait dog used by dogfighters, he was abandoned and left tethered at a Walmart. Often they weren’t involved in any actual rescue, but merely walked into a shelter and adopted the dog. But that’s OK. It still makes them good people. Just don’t expect sainthood.

The Action Hero: This is the young guy — perhaps an off duty firefighter, or someone who just left rugby practice — who rushes over to fearlessly break up any dogfights.

DSC06981leashes1The Date-seeker: He is there to meet some babes. He will lavish attention on your dog because he thinks you are cute. He seems so nice, but might he be a biter? Exercise some caution before going into a play stance with him.

The Over-protector: These people are constantly coddling and babying their (usually) small dog, hovering nearby and becoming alarmed if play becomes a little rough. At that time, they immediately pick it up, making all the larger dogs want to have at it even more. I’ve seen people show up with their dogs and spend their entire time at the park on a bench with their dog (who might be wearing clothing) on their lap.

DSC06847leashes1The control freak: This person is a strong disciplinarian when it comes to their dog, so strict that their dog is barely able to have any fun. Granted some people use dog parks to train their dogs, but even then said dog should have a little frolic time. It’s not boot camp. Sometimes, they seem to want to discipline everyone else’s dog too: “None of that now. Easy, eeeeeasy now,” they’ll say to other dogs. He or she commonly offers training advice to total strangers.

DSC06849leashes1The Poop-spotter: This person has uncanny peripheral vision — to the point he or she can spot any dog in the act of pooping, even if there are two dogs simultaneously pooping at opposite ends of the park. He or she then promptly informs the owner, “Hey, your dog just pooped, about three yards from the fence, to the left of that fencepost.”

The No Boundaries Dog Owner: These are the owners who clearly believe their dog can do no wrong: These dog owners let their dog get away with pretty much everything — digging, snarling, humping to name a few– issuing few corrections and generally only mild ones. They fail to notice signs that things are getting out of hand until it is too late.

No Boundaries Parents: These are even scarier yet, letting their young children chase strange dogs, run from strange dogs while shrieking, and hug strange dogs. These people might pose a bigger risk than even the Device-obsessed. And if you have a combination of the two, well, that’s a recipe for disaster. Often, with these people, their children listen to them with the same disregard their dogs do. No matter how many times they warn little Tommy to close both the gates when he enters and leaves, little Tommy leaves them wide open.

By now you are asking, well “OK Mr. Holier than Thou, which type are you? Or are we to assume you are perfect?”

Far from it.

DSC06880leashes1I am sometimes “the expert,” but only when an unanswered question is looming, and I am sure of my facts, and I feel the information will make the person I am conveying it to a better dog owner. If, while I am talking, they start yawning, or texting, I will stop.

Sometimes I am “the loner,” sometimes “the social butterfly,” depending on my mood — and my dog’s mood — that day.

Sometimes I’m the rescue hero, not the action hero because generally any fights will be over by the time I’m able to make my way over there on my wobbly legs. I will share the tale of where my dog came from, but generally only when asked and without taking credit for any actual “rescue” when all I really did was adopt him. Still, I’m happy to share, and feel it’s important to share, the story of his Korean past, sad as it was.

I’m not the Date-seeker these days, but I’ll admit that possibility may have been in the back of my head — if not ever actually exercised — in earlier times with earlier dogs. And, hey, it might still be lingering back there to a small degree.

Most often, I’m of the type I haven’t mentioned yet.

The Quiet Observer: This is someone like, say, a semi-retired journalist with time on his hands, skilled in observing human behavior, prone to eavesdropping, able to recognize the subtle differences between us, and aware that — above all else — they are what makes life interesting.

DSC06843leashes1So feel free to disregard all this, and just be yourself. It’s true, I’m far more tolerant with dogs than I am with people. Dogs can jump up on me, they can lick my face, they can sit on my lap. People, these days, get on my nerves much more quickly.

Even so, it’s not my place to tell them how — other than observing proper dog park etiquette — they should act. So I almost always stifle myself from saying anything out loud.

When a small child it is chasing my dog, screaming and trying to grab him, I will warn them out loud, “Hey, you might not want to do that.” But I try to not let negative vibes into my head, and try even harder not to let them out of my mouth.

But that said, Tommy, close the damn gates.

(Photos by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

Christie Brinkley unveils the secret to staying young — and it is …

DOGS!

The 63-year-old model says so in PEOPLE, so it must be true.

She tells the magazine/website that her two dogs, Maple Sugar and Chester, are her anti-aging antidotes.

Of course, Brinkley has also credited a few zillion other things with being the secret to her youthful appearance — pretty much any product, it seems, that pays her to do so.

brinkleyanddaughtersBetween her and Cindy Crawford, another 50-plus former model who claims to possesses the secret to staying young, they are shilling not just anti-aging products, but everything from wine to furniture to dog food.

While explaining the secret of staying young to PEOPLE, for instance, Brinkley manages to work in plugs for her book, Timeless Beauty, Purina dog food, and her appearance at 63, with her daughters, in Sports Illustrated’s new swimsuit issue.

Strangely, there is no mention in the PEOPLE article of her line of skin care products that — or so she tells us on television — are her secret to staying young.

The Christie Brinkley Authentic Skincare Bio-Clock Activation System claims to help resist, reduce and reverse the top five signs of aging, according to commercials for the products.

(Try not to confuse this with Meaningful Beauty, apparently made from Italian miracle melons that never rot — the line of anti-aging products touted by Cindy Crawford, who is also managing to remain freakishly young looking despite her advancing years.)

A further parenthetical statement: (Yes, while recuperating from recent surgery I’ve been watching far too much television.)

cb_bio-clock_kit_1aChristie, according to the product’s website, spent four years working with scientists to develop the product. (And yes, she looks good in a lab coat, too.)

“Now,” the website says, “she is sharing her secret with you. It is truly an anti-aging activation or ‘bio-clock’ activation system, containing a proprietary Bio-Copper Complex to help firm, smooth and bring back youthful radiance to skin.”

I’ll admit that Brinkley looks pretty amazing — but given she is saying the secret of staying young is her dogs/her skin creams/her book/even Purina dog food, I’m beginning to suspect the secret to staying young may be selling out.

Perhaps I am being hasty and cynical — or maybe just old and crotchety — but it seems that, for a fee, she’ll endorse any product as being the equivalent of the fountain of youth.

Consider the dog food connection in the PEOPLE article, which took some stretching to accomplish:

brinkley2After praising her dogs, and saying that nutrition is the secret to staying young, Brinkley singles out Purina Pro Plan (but then after all, she is a spokesperson for the company).

It, she says, is keeping her 14-year-old Labradoodle Maple Sugar young.

“That’s why I feed my senior dog Maple Purina Pro Plan,” she tells PEOPLE. “It has enhanced botanicals and ingredients that aid in digestion, things she needs.”

Maple Sugar and Chester, in turn, help keep her young, she says — and I suspect there is more truth in that statement than any of the others.

Your Cindy Crawfords and your Christie Brinkleys are from an era when advertisers and the media set impossibly high standards for women to live up to. That era never ended.

What has changed is those same forces are now setting impossible standards for the over 50 crowd to live up to — especially women. Men, as evidenced by Steve Carell getting good reviews for going grey, and Sam Elliot’s recent movie role as grandfatherly stud muffin, can still somehow get away with visually aging.

But the pressure is there for them, too, even though I — not being one to put too much effort into appearance — never felt it to any great extent. At nearly 64, I’ve given up on finding the fountain of youth. I’d settle for a steady urine stream.

So while I admire the effort your Brinkleys and Crawfords are making — and their willingness to share their anti-aging secrets with the general public — I can’t help but see a little sadness in it all.

They both were and are beautiful women, but you know what? A wrinkle or two wouldn’t really hurt their looks — and might even provide their Stepford-ish faces with some character.

It’s possible to age beautifully without waging an all-out war against that natural process — pouncing on every grey hair, slathering every wrinkle with miracle spackle, tightening, lifting and toning up every sag.

There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s appearance, or working hard at being healthy, but this insistence that all outwardly signs of aging must be fought off at all costs (Brinkley’s Bioclock Anti-Aging system will run you $125) is a fraudulent, manipulative and deceptive bill of goods.

Don’t buy it. Instead, adopt a dog.

(Top photo, PEOPLE; bottom photo, Associated Press)

Do we really need Dog Fart Awareness Day?

DFAD_HHS_2Dog Fart Awareness Day came and went over the weekend — and I wasn’t even aware of it!

Nor was I aware that such a day has apparently existed for at least three years.

My tendency is to question whether it is “a real thing” — sorry, but a Facebook page alone is not ample proof of that — and yet People magazine has written about it, and so have some dog writers I actually respect.

The recent People article was basically an interview with a veterinarian, and said nothing about the special day’s origins — or who was behind it. (Though the veterinarian did share that, in his experience, bulldogs fart more than any other breed.)

It’s hard to find any serious discussion, or background information on Dog Fart Awareness Day, also called Dog Farting Awareness Day. Just about everything you call up on the Internet seems to have been written more for the pun opportunities than to provide information.

You’d assume such a day would have some veterinary group behind it, telling us that, if our dogs are farting excessively, we should bring them in at once for an expensive battery of tests.

I could find no sign of that — and no explanation of why we need a Dog Fart Awareness Day. When they fart, and we are at home, don’t we quickly become pretty aware of it?

DFAD_LingerScanning legitimate news media, I found only a few references to it.

Twincities.com recently included it in a list of “officially” proclaimed days, but added, “not sure if this is a serious thing.”

Scientific American used the annual day as an opportunity to delve into dog fart research, producing a pretty fascinating article on its blog, Dog Spies.

Then again, the blog’s writer, Julie Hecht, was reporting about dog fart research even before the awareness day existed — proof that she is on top of things, or a little weird. Either way, her posts are always fascinating.

This one goes into some 2001 research at the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in the UK where researchers, with help from a special dog fart jumpsuit and “odor judges,” measured the flatulence of dogs and assessed the odors on a 1 to 5 scale — 5 being “unbearable,” 1 being percussion without any noticeable odor.

The research was aimed at rendering dog farts less foul smelling, which is possible with dog farts (as it also is with humans).

Despite the day being mentioned in such a scholarly publication, I’m still suspicious of it.

Generally, such days have an organization behind them — one that has procured a proclamation for such a day in hopes of increasing awareness or sales, but DFAD, as it’s called, lists none.

National Hairball Day (April 28th) is recognized by the American Veterinary Association. National Dog Fighting Awareness Day (also April 8) is sponsored by the ASPCA. This is also National Dog Bite Prevention Week, sponsored by, among others, the U.S. Postal Service.

But National Dog Farting Awareness Day seems to have wafted in out of nowhere.

If “bogus” — and my suspicions lean that way — does DFAD take away from more serious issues, like dogfighting awareness, or, as some maintain, is it a good thing even if it is all in jest, because it allows dog lovers to share and celebrate their dogs, and create their own memes.

(Memes and farts have a few things in common by the way. They can erupt spontaneously, grab everyone’s attention and then quickly dissipate. You’re never sure who was behind them, and the perpetrators — whoever they were — probably feel better after expressing themselves.)

It’s important to keep in mind anyone can go online and get a national day of pretty much anything proclaimed, like at this website.

These informal national days are not to be confused with official ones — those proclaimed by Congress and our president, such as a National Missing Children’s Day, or National America Recycles Day.

Dog farts and hairballs are not among issues Congress considers pressing, but luckily entrepreneurs are there to fill the void, and give your cause the attention you feel it deserves — a day of it’s own. And maybe someday your day will show up in an esteemed publication like Scientific American, or People, or ohmidog!, thus adding credence to the belief your day is a real thing.

I don’t believe there is an officially sponsored, organizationally-backed Dog Fart Awareness Day. And I don’t think we need one.

As for the one that seems to exist, for purposes that seem limited to giving us a chuckle, I’m hoping it doesn’t linger too much longer.

(Photos: From the Dog Farting Awareness Facebook page)

Kiss, kiss; sniff, sniff; lick, lick

“First Kiss,” a video of strangers kissing, has become an Internet sensation.

Like a lot of Internet sensations, it’s kind of stupid, mostly staged, and less than fully honest.

But that hasn’t kept it from being shared by millions, and becoming — in less than a week — the subject of many video parodies, including a dog version we’ll show you in a minute.

It was just last week that “First Kiss” appeared on the Internet, showing, or so it appeared, newly introduced couples — after much foot-shuffling and awkwardness — locking lips on camera.

It garnered more than 30 million views in less than three days, and many viewers, based on comments, found it sweet and heartwarming, almost pure, in a tongue-sucking kind of way.

Director Tatia Pilieva posted the short film on YouTube on March 10, with little explanation. The post didn’t clearly point out the film was an advertisement for a clothing brand’s 2014 line, but said only: “We asked twenty strangers to kiss for the first time.”

It was a couple of days later that WREN, a Los Angeles womenswear brand, admitted on Twitter that the video was an advertisement, and most of its kissers were actors and models.

Some bloggers went so far to ask if that constituted a “hoax.” Others viewed it as a legitimate “filmvertisement,” and its makers explained they were just trying to make something artistic and interesting.

“We make these fashion films every season,” said WREN founder Melissa Coker. “I strive to make them an interesting film that exists on its own rather than something that feels like a commercial, and it seems to be touching people — not only people who are in fashion and would see this, but also random guys who aren’t connected at all.”

That apparently left some feeling a bit manipulated.

“Knowing it’s an ad is initially forgivable until you realize that the majority of the people kissing are actors and models,” commented a blogger on the website Fstoppers. “Then the veil of whimsy is gone and all that’s left is another well planned, viral advertisement and our suspension of disbelief.”

We wouldn’t go so far as to call “First Kiss” a hoax, and sneaky advertising isn’t anything new. While television, radio and newspapers are all pretty good at passing off advertising as editorial content these days, the Internet makes it simpler than ever — both to disguise advertising and get it published or broadcast for free.

The Internet can also take credit for a rebirth in parodies, many of which have been made of “First Kiss” already — some in better taste than others.

Our favorite, of course, is “First Sniff,” the doggie version, produced by another ad agency, Mother London. Even though it’s staged, its actors aren’t acting — just being their butt-sniffing selves.

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)

Almost home: You won’t see this on HGTV

Before I show you my new place — that’s next week, when I’m done decorating — I thought I’d show you somebody else’s.

We came upon it last week, on the trip to move my furniture down south.

There’s an exit on I-95 in Virginia that Ace and I always stop at — one where I can get low-price, by Maryland standards, cigarettes; fill my gas tank; and grab a bite at the Burger King, whose guide to which sodas go best with which entrees always makes by beverage decision easier.

Then we drive a few hundred feet to the end of a big parking lot, where there’s a large grassy area, next to a copse of trees. I park at the edge of the grass, open the back of the Jeep and sit there to enjoy my picnic lunch while Ace sniffs around the empty patch of grass, takes care of business, then sits and waits for french fries to be flung his way. Or better yet, in his view, a hunk of burger, whose variations at Burger King include a Triple Whopper, and Quad Stacker. As you know, you can “Have it your way.”

The exit — Willis Road, I think it’s called, on the southern edge of Richmond — has become a tradition for us. Ace likes traditions, especially those involving meat.

Last week, with Ace in the back of the Jeep, and my friend Will following me in the rented moving truck, I had tired of music and decided to find a talker on the radio, either flaming liberal or die-hard conservative — for those are the only options — it didn’t matter.

I can’t remember his name, but I ended up with the die-hard conservative — a Rush Limbaugh wannabe, only angrier, who was jumping all over President Obama’s recent remarks about increasing taxes on the richest to assist the poorest.

Obama, it seemed, wanted to help the “less fortunate,” and you would have guessed, from the way the talk show host was saying “less fortunate” that he was smirking and putting finger quotes around it — as if he thought there was no such thing, or, if there were, that they were all sissies.

Though I had spent nearly a year without my material possessions as Ace and I traveled across America on a shoestring; though I’m not employed by anyone other than myself, though I have neither health insurance nor nest egg, I’ve never considered myself among the less fortunate (which I say without finger quotes, because only sissies make finger quotes).

Similarly, I’ve never considered myself too far removed from that group. One overnight hospital visit would probably put me in their ranks.

In our time on the road, Ace and I were homeless by choice, but frugal out of necessity, which explains why we ran into plenty of down on their luck souls — some of whom had made bad decisions, more of whom were victims of matters beyond their control, like layoffs, or foreclosures, or crime, or natural disasters, or unnatural disasters, or health issues or disabilities.

In the America of 2011, with the gap between the rich and the poor having become as extreme as our talk show hosts, I’m thankful to be in the middle, even the lower section of the middle. I plan to try and stay there until the middle disappears. Having reunited with my possessions, called in my pension (it actually came when I called) and begun setting up a new home — albeit without stainless steel appliances — I’m feeling more secure. But I’m aware of how tenuous that can be.

After stopping at our traditional Virginia picnic spot last week, I finished off my fish sandwich, accompanied by a Diet Coke — though maybe Sprite would have been a better choice — and Ace I walked around the corner, where there was a wooden fence with a small opening in it. We stepped through.

That’s where we saw this homeless encampment.

 

I’m not sure if it served as home for multiple people, or just one, but nobody was at the camp amid the trees, just off I-95, where a half dozen mattresses and tarps were scattered, clothes hung on tree limbs and — speaking of accessories that pop — empty sardine cans, their tops peeled back, served as ash trays.

I was wandering around taking pictures, when a medium-sized, copper-colored dog came running out from behind a mattress that was leaning against the fence. Barking furiously, he headed straight at me, then stopped and stared, as if daring me to take another step in his direction.

I tried to fling him some french fries, but every time I threw one, he retreated — only slightly though, never leaving his position amid the modest little camp. That seemed to be his mission — to protect the few meager belongings that were there, to guard over them until his human came back from collecting aluminum cans, or panhandling at the exit ramp, or maybe even working a real job.

The dog acted like it was Fort Knox, and he was a German shepherd.

That’s got to be in the top hundred of the million great things about dogs — they don’t care how much stuff you have.

They are able to show respect, loyalty and compassion to the poorest of souls — in a way Republicans, at least the loudest ones, are rarely able to master. Some Democrats aren’t that great at it, either. I’m not always too good at it myself. How much have I contributed to Japanese tsunami victims? Zero. I need to save up and buy a clothes dryer.

We humans are far more selfish than dogs. Then again dogs aren’t raised on TV ads and shiny magazines that bombard them with images of things that manipulative marketing types persuade them they must have.

I thought about calling the conservative radio talk show host, even though he sounded like a very nasty fellow who would interrupt me. “Why is it we make a greater investment in accumulating stuff than in our fellow humans?” I wanted to ask. “When did war become patriotic and helping people become unpatriotic?”

And which soda really does pair best with the fish sandwich?

Getting to (sniff, sniff) know you


Humans need a play stance.

I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us — as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).

Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.

Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing  – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.

The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.

Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.

This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.

He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.

Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”

I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.

Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.

All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.

We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders — that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.

We can’t, without repercussions, do the butt-sniffing thing. We can’t, of course, go around peeing on each other’s pee.

But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?

Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?

It was easier when we were children. A simple “Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”

Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point — with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.

Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.

In the final analysis, being human, maybe we’re stuck with words, and small talk, and being less straightforward, sincere and, quite likely, pure of heart and motive than dogs.

Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)