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Tag: streets

Saying goodbye to dog who gave him a boost

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A formerly homeless man said goodbye earlier this month to a dog who gave his life some purpose.

Raymond Goynes was living in a refrigerator box on the streets of New York when he first met Sonja, a wheaten terrier, in 2005.

He’d spent decades on the streets by then, but he’d kicked his cocaine habit a few year’s earlier and was doing odd jobs to help buy food.

He’d regularly see Sonja being taken for a walk and asked her owner, more than once, if he could help with that.

“After I got Sonja, he saw various people walking her when I was at work,” Mary Kilty told the New York Times. “He said to me, ‘I can walk your dog.’ He said this to me several times and eventually I thought why not give it a try, because he clearly needed some income and support.”

Goynes began taking Sonja for two-hour walks to and around Central Park on Saturday mornings.

“It helped me get myself together,” Goynes said. “It keeps you from messing around, doing other things bad. ‘I got a dog-walking job, I’ve got to maintain.'”

“… She helped me, I helped her,” he added.

Goynes found a permanent home in 2007 — a small room in a building on East 28th Street run by the nonprofit supportive-housing provider now known as Breaking Ground.

He continued to walk Sonja on weekends, and would house-sit the dog, sometimes for weeks at a time, in Kilty’s penthouse.

“He was so reliable and so good, and she loved him so much,” Kilty said.

Last spring, Sonja, 11, began a slow decline due to cancer.

goynes2In his last visit with the dog, Goynes, 67, let himself in to Kilty’s home and crouched down beside Sonja.

“If there was anything I could do to help her stay up … Sonja, get up, come on, get up.”

He held her paw, gazed into her eyes and then left so Kilty could spend some private moments with Sonja before a veterinarian arrived to give her a lethal injection.

Kilty said Goynes asked for Sonja’s tags, so he can wear them on a necklace.

She honored that request, but says she’s not ready to grant his second one.

“He keeps asking me when I’m going to get another dog, which I don’t think I’m going to do quite yet.”

(Photos: Nicole Bengiveno / The New York Times)

White God: It’s not the nerds getting revenge in this haunting Hungarian film

In terms of its story line, White God isn’t too different from any other movie in which the bullied rise up and get even with the bullies.

What makes it different — and makes it shine — is that in this case the bullied are abused and mistreated dogs, a species that already knows (perhaps better and more instinctively than us) that there is strength in numbers.

Perhaps the most talked about scene in the much talked about Hungarian film — winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Prize Un Certain Regard Award and an official selection of Sundance Film Festival — is when a pack of 250 dogs, all mutts, stampede through the streets.

And what makes that scene even more impressive is that it was achieved not through computer graphics, but with dogs.

Director Kornel Mundruczo first issued a casting call for 100 dogs for the scene, then decided bigger would be better. More than 200 dogs ended up being involved, many of them from local animal shelters.

The scene serves as the movie’s climax, and it was a first of its kind achievement for the dog trainers involved.

Under the leadership of Hungarian dog trainer Árpád Halász, a team of humans was able to train the dogs to stampede in a pack in what was, in reality, a massive rush for treats.

One of the dog trainers involved, Teresa Ann Miller — daughter of a trainer who worked on films like Beethoven and Cujo — was interviewed about the movie on NPR this week.

Miller helped cast and train the two dogs who shared the role of Hagen.

The movie’s story begins when a young girl is forced to give up her dog, Hagen, because it is of mixed-breed heritage. Her father, unwilling to pay the fee required to keep a mutt, abandons Hagen in the streets.

Young Lili tries to find him, and Hagen tries to find her, but eventually he joins forces with, and becomes the leader of, hundreds of other abandoned, abused and mistreated dogs living in the streets.

As a pack, they rise up to seek revenge for the indignities they’ve suffered at the hands of humans.

(If the film has one fault, it’s the notion that dogs would seek revenge. They’re better than that.)

Miller told NPR that director Mundruczó wanted the stampede scene to look as real as possible — a goal complicated by the fact that no one has ever seen hundreds of domestic dogs running as a pack.

It was first rehearsed with 100 dogs running together.

Trainer Halász watched and then said, “What about 150?” Miller recounted. “And 150 looked so good that he says, What about 200? And each time Árpád learned, as he acquired the dogs and introduced other dogs into the pack, that it was possible.”

It took four months to prepare for the scene, she added.

“And that was amazing to see; that was fascinating. I’ve never seen it done. I’ve never seen such a large pack of dogs run together. And, quite honestly, I don’t think we’d ever do it here (in the U.S.) just for the time that it takes. It’s so much easier just to CGI it, but the director didn’t want that effect at all.”

Woof in Advertising: The Scent

Sure, a $50,000 sport utility vehicle can help you find women.

But not as good as a dog can.

In this Range Rover ad, an unnaturally handsome man finds a scarf, lets his dog sniff it, then follows in his Baroque — through winding streets, around various urban obstacles and even down some stairs — as the dog tracks down the owner.

The carmaker says the ad showcases the “contemporary design and extraordinary versatility” of the Range Rover Baroque, but we think the dog wins out, at least in the latter category.

The commercial, entitled “The Scent,” was filmed in Girona and Barcelona, and its tagline is, “Cut a path through civilization.”

Not to give away the ending, but the dog finds the scarf’s owner, and, miracle of miracles, it’s an unnaturally  beautiful woman.

We think the ad would have been better if it were a wrinkly, 99-year-old great grandma, who was missing her babushka. Or better yet, if the camera showed the dog running toward a beautiful young woman, then past her to deliver the scarf back to the great grandma.

While some of its models have shrunk, the Range Rover still has a bit of an image as a big, road-hogging, view-blocking gas guzzler (though the Baroque averages 23 miles per gallon and is much less offensive than, say, a Humvee).

Given that image, the ad could have used a little more humor, a little less hubris — of the “I-can-drive-my-big-imposing-car-anywhere-I-want” category.

Needless to say, don’t try this at home, whether home is Barcelona or Brooklyn. Roving the range is one thing; roving urban sidewalks and steps quite another.

One must be careful not to mow down pedestrians when cutting a path through civilization, which, by the way, already provides us with paths for cars.

They’re called roads.

You’re the cutest little human I ever did see

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Earlier this week, I asked — only semi-whimsically — if the day might come when dogs start speaking, actually speaking.

I wondered what dogs might say, and whether, once dogs became verbal, we humans would actually listen, as opposed to just giggling and taking video and posting it on YouTube.

It would probably be far in the future when that happens — and only assuming we humans can keep the planet together that long.

But it’s not too early to start thinking about it, at least semi-whimsically, including the very real possibility that — given dogs tend to reflect us more and more as time goes by — they could end up talking to us as we’ve been talking to them all these years.

And wouldn’t that be awful?

These, as I see it, are the two worst-case scenarios:

One, they will be bossy-assed nags, telling us, far more often than necessary, what to do: “No!” “Stop that!” “Leave it!” Hush!” “Get down!” “Sit!”  “Stay!”

Two, they will be sappy, high-pitched baby talkers: “You’re such a cute human. Yes, you are! You’re the cutest little mushy face human in the world, with your mushy-mush-mush little face. It’s the mushiest little face I ever did see. Yes it is! You’re a good little human. Aren’t you? Yes! Yee-ess! Yes you are!”

Those, while annoying extremes, are highly common approaches when it comes to how we humans speak to our dogs.

Some of us are order-dispensing dictators who only talk to our dogs when issuing commands.

Some of us are babblers, spewing a non-stop stream of syrupy praise and meaningless drivel.

A lot of us are both, myself included, especially in the privacy of my home. Sometimes, I have to stop myself from saying things like “Who’s the handsomest dog in the land?  Who’s a big boy? Who’s a genius? Ace is. Yes, Acey is.”

Sometimes, I realize several days have gone by when the only words I’ve voiced to Ace are orders, at which point I lapse into baby talk to make up for it.

He is probably convinced I am passive-aggressive, if not bi-polar.

horowitzThere are, thankfully, some in-betweens when it comes to talking to one’s dog, and one of our favorite dog writers — by which we mean a human who writes about dogs — took a look at some of those variations in an essay posted recently on TheDodo.com, a website that looks at how we can better understand animals and improve our relationships with them.

Alexandra Horowitz is the author of “Inside of a Dog” and runs the the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has spent 15 years studying what dogs might be trying to say to us, but recently she did some cursory research into what we say to them.

“… (O)ver the last months I have been doing some top-secret quasi-science. That is, I’ve been gathering data in my neighborhood in New York City by eavesdropping on the things people say to their dogs. Humans are a species which anthropomorphizes dogs to incredible degrees (as can be attested to by anyone who has seen a pug forced to dress like Winston Churchill). Sure, we know they aren’t really small, furry people (well, most of us seem to know this), but great numbers of people would willingly attest to their dogs being “their children” — or at least claim to think of them as members of their family. But do we really treat them like little people? I figured that some clue to that would come in how we speak to them.”

Horowitz  did some eavesdropping on people out with their dogs in public, making notes of the one-sided conversations she overheard at parks and on sidewalks.

“And, oh, there were many utterances: on every walk I’ve taken in the last months, on a commute, to the store, or out with my own pups, I encountered people with dogs. Some pass silently, but many are in apparent constant dialogue with the pup at the end of the leash. What the dog-talk I’ve gathered shows is not how much we talk to dogs, nor the percentage of people who do so talk, but the kinds of things we say to dogs.”

She wrote that, based on what she heard, how we talk to dogs falls into five categories:

1. The “Almost Realistic,” or talking to a dog as if he mostly understands what you are saying (with grown-up words, but not words so big he needs a dictionary),  as in “Do you want another treat?” (The question that never needs asking.)

2. “Momentarily Confusing Dog With A 2-Year-Old Kid,” as in “Who wants a treatie-weetie? Who does? Who? Who?” (For some reason, no matter how old dogs get, many of us keep talking to them this way, probably because it makes their tails wag.)

3. “Assuming Extravagant Powers Of Understanding:” This is another one I engage in simply because you never know how much they might be taking in: “C’mon Ace, we’re going to stop at the drug store, visit grandma, and go to the park. The duration of the last stop might be limited, because Doppler radar says a storm might be approaching the area.

4. “Totally Inexplicable:” The example Horowitz cites is “Be a man.” (That’s a phrase that bugs me almost as much as “man up” and, worse yet, “grow a pair.” I think a man is the last thing a dog should want to be, and for man to tell a dog to “grow a pair” is just too full of irony to even comment on. I have no problem, however, with “Grow a pear,” and consider it to be legitimate advice.)

5. “Ongoing (One-way) Conversation:” These are those non-stop talkers who conduct a monologue as they walk through the park with their dogs, as in, “Let’s go down the hill and see if your friend Max is there. It would be nice to see Max, wouldn’t it? Remember the time you and Max went swimming? What fun you had. Speaking of fun, do you want to play some tug of war when we get back home? Oh look, there’s Max!”

As Horowitz notes, all of us dog-talkers, and especially that last group, are really talking to ourselves, providing an ongoing narrative of what we are doing and what’s going on in our heads. We are thinking out loud, and our dogs are the victims/beneficiaries of that.

“We talk to dogs not as if they are people, but as if they are the invisible person inside of our own heads. Our remarks to them are our thoughts, articulated… Many of our thoughts while we walk our dogs are not so profound, but they are a running commentary on our days, which serves to lend meaning to ordinary activities …”

(Sounds kind of like Facebook, doesn’t it?)

As with that earlier post that got me started talking about dog talking, this one reminds me of a song, too. I used it in a video I made for a photo exhibit about Baltimore dogs a few years back. The song is called “Talkin’ to the Dog.”

(Top photo and video by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!; photo of Horowitz by Vegar Abelsnes)

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.

Inspiring: Bethany’s transformation

Bethany was found on the streets — homeless, suffering from mange, and with paws so infected she could hardly stand.

With help from a cheeseburger, she was rescued and the transformation documented in this video began.

Joining in the rescue were Eldad Hagar, co-founder of Hope For Paws, and Annie Hart, of the Bill Foundation.

“Everyday, Bethany made remarkable progress,” Hagar said. “Watching her transformation has been an awe inspiring journey. Special thanks to Annie Hart for joining me on this rescue … and for finding Bethany an amazing foster home.”

Bethany is now healthy and available for adoption.

You can learn more about Hope For Paws, and see other rescue stories at its website.

Miley racks up the miles, headed home soon

DSC01118My former cat Miley — the one I took in from the streets of South Baltimore for the winter — is still on the highway, having logged more than 5,000 since joining her new truck driver owner, Kitty.

Miley has now passed through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia — and that’s just to name a few.

Kitty says Miley is doing wonderfully, and has taken well to living in the truck cab, along with Kitty’s other cat, Chuzzle, and two pit bulls.

They were in Louisville when she touched base with me, headed for Waco.

In another week or so, she predicted they’ll be back home in Oklahoma, where she expects Miley will keep her disabled husband John company as he works on CB radios in the garage. It’s not unusual for Kitty to be gone three weeks or more on the job.

Kitty said she kept Miley in her carrier for the first leg of their journey together — from Frederick, Maryland, where I dropped her off, to Bedford, Pennsylvania, where Kitty was taking a load of Oklahoma hot dogs to a Wal-Mart.

She went inside to do the paperwork and returned to the truck cab to find Miley had managed to pop it open and take up a more comfortable spot on a pillow on Kitty’s bunk — “as peaceful as she could be,” Kitty said. She hasn’t been back in the carrier since.

She’s doesn’t mind the noise and rumble of the big rig and is getting along fine with the dogs, but still hisses when Chuzzle, a male Persian cat, gets too close, especially when it’s time to eat.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Kitty told me, when, as I see it, she deserves the thanks for giving Miley a permanent home. “She is just so awesome”