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Tag: thanksgiving

Roscoe’s ruse: Trading up to turkey

I finally got my Thanksgiving dinner, and while I didn’t bite the hand that fed me, Ace did bite the head of the dog belonging to the man who fed us.

My brother and his partner, James, knowing my travels had precluded me from enjoying a turkey dinner, invited us to come over Sunday for one, with all the fixings.

James, a master chef, put out quite a spread — numerous appetizers, turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, yams, all followed by pumpkin cake.

During the preparation, Ace — having learned from previous experiences — was at his side every moment, followed every dish to the table, and as we ate, sat down and waited hopefully that a bite or two might be passed his way. Roscoe, too, approached the table from time to time, but didn’t seem obsessive about it, like Ace.

Though about the same age, they are two very different dogs, I’ve noticed in the time we’ve shared over the past months. Roscoe is the more goofy and dog-like of the two, more prone to barking, more likely to slather your face with kisses. Where Ace seems to have a desire to be a human, Roscoe seems perfectly content with his dog-ness. Where Ace seems to think “if I behave well, I will be rewarded,” Roscoe’s attitude is more “to heck with that stuff.”

I’d always considered Ace the smarter of the two. But now I’m not so sure. At dinner, Ace would sit and stare at whoever was chewing. He does that, almost as if watching a tennis match. He will sit and stare as long as a person is chewing, and even after that, probably until whatever is being masticated has cleared the esophagus. Then he’ll stare until every last plate is cleared, and loaded in the dishwasher, and the kitchen light goes off. Hope springs eternal.

Roscoe uses a different strategy.

He’s prone — not just during meals, but anytime — to grabbing household items with his mouth and not letting go. During my last visit, it was my underwear (not while I was wearing them). Sometimes it’s a pillow from the bed, or a pillow from the couch, or a camera bag, or a pair of socks.

He doesn’t destroy the item. Rather he just walks around with it dangling from his mouth, wagging his tail and absolutely refusing to let go until he gets a better offer — i.e. a treat.

At our belated Thanksgiving dinner, Roscoe grabbed a cloth napkin off the table, then paraded around, as if he wanted everybody to see. Not until some turkey was offered did he relinquish it.

This, while maybe not a perfect example of how humans should train their dogs, is a perfect example of how dogs train their humans. I think if we ever caught on, and tallied up how much our dogs manage to manipulate us, we’d be shocked. Fortunately, most of us are too busy to do that, and go on thinking we’re smarter than our dogs.

After dinner, we watched some TV — perhaps the only thing that manipulates us more than our dogs. If you need more proof that our dogs are smarter than us, ask yourself this question. When was the last time your dog tuned in to “Glee?”

After that, I was full, sleepy and gleeful enough to accept an offer to stay the night. Ace slept at my side until James woke up, at which point, I can only assume, he resumed his I-must-follow-this-man-everywhere-he-goes routine.

I was awakened by the sound of fighting dogs, then the sound of screaming humans, after a second or two of which all was quiet. Ace came back and took his place by my couch, and I went back to sleep.

It wasn’t until I really woke up, a couple of hours later, that I noticed Roscoe had a red mark on his head, and the side of his face. Ace, meanwhile, showed no signs of injuries.

Apparently, while James was in the bathroom, both dogs decided to join him there, and in those close quarters decided the room wasn’t big enough for the both of them. Their rare spat, seemingly, wasn’t over turkey, but attention.

Once it was over they were back to their normally peacefully coexisting selves. Roscoe, despite a slightly punctured head, seemed sad to see Ace leave.

Evidence of yet one more thing at which dogs just might be better than us — forgiveness.

Salvation Mountain: A heap of commitment

Between the Salton Sea and the Chocolate Mountains — in what may sound, and look, like a space you’d land on in the old board game Candyland — there was a man, and a mountain, I needed to check in on.

About 12 years had passed since I first visited Salvation Mountain — Leonard Knight’s massive, hand-painted monument to God. I was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, fond of seeking out stories in the middle of nowhere. He was 67 by then, and had spent almost 15 years constructing his mountain out of hay, tires, adobe and more than 100,000 gallons of paint.

What struck me then was his incredible commitment to the task. What struck me this time is how, even after finding a modicum of fame, what with his own book and DVD and his appearance in the movie, “Into the Wild,” his determination and focus remain — not on himself, not on getting rich, but on the mountain, its maintenance and its continued survival.

Leonard, at 79, is still at it.

He can’t hear too well. His eyes are going bad. He walks with a pronounced limp, and he can no longer lift the hay bales he uses as bricks, or to mix up adobe, to fashion his ever-expanding monument.

While volunteers still drop by to make donations and help with the labor from time to time, on this particular day — Thanksgiving — he was alone.

“Have a seat,” he said, shifting over to the next chair. A blanket was stretched across posts to block out a relentless wind. For the desert, in November, temperatures were chilly. Leonard, wearing paint-spattered khakis, kept his hands stuffed in his jacket as Ace sniffed at the conglomeration of items in the back of his pick up truck.

Salvation Mountain looked much like it did 12 years ago — bright, bold and scripture-laden. But it’s far more famous now, with everyone from National Geographic to Ripley’s Believe it or Not finding it worthy of note.  And after Leonard and the mountain were featured in ”Into the Wild,” the 2007 movie based on the travels and eventual death in the Alaskan wilderness of Chris McCandless, interest in his monument rose again.

Even so, he said, maintaining the mountain, much less working on more recent additions — including a “museum” area that wasn’t there the last time I dropped by — has become a strain. The volunteers seemed fewer this year. Leonard blamed the weather. “The summer was too hot, the winter’s too cold, or it’s just too windy, like it is today. You can’t paint on a day like today.”

Crazy as the weather has been, it’s still better than his native Vermont, he said.

Knight was one of four children, born in Burlington, Vermont. He never liked school, got teased a lot, and dropped out in the 10th grade. In 1951, he joined the Army, was trained as a mechanic and got sent to Korea.

Upon his return, he worked as a mechanic in Vermont, supplementing his income by picking apples, which helped him raise enough money to make trips to Caliornia to visit his sister. He treasured the trips, except for the fact that she would make him go to church.

Leonard hated church, and religion, and God, at that point in his life, and he figured the feeling was mutual. “I wasn’t doin’ nothing that God would be pleased with,” he has pointed out.

During one visit, after an argument with his sister, he stomped out and sat in his truck. There in the driver’s seat — for reasons he can’t explain — he found himself saying, “Jesus, I’m a sinner, please come into my heart” over and over again.  Jesus, he says, did.

For the first time in his life, Leonard had a sense of direction — and it would be, as it turned out, a very strange direction.

In 1971, still in Vermont, he noticed a hot air balloon one day, advertising a brand of beer.

What if, he thought, he could market God similarly? He began researching and seeking materials to build a hot air balloon, and praying to God to help provide them, but for nine years it remained a distant and unreachable dream.

On a cross-country trip in 1980, he had engine trouble in Nebraska, and had to spend several days there. The mechanic working on his truck offered to help with the balloon project. They got a bargain on some material, and, for three years, Leonard stayed in Nebraska and sewed.

Not one to do things on a small scale, Knight stitched together a balloon that was 200 feet high, 100 feet wide, and built a burner, complete with fans, to help fill the balloon.

The balloon never got off the ground, though. When he came to the desert in Niland, California to make a final attempt to launch it, he discovered the material was rotted.

It was then, in 1985, his 14-year quest to launch a God is Love balloon over — that he decided to build a small replica of the balloon, in the middle of the desert, out of adobe. He planned to stay for a week in Slab City — a makeshift community of desert-dwelling loners, snowbirds, RV’ers and on-the-verge of homelessness types.

But what started as an 8-foot sculpture would become Salvation Mountain, rising about three stories high, an accumulation of tires and other junk salvaged and donated, coated with adobe and brightly painted with flowing rivers, budding flowers, a yellow brick road and Bible scripture –all topped by a big white cross.

It’s a constantly evolving work, and, as you might expect, it has fallen victim to both structural collapses and government bureaucracy, at both the county and state levels.

When state-conducted tests found contaminants in the soil, they blamed Leonard and his paint.

Leonard had his own tests done that proved otherwise.

County supervisors backed off their threats to shut him down, but by then all the free publicity from the controversy had added to the mountain’s legendariness.

Today, the mountain is more likely to be referred to as a work of folk art than an environmental hazard, and even though the mountain is a squatter — an unauthorized work on public land — Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2002 afforded it some protection when she entered it into the Congressional Record as a national treasure.

Leonard lives on the grounds of his masterpiece. He beds down for the night in a small cabin mounted on his 1930s-era fire truck, which like every other vehicle in his compound, be it tractor or bus, is covered with painted-on Bible scripture.

He works on it everyday, weather permitting. A newer ”museum” wing, still under construction, features a tree whose base was created from tires and adobe, and whose branches he cut from dead and fallen trees nearby. He hauled them to the mountain, and bolted them on, painted them and added flowers, which he says are easily made by punching your fist in a mound of adobe not yet dried.

Leonard urged me to go take a look at the addition, and apologized for not making it a guided tour. His leg was bothering him. Ace wasn’t sure what to make of it. He explored its nooks and crannies, and, back at the main mountain, climbed up the yellowbrick road path to near the top.

When I returned and took a seat next to Leonard, he gave me a DVD of a documentary about the mountain, “A Lifetime of Childlike Faith,” and a Salvation Mountain magnet. I asked him what his plans were for Thanksgiving dinner and he said some friends were bringing him some turkey.

Leonard gave Ace a final pat on the head, and we said goodbye to the old man who lives in the desert, having learned, or relearned, at least two things.

One is that there’s a thin and sometimes not immediately discernable line between visionary and nut job, so be careful who you call a nut.

The other is that — however eccentric Leonard Knight may be, and no matter what your feelings are on God — faith can indeed  move mountains.

Or even build them.

PETA’s attempt to spoil Thanksgiving dinner

Here’s an ad by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that won’t be airing during today’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

PETA had sought to have the ad aired during the parade at NBC affilliates in Raleigh, N.C., Columbia, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and Little Rock, Ark.  But they all rejected it, according to PETA spokesman Michael Lyubinsky.

The commercial depicts a young girl saying grace at Thanksgiving, giving thanks for “the turkey farms where they pack them into dark, tiny little sheds for their whole lives.” It encourages viewers to “go vegan.”

Brad Moses, general manager of Raleigh’s WNCN, said he decided to ban the ad in Raleigh and Savannah because it’s not appropriate for the spirit of the parade, the Associated Press reported.

Taking Pfido on vacation is pfine with Pfizer

cereniaSometimes the news media is just soooo cynical.

Case in point: Pfizer, the drug company, is extolling the benefits of taking the family dog along when traveling for the holidays. The holidays are stressful times, Pfizer notes. Dogs can help relieve stress. Why leave a beloved member of the family behind?

In an email worthy of Hallmark that was sent to various news media outlets, Pfizer makes note as well of the “tough economic times” and how “the unconditional love from your dog can go a long way toward helping your family manage that extra stress.”

How thoughtful.  Imagine, a multi-national corporate giant like that being so full of holiday spirit that they are thinking about us little people/dog owners when they could be obsessing, Scrooge-like, about profits.

Pfizer even launched a Twitter feed called “Dog On Board” to “help families talk about including their dog in their family holiday.” 

Leave it to the Wall Street Journal, in the newspaper’s ”Health Blog,” to suggest Pfizer might have an ulterior motive when it suggests you pack your dog along in the car or airplane when you make your holiday trip.

Pfizer sells Cerenia, a drug that prevents motion sickness and vomiting in dogs.

satire sigBut is that so terrible? So what if Pfizer stands to profit more if more dogs are going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, preferably by winding roads?

Lest that make you — like all the cynical news media and bloggers — question Pfizer’s sincerity and compassion, allow me to remind you that Pfizer is the same company that offered this summer to give away more than 70 of its most widely prescribed human drugs, including Lipitor, Zoloft and Viagra, for up to a year to people who have lost jobs since Jan. 1 and have been taking the drug for three months or more.

Of course, there were cynics when they did that, too — those who speculated the company was doing it for a tax write-off, to gain favor in Washington, or to ensure that those who are hooked on Pfizer’s fine products, maintain their, shall we say, allegiance.

While the news media and bloggers are having a field day with what they see as Pfizer’s awkwardly see-through attempt to drum up business, I, for one, salute the drug company –  not just for bringing relief to the estimated one in seven dogs who get carsick, and not just for ensuring that an unemployed man can get, if not a job or health care, at least a boner, but for being able to fool so many of the people so much of the time.

Giving thanks for the animals

We can think of no better way to mark this Thanksgiving than with this piece, written by Alcestis “Cooky” Oberg, a contributor to USA Today who remembers more than a few dogs waiting for scraps under the dinner table…

“Spaniels, shepherds, setters, poodles, ridgebacks, Labradors and whatnots. All these dogs were strays — lost canines who wandered into our lives and nestled into our hearts. We lived together as a multispecies family, enjoying the seasons, the feasts, the joys together. The dogs were there to soothe our sorrows, too, and to ease the passage of time in the lonely moments of the night.

In an op-ed piece, Oberg gives thanks for her animals and their rescuers.

“This Thanksgiving, I will give thanks for my animal companions in life and for the hundreds of organizations and thousands of people who take notice of such creatures throughout the nation — rescuing them, defending them and finding them homes. It is hard and sometimes unpleasant work, and nobody gets rich doing it. But the ultimate test of our humanity is how we treat animals, and these people redeem our species by saving millions of helpless creatures every year.

Oberg writes of adopting her dog Sierra.

My local SPCA’s efforts brought me my dog, Sierra, 13 years ago. My kids urged me to go there after a beloved pet dog died suddenly. I was crying as we walked past the cages — and in the last one stood Sierra. She was a large spayed female Labrador/shepherd mix, about a year old. She wagged her long magnificent tail confidently as soon as I looked at her, and her brown honest eyes spoke to me as if to say, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

And of losing her.

“My old girlfriend Sierra died in her sleep this summer at a very old age — the human equivalent of 105 — with three generations of my family and my large circle of friends mourning the loss of this true and noble soul. We buried her in the shade of the pecan tree she favored, not far from the large sand pile where the children play with toy soldiers and trucks, and beside the path to the barn we walked together twice a day to feed the horses. She will remain in death as ever she was in life — in the heart of my family.

“I’ll especially miss my sweet old beggar with her soulful smoldering eyes beside my chair this Thanksgiving. But I’ll say a prayer of thanks for having known her, for how lucky I was to have found her that cold day at the SPCA 13 years ago.

“She brought us laughter, protection, devotion — and a kind of love that was distilled to a purity that we’ve rarely found in any other aspect of our life journey.

(Photo: A Viszla named Laila — who just so happens to have her own blog — appears thankful for her owner, and vice versa, during a walk in Baltimore’s Riverside Park; by John Woestendiek)

A day to give thanks (for beagles)

The beagle — not the turkey — will be dominating this Thanksgiving Day, at least on NBC.

Uno, the first beagle to win best in show at Westminster, will not only make an appearance on The National Dog Show on NBC, he’ll also be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The National Dog Show, sponsored by the Philadelphia Kennel Club — is actually taped ahead of time. (It was held over the weekend in Reading, Pa.) Hosted by John O’Hurley (who played J. Peterman on “Seinfeld”), the show is presented by Purina .

O’Hurley is joined by dog expert and veteran show announcer David Frei, who’ll also be riding with Uno on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade float. Of course, Uno won’t be the only beagle in the parade. Perennial favorite Snoopy — in the form of a giant balloon — will also be there.

The dog show airs at noon on Thanksgiving, right after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.