Doggie Bag

It’s becoming more and more common to see dogs in airports–so much so that it’s almost rare to have a flight without at least one canine companion on board. It therefore makes sense that luggage manufacturers, pet supply companies, and creative inventors would be developing new products to help dog lovers manage and transport their four-legged pals in airport surroundings.

This contraption, seen yesterday afternoon at John Glenn International, is one example of what innovation has produced. The pooch’s body was zipped securely into the little bag, like a child snugly tucked into bed beneath a blanket, but its head was out in the open. The bag rolled along, like a standard roller board piece of luggage, so the dog got a fun ride and could check out its surroundings, and the device was sufficiently lightweight that when the dog and the lady reached an escalator, she could use the straps on the side to lift and carry the dog on the downward ride.

This product seemed to have a lot of advantages over the mesh holding pens that you often see on planes; it wouldn’t have the cage-like feel that some dogs object to, and the rollers made it as easy to maneuver down the concourse as any piece of luggage. For the other passengers like us, keeping the dog secured in the bag was better than letting the pooch trot loose alongside the owner, giving rise to the risks of inevitable nervous dog accidents or some of the dicey dog versus dog encounters we’ve seen recently.

Our society is still working out the parameters of acceptable approaches to dogs in airports. This device, which obviously is designed for smaller animals, seemed like a good way of accommodating the varying interests of the dog, its human companion, and other airport users who might be leery of an up close and personal interaction with a strange dog.

Cats On A Plane

My flight this morning featured multiple dogs and cats, including this furry feline on the aisle seat in my row. The cat, which apparently as been dosed with “kitty relaxant” for the flight, did not misbehave or make much noise, either. but that wasn’t the issue.

I’m fine with animals on planes, within reason, but given how increasingly common they are I think airlines should change their procedures to account for the fact that some of us (like me) are allergic to cat fur. Why not add some questions to the ticketing process about (1) whether a traveler will be accompanied by a cat or dog and (2) whether a traveler is allergic to cats or dogs or would otherwise prefer not to sit next to one? And then, based on the answers, separate those people? Should there even be an “animal section,” like there were smoking sections on planes years ago, to accommodate people traveling with pets?

Airlines collect a lot of information about passengers already. It’s ridiculous that they don’t know in advance who is traveling with a pet, and who might be launched into a drippy, sneezy, coughing frenzy if they are seated next to one. It would be a lot more comfortable for everyone and seems like a common sense way to address the matter.

The World’s Oldest Dog

Happy belated birthday to TobyKeith, a chihuahua who lives in Florida. The pooch turned 21 on January 9 and was recently confirmed to be the oldest dog in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.

21 is remarkably old for a dog–even small breed dogs, which tend to live longer than the larger breeds. If you are trying to figure out what TobyKeith would be in “human years,” note that the American Veterinary Medical Association urges an analysis that is more precise than the old “7 dog years for every human year” rule of thumb (which would put TobyKeith at a mere 147 in human years). The AVMA now takes the position that a dog’s first year equals 15 human years, a dog’s second year equals nine human years, and every year after that equals five human years. By that calculation, TobyKeith comes in at 119 human years. Either way, TobyKeith has reached a ripe old age.

TobyKeith’s human pal, Gisela Shore, adopted him from a shelter when he was a puppy and has lived with him ever since. She’s a lucky person. Anyone who has shared a home with a dog inevitably wishes their canine friends could have a lived, and enriched the household, for a little bit longer. Having a dog that has survived for the age of 21 is a great gift.

Ms. Shore says TobyKeith’s awesome longevity is attributable to good genetics, a healthy diet, and a loving home. That’s a pretty good recipe for longevity for anyone, dog or human. And, as the photo above reveals, apparently being dressed in embarrassing outfits isn’t a barrier to a long life–although, judging from the expression on TobyKeith’s face, he doesn’t particularly care for it.

Bad Dogs, or Bad Owners?

Anyone who has a dog in the family knows that they are uniquely sensitive to their human companions. It’s a trait that has been developed over thousands of years of serving as “man’s best friend.” So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that when dogs misbehave, the root cause may lie, at least in part, in the behavior of their human friends.

A recent study of thousands of dogs in Finland uncovered clear statistical connections between “bad dog” behavior and certain elements of the dog’s home life. The study found that canine misconduct like obsessive chewing, compulsive barking or whining, and pacing are all associated to some extent with the dog’s owner and environment. First-time dog owners are 58 percent more likely than experienced owners to have dogs that act out in such ways, and factors that contribute to dog stress–like not getting enough exercise, or being part of a large family where there is a lot going on at all times–also are associated with such unwanted repetitive behaviors. In addition, the study found that certain dog breeds are more prone to such conduct than others.

None of this should come as a surprise. Part of the reason first-time dog owners often struggle is that they don’t fully understand what having a dog in the family really requires–in terms of attention, exercise, and other time commitments. Dogs that aren’t getting the love and attention and play and walks they need are more likely to act out in a way that demands attention, by barking at every noise or chewing shoes or some other misbehavior. When the owner reacts to the barking or chewing, and gives the dog attention or takes it for a walk, the dog realizes their technique worked, and the behavior becomes engrained.

Dogs and humans have a symbiotic relationship, where one affects the conduct and mood of the other. Good dogs have good owners who make sure that their furry friends get plenty of exercise, love, and attention, and the dog’s behavior reflects that. People whose dogs are acting out should take a look in the mirror and think about whether their actions aren’t contributing to the problem. Barbara Woodhouse famously wrote about “no bad dogs,” but that doesn’t mean there are no bad dog owners.

A Deer’s-Eye View

Betty and I took a walk around the river in downtown Columbus this morning, which gave her a chance to hang with a deer friend (get it?) on the stepped seating area in front of COSI. She and her antlered pal got to take in a nifty view of the skyline.

The seated deer sculpture is one of several deer sculptures in the riverfront area, all of which are doing very undeerlike things. I think they are pretty cool.

Alternative Christmas Trees

It’s been years–decades, in fact–since we’ve had a Christmas tree in our house. With dogs drinking the tree water and knocking over the tree time and again, requiring us to repeatedly clean up broken ornament shards and pine needles, we just decided it was too much of a hassle. But maybe we weren’t looking at the issue with sufficient . . . creativity.

In San Antonio, where Whataburger is the favored local fast food option, one guy ate nothing but Whataburger food for weeks to obtain the cups, stryrofoam containers, fast food wrappers, and french fry boxes needed to turn his little tree into the colorful Whataburger celebration shown above. That’s the Whataburger logo in the top of tree star position, too.

The guy says he could eat (and sometimes does eat) Whataburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which you would need to do to collect all of the different tree decorations shown in the photo. The linked article quotes him as saying: “I mean, you can just never go wrong with Whataburger.” And what’s really impressive is that the boxes and containers don’t appear to be grease-stained. He evidently washed out and dried all of the debris to avoid attracting bugs and other vermin.

I’m guessing the Whataburger fan doesn’t have dogs, though. Even a good washing and drying wouldn’t keep our dogs from nosing through and probably destroying fast food boxes and bags.

Into Enemy Territory

German Village is one huge squirrel district, but Schiller Park is ground zero. There the trees and lawns are replete with those cute little rats with bushy tails, ever tantalizing to the dogs being walked around and through the park.

It’s interesting to watch Betty’s reaction to the park. Normally, she is a somewhat desultory fellow walker, taking a sniff here and there as we amble along. But as we approach and then enter the Schiller Park grounds, Betty’s whole attitude changes. Her posture stiffens, she goes nose to the ground for any olfactory clues, she scans the area with laser-like focus, and she is ever ready to charge after any squirrel in the vicinity. Nothing escapes her gaze. It’s as if every sensory organ has been switched on and dialed up and is vibrating to its maximum possible level.

Dogs like Betty in a squirrel-heavy area define the meaning of “alertness.”

Zigzagging To Work

The lobster boat workers of Stonington are early birds. They awaken at the crack of dawn, don their waterproof work clothes, pull on knee-high rubber boots, grab their lunch pails, and head to the water in their pickup trucks while the rest of the world is still abed. Those who anchor their boats off the Stonington town pier then walk down an aluminum ramp to a floating dock that zigzags out into the water. There they board the outboard craft that shuttle them to the larger, sturdier lobster boats in the harbor that chug out to the open water where the buoys and traps may be found. The Stonington floating dock employs a zigzag construction to conform to the available space while accommodating the maximum number of motorboats.

Usually this process is long completed by the time I walk by just after 6 a.m. and the floating dock is empty. Yesterday, though, a few lobstermen were just departing—with the help of their faithful dog.

Incidentally, it’s not unusual to see dogs on the motorboats, usually seated upright at the bow while their human companion operates the outboard. If you’re a dog, it’s got to beat hanging your head out of the passenger-side window of the car.

Major’s Minor Incident

Poor Major Biden.

The three-year-old German Shepherd has been sent from the White House back to the Bidens’ home in Wilmington, Delaware after a recent incident where the dog bit the hand of a Secret Service agent. The Secret Service said the injury was “extremely minor” and “no skin was broken.” However, some anonymous White House sources — there apparently are anonymous White House sources about everything, even dogs — said that Major also has been having issues with aggressive behavior, including jumping up on people, barking, and charging at White House staff and security. In a recent interview the First Lady said she has been focused on trying to get Major and the Bidens’ other dog, 13-year-old Champ, settled since the Bidens moved into the White House. She noted, for example, that the dogs have to take an elevator and have a lot of people watching them when they go out on the White House South Lawn for exercise.

I feel sorry for Major and other White House dogs, because the White House has got to be a tough environment for a dog. There are strangers coming in and out at all hours, and lots of people feeling stress and pressure–including, at times, the President and First Lady. Dogs are sensitive beings, and I’m sure Major feels the increased stress levels and is unsettled by all of the new faces. At the same time, if Major is nipping, jumping up, barking, and charging people, that poses a tough predicament for the Bidens, because dog misbehavior can escalate. You’d like to have your dog around, as one of the members of the family, but you can’t run the risk of the dog jumping up on a foreign dignitary or a member of Congress or the Cabinet, or really biting someone and doing some damage. And if the dog is barking and charging people, that’s got to be really tough for White House staffers, who can’t be sure whether Major is going to be a good boy or a growling threat the next time they see him in one of the White House hallways or the Oval Office.

Sending Major back to Delaware seems like a sensible approach to the problem and a good way to keep Major’s minor incident from becoming a real major problem.

The Champion Squirrel Chaser

I’ve written before about the dogs and squirrels at Schiller Park. The neighborhood dogs love to chase the squirrels, and the squirrels seem to enjoy taunting the dogs, which are never quite able to actually catch the squirrels.

With one notable exception: the little white dog above. This dog is the champion squirrel chaser at Schiller Park. She was made to chase squirrels in the same way Lamborghinis are designed to go from zero to 60 m.p.h. in ridiculously short amounts of time. The dog runs like the wind and takes corners and changes direction at top speed — tail wagging furiously all the while. The dog has energy to burn and never stops to take a breather. Squirrels expect the little white dog to be as slow and clumsy as other dogs, and are then surprised when she actually catches them and knocks them down. I’ve watched her send an astonished squirrel tumbling, and it is a sight to behold. (Fortunately, the squirrel was able to immediately regain its feet and dart up a nearby tree.)

Today the dog was at the park and I snapped the photo above — which is about the best picture you’re going to get, because the dog is basically a white furry blur at all times. I talked to her owner and asked if she could share what the dog eats, because I’d consider changing my diet to capture some of the never-ending energy that dog has. The woman laughed and said that the dog just loves to run and chase squirrels. “It’s her nature,” the woman explained.

It certainly is. Watching this little dog chase squirrels would be like watching Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or watching Ernest Hemingway write The Sun Also Rises. You can’t help but stop and appreciate an artist working in her true medium.

Dog Yawns

If you’ve been around dogs much, you know that they tend to yawn. In fact, they yawn a lot. Russell’s dog Betty, for example, is a ferocious yawner, with the all-out yawn frequently followed by a full-bodied stretch.

Why do dogs yawn — and for that matter, why do humans yawn? Just about every species yawns, and scientists don’t know exactly why. Yawns clearly happen in response to periods of boredom or fatigue, but they don’t seem to help resolve those conditions by, for example, energizing the yawner and equipping him or her to withstand more of a droning meeting. So why yawn in the first place? Yawns also can occur during times of stress or social conflict — for both humans and dogs. And once a yawn begins, you just can’t stop it, no matter how embarrassing yawning at that particular moment might be.

Once of the more interesting things about yawns is that, in certain species like humans and chimpanzees, yawns are contagious. A good yawn from someone in a room can set off a chain reaction of yawning, and people who are empathetic are most likely to yawn in response to the yawn of another. But research also indicates that a good yawn from a dog’s human friend can provoke a yawn in the dog. In short, contagious yawns happen between two distinct species. Scientists believe that this is another indication of the incredibly close emotional connection between people and dogs.

They don’t call dogs “man’s best friend” for nothing. So the next time you transmit a good yawn to your dog, enjoy that empathetic moment — and then take her for a walk, will you?

The Window Watcher

Russell’s dog Betty is staying with us for a few days. Betty is a happy, well-behaved dog whose needs are few. Give her food, a place in the sunshine to nap, a walk now and then, and occasional exposure to squirrels, and she is a happy camper.

But Betty is also a window dog. She’s drawn to them, like iron filings to a magnet, just to check out what’s going on in the world outside our house. One of her favorite spots to alight is our bed, so she can look outside the two windows shown above. I’ve always thought that there’s really not much of interest to see from those particular windows, which look out onto the street, the buildings across the street, and the sky beyond, but Betty obviously disagrees. Maybe she’s hoping a squirrel scampers by on one of the overhead wires, or maybe she likes seeing the clouds drift by on their journey to the east. (It’s also possible, of course, that she likes the spot because it combines soft surfaces and sunshine in the morning hours.)

When I find Betty in this spot, I usually take a look out the windows, to make sure I am not missing something. It’s another reminder that dogs and humans see the world a bit differently.

Sign Of A Dog

We haven’t had a dog in the house for several years now, although we’ve provided dog-sitting services by taking care of Betty from time to time. So when we found this chew toy left behind by Richard and Julianne’s dog Pretty, from their visit over the summer, it brought back memories of the chew toys, squeak toys, jingle balls, bones, rawhide ropes, rubber rings, and other dog paraphernalia that Dusty, Penny, and Kasey enjoyed in years past. They all had their favorites, and would contentedly spend hours munching and squeaking and jingling away. Part of dog ownership was finding the toys in various locations and returning them to the dog bed.

Pretty evidently has given this little green frog a good workout, since it’s missing one of its legs and looks like it has been chewed out of round. Still, Mr. Frog maintains his brave smile. We’ll be sending him back down to Austin to rejoin Pretty, who no doubt will be very pleased to give Mr. Frog some more good chewing.

The Squirrel Game

Yesterday morning I took a double lap around Schiller Park.  It was a bright, sunny morning, and lots of neighborhood dogs had brought their human pals to the park for a romp through the bright green grass.  Many of the dogs were off the leash.  That meant I got to watch some of the Squirrel Game.

For those not familiar with it, the Squirrel Game is played at Schiller Park on any sunny day.  The contestants are dogs and squirrels.  The squirrels venture out onto the grass.  The dogs see the squirrels and then take off in hopes of actually catching one of the furry critters.  The squirrels see the dogs coming and easily make it back to the safety of the trees, sit on a tree branch, and then taunt the dogs with a death stare like you might see in the NBA after one player posterizes another with a particularly nasty dunk.  

I would be willing to bet that, in the  storied history of Schiller Park, no dog has ever actually caught a healthy adult squirrel.  Nevertheless, their DNA compels the canines to keep trying, not matter what — which makes the Squirrel Game pretty entertaining to watch.  In fact, with people suffering from severe sports deprivation these days, what if there were a live broadcast of the Squirrel Game to help fans try to scratch that sports itch?

Play-by-play announcer:  Welcome to Schiller Park in Columbus, Ohio, for week three of the Squirrel Game!  It’s a beautiful day for squirrel chasing, and we’ve got a full slate of contestants ready to engage in a fruitless interspecies exercise.  Jim, do you think that this just might be the week where a dog actually catches a squirrel?

Color guy:  Not a chance, Frank!  But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a bunch of representatives of man’s best friend who don’t believe that this will definitely be the day when they actually catch a squirrel, and they are willing to run themselves into panting exhaustion in hopes that their dreams will be realized.

Play-by-play announcer:  Well, hope springs eternal!  And we’ve got our first contestants ready to go.  Bosco and Skippy have moved away from their tree out onto the grass, and Missy, an overly groomed Shih Tzu wearing an embarrassing pink bow in her fur, has just been let off the leash by her human.

Color guy:  Our audience will remember Bosco, of course.  Like every squirrel in the park, he’s never been caught or even put into remote physical peril by the neighborhood dogs, but Bosco is a crowd favorite because of his exceptional taunting moves.  He’s been training Skippy, so we’ll get a chance to see how that is going.

Play-by-play announcer:  The squirrels have moved pretty far away from their tree to give Missy extra hope.  Bosco has dug up some kind of nut and is munching away on it, while Skippy is twitching her tail, hoping to attract Missy’s attention.  That’s one of Bosco’s patented moves, and it looks like Skippy has mastered it.  Wait a minute — I think Missy has seen them!  Yes, and she’s taken off!  Here we go!

Color guy:  Really bad form by Missy, Frank!  She’s started running much too early, and she’s not very fast, anyway.  You’d think dogs would have learned by now that if you really want to catch a squirrel, you need to sneak up on them.

Play-by-play announcer:  Well, they are dogs, Jim.

Color guy:  Yes, they are, which is why they never have a chance but still happily try.  Bosco and Skippy have noticed Missy heading their way, and Bosco is calmly taking a few extra nibbles on that nut and waiting until the last minute, giving Missy even more hope that this might actually be the day that she catches a squirrel.  And Missy has taken the bait, and is running at top speed.  Look at that pink ribbon fly!

Play-by-play announcer:  That’s why Bosco is one of the true all-stars.  He always gives the dogs hope before crushing their expectations like a discarded soda can.

Color guy:  You’re right of course, Frank!  And now Bosco and Skippy are engaging in some very nifty broken-field running to get back to their tree.  Some great moves from the savvy veteran and the rookie there!

Play-by-play announcer:  They’ve easily made it to the tree, leaving Missy back in the dust.  And now Missy has finally reached the tree trunk and is yapping and acting like she’s protected the human world from the scourge of the squirrel menace.

Color guy:  You’ve got to give Missy credit for trying to put a happy face on a pretty dismal effort, Frank!  She didn’t even come close, not by a long shot, but her posturing and irritating yapping shows she’s a real pro.  

Play-by-play announcer:  Bosco has caught Missy’s attention again, and is giving her that famous Bosco stare.  Jim, I’ve seen it countless times, and it still gives me chills.  And wait, Skippy is joining in!  A double stare!  And now Bosco is going back to munching on that nut, showing Missy and our viewing audience that he is totally undisturbed by the entire episode.  You’ve got to give him credit for showmanship!

Color guy:  Of course, Missy doesn’t realize she’s been dissed.  Being a dog, she’s pretty much oblivious to everything except the chase.  And now she’s trotting back to her human with a very self-satisfied air, having seemingly forgotten Bosco, Skippy and the entire embarrassing episode.

Play-by-play announcer:  Time for a commercial break.  When we return, we’ll be seeing Shultzie, a morbidly obese dachshund, try to catch Tinkles, a fan favorite with a white streak in her tail.

Color guy:  Ha ha!  I love to watch fat dachshunds try to run.  Don’t miss it, folks!