Monday, March 29, 2010

City Dogs

A lady stopped us on the street the other day and asked if Stella and I lived in the city. She said she'd seen a lot of dogs out walking on city streets as if Nashville were a pretty dog friendly place to live. I told her that although we technically live in the suburbs (kinda) we liked to go to busier areas of town for practice walking. I'm not sure if she was a dog trainer or just a dog lover but she seemed to approve.

Some of you may have noticed in the Twitter feed that Stella's great benefactor and friend Barney, passed away on Friday. This was sad news and we spent the weekend packing up his things. This summer we plan to have a road trip to his carry his ashes back to his hometown of Baltimore and of course (since Stella's involved) you all are invited to follow along. As many of you know, without Barney's encouragement and support, Stella would possibly be living a different sort of life right now. I don't know how dogs feel when a person, owner or friend goes missing but I'm happy to know that she was able to comfort him in his last days with us.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Here's yet another one of Stella's friends. His name is Blitz and although I'd heard about him for years, we've only recently met. It was obvious from the start that he is definitely a lover of dogs. I'm not sure if he was ever a carny but I suspect he would've fit right in.

I forgot to include a link to in yesterday's post. I saw it on the local news yesterday morning and thought it might be useful to those (in the U.S.) who walk your dogs (or yourselves) regularly. It measures walking distance from your very own address to different places of interest around your neighborhood. This way you can not only get lots of great exercise for you and your dog but also challenge yourself occasionally to go further. It also lists the most walkable cities if you happen to be traveling or thinking of moving to more sustainable digs.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


First, I want to take a minute to welcome the new batch of dog lovers who stopped by here today, thanks to a terrific website called Draw the Dog. There's a talented pair of guys over there who were kind enough to feature Stella on their website this morning (in a wonderful cartoon) that depicts me getting her into the shower. The story that inspired them (Suds Your Duds) has eighteen comments on it now, which is an all time record. From a virtual standpoint, I can't think of a more fun day in recent history.

Second, with regard to today's photo, I'm not sure you can see that tease of a cat (Gigi) looking through the door at us or not but I wish I could get in her head sometimes. For the first six years of her life, she was actually kind of shy and now that we have Stella, she's turned into a completely different cat. It's taken some time but I honestly believe she thinks Stella is her dog, not mine. They're sweet on each other but in a careful - I'll snuggle up against you if you promise not to look at me - sort of way, unless of course there's a door between them, which apparently makes it safe to act like a maniac.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

First day of spring

When Stella went to puppy school she had an autograph book. It was basically to encourage us owners to socialize the dogs. We carried it with us and asked people to pet the dog and sign the book. The dog who got the most autographs, won a tug toy. Stella had seventy-two autographs and a tug toy in her mouth when the book finally fell apart. Now you might say, wow that chick has a lot of time on her hands and in fact, you'd be right but the good thing is that since I work for myself, it gives me lots of opportunities to take her along. I say all that to say this: I've decided to make her another autograph book - only with pictures, which brings us to Walter.

Walter is another one of Stella's regulars. I've known him for about thirteen years and written about him some on my other blog but in a nutshell, he was driving down a country road one night and a skunk changed his life forever. It took years for him to be able to walk again and only then with a stick. For a long time he was able to live alone but people tended to take advantage of his generosity and last year he finally moved into a group home where he mostly studies the Bible and writes poetry. On Friday (the first day of spring) I picked him up and the three of us went over to Shelby Park for a couple of hours. We sat next to the river and got to see the General Jackson drive by which was fun. Stella looked at it like it was the Kraken at first, but she got over it.

By the way, if for some reason she doesn't pass her CGC test and/or the test to become a legitimate therapy dog, we plan to strike out on our own (could you tell?) Thanks for stopping by. Happy spring.

Here's a video of Coney Island troubadour, Amos Wengler singing "Hot Dog Time" at Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest, July 4, 2009 (Chestnut & Kobayashi were the contenders. Chestnut won).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Aqua Girl

(Ed. note: Stella doesn't normally look this persecuted in the bathtub, I think she was a little suspicious of the fact that suddenly a tripod appeared on the bathroom sink. Her humor improved dramatically once the water started flowing.)

Thanks to some of our regular readers, Stella (and I) won some prizes back in February from a company called Kokos Pet Spa. I was pretty excited when the box landed on our front porch and even more so once the contents of the box were spread all over the kitchen. Stella wasn't impressed at all until I pulled out the stuffed boomerang. She gets visibly wound up whenever I get it out now, six weeks later. Her third place win scored us a fifty dollar donation to the animal rescue of our choice. We sent the check to the Cheatham County Animal Awareness Foundation. They're located right across the road from where I used to live in Pegram, Tennessee and I know for a fact, they need as much help as they can get out there.

Koko's also sent us some treats and one of their Pet Vitamin Showers which filters out the chlorine and enriches the water with vitamin C. I can't say enough good things about this apparatus. We live in a city where the water coming out of the tap smells just like bleach. In the past when I've given Stella showers, her skin is flaky in the days following. It goes away pretty quickly but still... She's had two encounters with the Pet Vitamin Shower since it arrived and the flakiness was reduced to zero. In fact, her skin is soft and smooth and (for those aware of how we approach showers here at our house) for that matter, mine is too.

Finally, the list of prizes included a bath towel (ahem). I had no expectations about this offer other than to think it would be something practical to dry off the dog. Turns out it was about seven-and-a-half square feet of plush, hooded, thirsty entertainment. A couple of minutes with this thing and I'll just be honest, I didn't care if the dog got dry or not. Thanks again. We'll think of you all whenever we're out running through the mud, which seems to be a habit.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

No Cover

Yesterday we went over to Cheekwood Botanical Garden to see how the Nashville Lifestyles cover dog search was going. We didn't enter Stella this year mostly because we knew there'd be a hundred and sixty Golden Doodles vying to get the job (see below). I don't know if that's a Poodle, a Golden Doodle, or a Snicker Doodle, but there's no debating it's a gorgeous dog. Anyway, our regular Saturday class was rescheduled yesterday but not for Stella. She got the intensified reality version. We practiced walking calmly past other dogs, greeting friendly strangers, talking to kids, and later on, ignoring skateboards, bicycles and hamburger buns. It was not simple work but we did pretty well overall.

Talk about your major league distractions. Right about the time I was taking this photo, an Irish Wolfhound was reaching in Stella's direction to check her out. His owner didn't let him get close enough to touch but it was enough to make her forget all about that "watch me" business.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Homer & Angel

This is our friend Homer. He lives in the same apartment building where our other friend Barney lives so we get to visit with him pretty often. A couple of years ago Homer was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was forced to have one of his lungs removed and as you might expect, had a tough time living through it all. I got Stella right around the time Homer started to get his groove back and they were friends from the first time they saw each other. He calls her Angel instead of Stella, which I always thought was pretty cool.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


In dog training (of the click and treat variety) there is something called a jackpot. It comes when the dog has performed a series of commands without error. It's like a handful of treats instead of the usual one. Trainer Kat Martin tells a story of a woman who uses Cheese Whiz, sprayed directly into the dog's mouth, as a jackpot during obedience trials. You don't even have to see this happen to know it works.

In the carnival world, a jackpot is a story, usually about something that happened in the past. It's often entertaining and occasionally embellished by the reality of the speaker or the person who told it to them. Cutting up jackpots can amount to a late night history lesson or a load of gossip depending on the source. As far as I know it does not involve Cheeze Whiz or snacks of any kind. Well, occasionally there's beer.

Stella and I went to our fifth week of class on Saturday. There are about three and a half weeks left before the test and we're supposed to be weaning the dogs off the treats altogether at this point. She and I have done this at home but I still carry them to class in an open canteen pouch around my waist. I can't remember what we did exactly but I squatted down to give Stella the jackpot and she rammed her whole head off into the pouch and jackpotted herself. I had to drag her off of me, spilling treats all over the floor which she spontaneously cleaned up. She then did this flamboyant automatic sit and looked at me like: What do you want me to do now? I think my exact words were "Bite me."

As for carnival (style) jackpots, however twisted this may seem, it's the whole truth and illustrates what a bizarre six degrees of separation sort of a life we live over here in south Nashville. A couple of weeks ago I photographed the Ballet Ball, an annual fund raiser for the Nashville Ballet. The honoree this year was National Dance Institute founder Jacques d'Amboise, who began his career as a principal dancer in the New York City Ballet some years ago. Does this have anything at all to do with dogs? No. Is Woody Harrelson wearing a wig in it? No. Does it have something to do with the carnival? Well...if you hold your mouth a certain way and squint with one eye, it kind of does. Mr. d'Amboise played a ballet dancing carny in the movie Carousel (he was also one of the brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) so here, in all of its calliope-driven glory is the Starlight Carnival ballet from Carousel.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Note to self:

Some things to remember about this past weekend

1. First off, let me just say in my defense: it is impossible to pass a dog with a wig in your hand and NOT try the wig on the dog. If one should decide to photograph the dog however, it is imperative that laughter be kept to a minimum. Trust me, there will be plenty of time to laugh later. (same goes for people, btw)

2. One of Stella's best things is walking through a crowd. The Lawn and Garden Show was at the fairgrounds last weekend so we went over and followed the parade of visitors through the parking lots for fun. We also navigated the long lines of people who were waiting to buy tickets. She did great as always and we celebrated our success by running like mad women back behind the race track.

3. On sunny Saturdays, apparently it's fun to go over to (local coffee house) Fido where you can sit outside with your pup and enjoy a coffee. All the tables were taken so we didn't sit but according to the body language of one guy, we'll call him Stinkeye, Pit bull-type dogs (I'm being funny there, I love that expression, what is a "pit bull-type" dog?) may not be all that welcome anyway, so we kept moving. Stella did a little low key rubber-necking and I didn't mind. We probably walked a mile through Hillsboro Village, well past Vanderbilt and back again.

4. Then on to school where she had words with a shepherd mix who got in her personal space. Both dogs and owners recovered nicely.

5. Stella has almost no separation issues. At class we're up to two minutes. Out in the world, we're up to about fifteen minutes. I have more anxiety than she does when we're apart.

6. Beware of strange dogs galloping after you on suburban streets. Later, we went for a walk around the block and a good sized (maybe 75lb.) dog came running out from between two houses. It climbed all over Stella and then went from being over-excited to aggressive in the blink of an eye. It tried to bite her twice. I stepped between them before Stella could react and made the dog's options very clear. It went trotting off. Five houses down, a beautiful little French Bulldog came blasting out of yet another yard. It didn't try to start a fight though (thank God) and its owner retrieved it immediately.

7. If I haven't said it lately, Latina moms are way cool. We got out of the car at the ball park on Sunday and from a distance I noticed a Mexican family moving in our direction. There were two women and five little children of various ages. I moved Stella aside and put her into a sit. I was surprised to see that they didn't plan to go around us, they planned to stop and pet Stella. Naturally, they had a two year old with them who was terrified of dogs and they hoped to use Stella in the same way I hoped to use their other kids. As luck would have it, I had a pocketful of liver treats so it was win-win. We hung out with them for fifteen or twenty minutes and Stella ended up charming the frightened kid and getting more than one belly rub out of the deal. She walked away a different dog. I'm not saying it was permanent but she had a sweet look in her eye that told me she felt really good about it all. We celebrated with a swim in the creek.

Speaking of wigs...

Friday, March 5, 2010

The friendly strangers

Yesterday, the sun finally came out and it was such a relief. After a few quirks in our schedule, I decided to take Stella over to Radnor Lake. Walking there hasn't been a great experience in the past although it's beautiful, there are lots of deer and other critters and I suspect that the smells are overwhelming to a young dog. Stella has a way of forgetting everything she ever knew about manners and walking in general when we go there. It's one of a few situations where I am nothing more to her than an anchor.

Yesterday was a little different, with one exception. We've been working on the portion of the CGC test where we greet a friendly stranger. While we've been doing this unsuccessfully for some time, often our difficulties come when the stranger is too friendly. You wouldn't think that would be a problem but it sends Stella to the moon. I haven't been able to direct this interaction as much as I'd like to since I know these are really nice people who just want to pet the dog. I refuse to start off by lecturing them about their approach. Not only that, I've learned these last months that the world is filled with exuberant baby-talking dog lovers and that's never going to change. People coo at her from open car windows until her butt starts wagging and she just about pees herself. I'm not complaining at all, really - there are worse things.

Anyway, it always seems to end with her trying her best to decorate them with her muddy paw prints. This scene repeated itself yesterday. I said "sit". She ignored me completely. I said "sit" again, she didn't. I showed her a piece of a hot dog I had in my hand and said "sit". Nothing. She just wanted to meet the new person who was busy telling her how beautiful she was. Beyond that one incident, I have to say she was much improved over last time we came here. There were dogs and bicycles and photographers (seemingly) hiding in the woods. The only thing she got locked onto was a family of peacocks and who could blame her for that? I would've taken a photo except that um... I was attached to a big nutball dog.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sling Shot

Sunday morning I woke up and it felt like I'd been picked up and slammed onto the ground. Then I remembered I had been. Someone I was talking to later, asked if I had been given the Marmaduke treatment and that's exactly what it was, except I wasn't actually dragged. If I had witnessed it myself I would still be laughing and telling the story but since I couldn't move my right shoulder that day it wasn't nearly as funny. It happened downtown right before our girl Stella went for her third obedience (CGC) class. I usually try to spend some time burning off that top layer of energy before we go so we went down to the Titan's stadium and walked across the bridge to 2nd Avenue. We cruised the entire street and went up Broadway, back down and back across the bridge. We successfully passed about twelve signboards on the sidewalk. Those things used to make Stella come unglued. These days she doesn't even notice them. Once we got back to the stadium I put Stella on the long leash and after a little practice "staying" I got out the tennis ball. The second or third time I threw it, it actually went much further than I'd anticipated and that's the exact moment I chose to look away. There's a cartoon sound effect for what happened when the leash ran out.

All I heard was the thud and when I sat up Stella was studying me with the ball in her mouth from about sixty five feet away. I opened my arms and thankfully, she came racing back to me. Like a cannon ball.

At school we had one little breakdown in communication (imagine that) but otherwise I'd call it successful so far. I have to find some kids that'll hang out with Stella a little bit. She's still overly excited around them except when we're in a big crowd and it's hard to recruit someone's kids to play with your pit bull when they don't know you or the dog that well. Maybe I'll put an ad on Craigslist. Wanted: small children to play with excitable but friendly dog (I can already hear the editorial comments on that post). I know I'm a little behind on pictures but they're coming.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Devil Woman (kidding)

My living room looks like the dog daycare exploded in it only without all the little tote boxes and the barking. There are leashes, umbrellas and plastic bags, boots, hats, scarves, gloves, towels, tug toys, clickers and all manner of canine bullshit scattered all over the room. You'd think I had three or four dogs. I've only just begun to appreciate the idea of a coat rack but unfortunately there's no place to put one.

Since I'm on the topic of paraphernalia, here is my question for all you dog trainer types out there: Where do you keep your third hand anyway? I mean, I have the leash; I have the clicker and the treat and maybe even an umbrella. At some point, I end up with a big bag of dog poop which I carry along like it's my party favor. If someone honks or says hello, invariably that's the hand I (accidentally) wave with - the one with the loaded bag. I have to steer the dog and keep her focused. I have to watch where we're going and maneuver us past racing, yes I said racing, school buses and FedEx trucks. Let's don't forget that I must also stay relaxed and meditative about the whole thing lest she parlay that teenage nutty streak of hers into a game of "You can't catch me even on a four foot leash." Constantly, I hear people say the dog knows what I'm thinking. I don't mean to contradict this very popular canine (psychic) theory but if the dog knew what I was thinking, there would be no reason for her to lunge at a little kid on a bicycle more than one time. "Jeez, mom's actually thinking about murdering me - maybe I better behave myself."

Check out this (sweet) Pedigree video at Terrierman's Daily Dose

Walking the Walk

Last Friday, Stella and I went walking at a cemetery near the house. We go pretty often because it's close to home and there's a place in the back corner where the fence runs out where you can slide down a retaining wall and end up in the parking lot of PetSmart. It's kind of like dog walking Nirvana. We don't usually buy much when we're there but we do cruise all the aisles and publicly curse the fact that there's never so much as a single piece of dog food on the floor. That day, just by chance I bought some dehydrated beef liver (for class on Saturday, she's doing really well at home and pretty well at class).

We get back to the cemetery and I put Stella on the long leash so we could play ball in a little empty space at the back. We try to be dignified at the cemetery so as not to fire up any grieving family members. Not long after that I hear a dog barking. In the distance I saw what looked to be a good sized dog challenging us from a distance amid the flower arrangements. That's odd I thought. I'd never seen a dog loose in the cemetery before. I wondered if it was lost or just visiting. Then something very strange happened. The one barking dog turned into five dogs. Biggie-sized. All of them scattered about in the corner, all now standing watching us; ready to protect their turf. The first thing I did was open the bag of liver. Unfortunately the camera was at home. I can only describe it as something that might have been in a Stephen King movie.

Stella saw them but didn't seem terribly excited. Once I got her safely in the car I went over and told some gravediggers about the dogs. They looked at me with the same level of enthusiasm that every gravedigger I ever met seems to have. On the way out we drove past the dogs one more time just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating and check them out up close. Again, they all stood up on cue and the five of them got her attention this time.
The above shot is from a different walk in that same cemetery. It's the grave site of Marty Robbins and his wife. Stella and I hunted for it off and on for five months before I finally walked into the office and asked them where it was. The young man I asked - had never heard of Marty Robbins and seeing as I didn't know his real name is Martin Robinson, they had to do a little hunting too. We finally found it but not before Stella launched off barking at a concrete Jesus.