Sunday, February 28, 2010

Remembrance of dogs past

There's a sweet op-ed piece acknowledging the pain of losing a pup and the connection between the new dog and the old in the Boston Globe today ("The Secret Messages on the Dog Bed" by Elissa Ely).

Having never lived in a home (my manners were atrocious, unless you think that standing on tables and knocking lamps over is OK—what did I know?) before I settled in here in ol' Swellesley, I gave Sparky some space. First I slept in my crate. Then I graduated to the guest room. Now, I start off in the guest room, or my crate if I'm scared, then around midnight head to Sparky's old chair in my folks' room.

Let's face it: I'm really too big to fit in there properly, although it's amazing how tiny I can make myself. But Sparky liked it, and my folks are used to having a dog there. It's cozy, worn, and I can check on my parents. As for secret messages, I think it's more like telepathy. We couldn't be more different, but we have lots in common.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

This hound's from the pound

Fave new read: Dogs by Emily Gravett. Found it yesterday at Wellesley Booksmith where I snagged three treats. Clearly, Barry was not on duty to limit my consumption.
    At first glance the cover pup looks like a basset hound, and I jealously thought, what is it with the fascination with these ill-proportioned hot dogs? Any time a hound is suggested in a children’s book, it’s always a basset. (see, for example, The Hound from the Pound; Lunchbox and the Aliens, and a  forthcoming Clive Cussler story that I’ll pass on. Sleep, Little One Sleep by Marion Dane Bauer, unfortunately out of print, has the cutest cover painting of a basset ever.)
    So groan, groan, even though one of my favorite pals, Padi, is an honorable member of the breed. Her mom is children’s author Barbara Barbieri McGrath, famous for her M&M-brand counting books. My mom’s non-candy favorite is The Little Green Witch, based on ye olde tale of the little red hen. Mom identifies a little too closely with that one. (BTW, tried snagging an M&M’s laced cookie last night—not bad, except that it was followed by Mom’s fingers down my throat.)
    Everyone says that Padi and I look alike, and we do—except that my legs are about two feet longer than hers. She’s a good sport, even dressing up like an actual hot dog on Halloween and baying at her parents' display of a big stuffed basset stuck in an enormous web that would intimidate even hard-working Charlotte. Check out Padi's pix on Barbara's home page.
    Anyway,  I noticed there was something very feathery about the cover dog’s ears, so I opened up the wraparound cover to learn this hound is an amalgam of sorts—not at all a purebred, but that’s OK. A basset is depicted inside, and so is a very nice-looking Dalmatian—tail a bit too long in the leaping scene, but great Sparkyish spots—and, wonder of wonders, an actual foxhound! Not truly wondrous, because Emily Gravett lives in England, where there are tons of my shorter-legged and –eared brethren. Also, she knows her foxhounds: I’m on the page of dogs that don’t bark.
    So there.
    Checking out the inside of the UK edition on, I noticed that the language of one spread was changed for the U.S. market from “stroppy” (scary bulldog) and “soppy” (puffball). Good move. Good book!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Unplugging: it's healthy!

Ever want your folks to stop working on the computer? Sparky had a great technique: first, he'd stick his nose under the keyboardists' right arm, giving it a gentle upwards bump. He'd leave it alone for a few minutes, then come back and re-bump, this time a little more forcefully. Then, when he was thoroughly annoyed and past ready to go for a walk, he'd bonk the arm so hard it would fly off the keyboard, and continue this behavior until the typist relented out of the sheer impossibility of doing any more work, got out the leash and went for a good long walk.

This gentle yet effective escalation is too subtle for me, the redneck hound. Here's my technique: without any warning at all, I spring from the doorway and launch myself, missile-like, at the typist. Sometimes this results in the typist and chair being knocked over. It sometimes results in bruises on said beloved typist. It always, however, results in me going for a walk. Of course, not if it's raining. But that's my call, too.

It's a bit like my sister's technique of screaming, "Mommy, stop working!" while Mom, on the phone, was trying to work from home. Brutal, yet so effective.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The nose-bump: a sign of affection

Nose-bumped my sister awake this a.m. to welcome her home. She didn't mind, having missed me terribly during her college sojourn. Wonder if admissions would consider my application? Then again, I'm probably overqualified, being so scholarly.

The nose-bump, in case, Dear Reader, you are not familiar with this move, is a form of greeting that is at once enthusiastic, loving, and, shall we say, in your face. It works like this: home in on your beloved's face from a distance of about two feet, quickly, steadily and without any loss of momentum, until you bonk it directly nose-to-nose, leaving the bestowed-upon bumper slightly dazed, face moist, and unbearably happy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blue skies, baying, and bluebirds

Felt slightly Thoreauvian this a.m. during my constitutional around Lake Waban. The chickadees were cee-dee-deeing and fee-baying, the cardinals were whistling and adding a red jolt of color to match the fire hydrants on the Wellesley campus. The pond, snowy, is beginning to open up on the edges, yet the ice fisherman persist. The part that reminded me of Thoreau was the rumble of the train in the near distance, much like the train that disturbed Henry at Walden Pond. It all was lovely.

So I went home and consulted his journal for Feb. 20, 1859: "It is a warm west wind and a remarkably soft sky, like plush; perhaps a lingering moisture there. What a reve[la]tion the blue and the bright tints in the west again, after the storm and darkness! It is the opening of the windows of heaven after the flood." Later, Henry reports that a boy in Concord saw a bluebird on this day, 150 years ago.

Even better, on Jan. 20, 1855, Henry writes of something even more lovely:
"Very musical and even sweet now, like a horn, is the hounding of a foxhound heard now in some distant wood, while I stand listening in some far solitary and silent field." Music to my ears, too, Henry!

Definition of handsome

I don’t really need spectacles to look professorial. When I first moved to Wellesley, and was duly shown off to everyone, one of Mom’s colleagues said I looked just like Dad.

Dad should have been flattered, especially as he has compared himself to Tramp, the good-hearted scamp, and Mom to Lady, the refined purebred, in that famous Disney pic. Someone had given my sister the movie-based book when she was a baby and my family read it over, and over, and over. That spaghetti scene sure was a winner. “He wasn’t really handsome….but she loved him just the same.” Dad was being humble. I, like Dad, am plenty handsome.

Anyway, apparently I not only look the part of an educator, but actually am considered one. The difference between obstinate and stubborn? Someone in the Philippines searched, and presumably found out, from this blog. Try Googling, and I’m the first result, the go-to guy for definitions, at least the trickier ones.

Just a few examples of the answers people seek that lead them to land on my blog:

Difference between obstinate and obdurate? Difference between obstinate and stubborn? Substantive vs. substantial? Apparently, being both substantive and substantial, I’m the hound to ask.

Origin of obstinate? (via Starke, Fla., and Dallas, TX—do they know each other?) Example of things that are obstinate? (bet Milwaukee, WI learned that definition well) English word for “moi au contraire”? (Bridgeton, Saint Michael, which is in Barbados!)

One attention-getting visitor locale was Wasilla, Alaska—yes, that Wasilla. Not sure how that reader came to Dreams du Dog.  Perhaps she was looking to me to define “book censorship?”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Phobias: handicap or sign of genius?

A fascinating New Yorker piece by Susan Orlean ("Riding High," Feb. 15, 2010) on mules in the military tells the tale of 12 mules who were the subject of an experiment: put parachutes on them, push them out of a plane, and see whether they can safely land and deliver whatever is needed in the battlefield.

After the first six were duly pushed out, and did not survive, the next six simply refused to go. Stubborn, or smart?

“It is a characteristic of the breed to have an inviolable commitment to self-preservation, which is often misinterpreted as stubbornness,” writes Orlean.

I say phobias clearly are a sign of genius. Partly because I have so many and as faithful readers of my blog know, not only am I extremely handsome but also highly intelligent.

Below I delineate my phobias. You be the judge as to whether they signify genius, or at least, a refined sensibility that clearly is connected to self-preservation.

Phobia #1: Loud noises. At the sound of thunder, I hide. At the sound of firecrackers, I run. A hunter I once met said that I was probably exposed incorrectly to the sound of gunfire. Clearly, genius.

Phobia #2: Strange conveyances. When my family came to pick me up at the shelter, I wouldn’t get in the car. As part of the adoption contract, I had to be seen by a vet within 10 days. Mom went nuts trying to meet that deadline—not in making the appointment, but in convincing me that the car was not a hound-eating beast. In fact, Mom’s friend had to TiVo the Dog Whisperer episode on this very topic and Mom watched it over and over until she knew what to do. And it took every one of those 10 days for me to submit.

Now that I love the car, they try that old trick of saying C-A-R. What do they think, I can’t spell?

Never get into strange cars. Smart, no?

Phobia #3: Strange thresholds. I had never been in a house before, so what did I know about going in and going out? How did I know that there would be lots of beds and food and white couches to happily dirty? I learned quickly, though I made them wait for it by performing the Plop O'Doom reliably, and infuriatingly.
See number 2.

Phobia #4. Temperature below 32 degrees Farenheit. No need for an outdoor thermometer! I just stick out my neck, staying well within the door frame. Anything below freezing is just too darn cold. Absolutely brilliant.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Best of breed? Westminster and me

Did you catch the American Foxhound results from the Westminster Dog Show? I have to say, all of my relatives looked pretty good. Markings aren't part of the judging, but we all know mine are very special.

All of the contestants were considerably more svelte than I, if not quite as handsome.
You can catch the video here, as well as see the photo of Fame and Fortune, the best of breed winner. Alas, because of my altered state, I am prohibited from competing in such shows. Were I not, we all know who would come out victorious.

Best of Dalmatians results are here, and while there are some good-looking pups, they're no match for Sparky.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Doggie Blues

"Yesterday's kisses are still on my lips..." Feeling a bit Billie Holliday-bluesy lately, with my mom and sister spending February vacation doing some college tours. Why they ever would want to leave home, I just can't understand.

Talked to them a couple of nights ago and gave them kisses through the phone. I'd been watching out the window for hours, waiting for them, Hachiko-style, when Dad finally suggested we call. It was, after all, Valentine's Day.

(Remember Hachiko, the dog in Japan who faithfully waited for his professor to come home each evening on the train? The movie, with Richard Gere, had a limited release in December;  I would rather read the book: either Pamela S. Turner's picture book Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog, or Leslea Newman's Hachiko Waits.) Anyway, I'm sure they'll be home soon and I will not have to suffer that fate.

The visits led Mom to reminisce about her days at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. Specifically, she recalled that her major had its own, very handsome, brick building (of course, being in Williamsburg) which was named, presciently enough, Tucker Hall!

My sister told me that she said hello to the Marquis de Lafayette while she trekked through Lafayette College's campus. The Marquis, you remember, is practically my great-great-great etc. etc. etc. grandfather, along with ol' George Washington, who had the smarts to breed the Marquis' gift of hounds with his own dogs, producing, voila, moi! Brilliant man.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dickens, dogs, and moi (of course!)

In advance of the Westminster Dog Show beginning on Feb. 15,  which I am unable to attend, Bonhams New York auction house is celebrating the art of the dog. Specifically, we should say, celebrating the art of the foxhound, because its featured painting depicts, naturally, a whole pack of my kin and is expected to bring as much as 700K. A previously auctioned foxhound painting, also by British artist John Emms, set a world record price of $842,500.

Browsing the online catalogue, Mom liked: the Edwardian silver inkwell with its dog figure, inscribed "Joe"(she likes the juxtaposition of the elegant with the ordinary); more Emms foxhound paintings, these much more affordable, but still out of reach. Oddly enough, not a Dalmatian portrayed in any of the lots.

Intriguingly, a 23-inch-long leather and brass collar belonging to the dog of Charles Dickens, inscribed with the author’s name (Mom’s favorite) and address at Gad’s Hill Place, Higham, is up for auction.

    “The large dogs at Gad’s Hill were quite a feature of the place, and were also rather a subject of dread to many outsiders…And the dogs, though as gentle as possible to their own people, knew that they were the guardians of the place, and were terribly fierce to all intruders. Linda, a St. Bernard, and a beautiful specimen of that breed, … and Turk—a mastiff—were the constant companions in all their master’s walks.” We won’t mention the Pomeranian, Mrs. Bouncer, of whom Dickens was unaccountably fond. (“Charles Dickens at Home,” The New York Times, April 6, 1884)

This is the 28th year of the Bonhams event, simply called The Dog Sale, and it starts Feb. 16. It also includes a fundraiser for the AKC’s humane fund.

After viewing the Emms works and the Norfolk hunt video, Mom wondered if I would prefer living en masse with a pack. Then she noticed me cuddled in my new faux shearling blanket. Barn life? No thanks.

Speaking of Westminster, very few hounds have historically been honored as Best in Show, only an afghan and a whippet, besides the recent beagle Uno. Of course, were I eligible…

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Foxhounds aplenty!

My friend Lucy's parents, Pete and Kate, made a fun video of their early morning walk with the Norfolk Hunt foxhounds. You can see it here on Boston's WCVB's uLocal page. I'd like to get to know those hounds, and find out exactly how it is that they all decide to jump into the trailer at the same time, rather than meander around.

Pete and Kate are great neighbors who are good to dogs, horses and people. They had a wonderful pup, Briggs, who conversed in French and was friends with Sparky.  Lucy and I just speak regular dog and get along fine.

I did notice that one of those hounds was handsome, almost as handsome as me, but not quite.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The most famous dog in ... Wellesley? Natick? The world?

So, check it out! None other than moi is Wellesley Booksmith's Dog of the Week—I'm pretty impressed with myself! (Dad's response: "Of the week—that's it?")

The store has a great email newsletter that gives you all of the insider info about great reads and events, as well as a Cosmo-like canine feature. So for the Feb. 3 issue and the foreseeable future, I'm your guy!

I have to admit, Dog of the Decade would be more impressive, but in preparation for my upcoming visit to Oprah's show—you know she had to book me before the whole deal closes—I've taken the Aesop's fable to heart. Remember the greedy pup who wanted both his bone and the one reflected in the water? As he grabbed the second bone, the one in his mouth dropped into the drink.

As my grandpa always used to say, "Don't kick a gift horse in the teeth."

I'm actually very, very thrilled to be selected for such an honor and I am grateful that the terrific Booksmith crew even allows me in their store! I'm rather present when I go in, if you know what I mean.

I scooted in last night to thank Kym for her excellent photography skills, kind friendship and prominent mention of my blog (the latter totally unsolicited, truly). Not only did she promptly give me my back-counter treat (I always start at the back, then raid the front bin), she even offered one from the front counter, too. I was much too embarrassed to take a second treat, given all of the recognition, although I did forget myself for a moment and attempted to leap over both mom and the counter.

Kym loves me, perhaps because I remind her of her beloved Biscuit. It is possible that Biscuit and I are kin, because as you know my bloodlines go way back to our first president, and the genealogy can become a bit muddled even for us purebreds.

What also was exciting is that the moment I plopped for my treat, I was recognized! 

I wasn't exactly incognito; for me it was a spur-of-the-moment visit. Mom forgot to spell out C-A-R, and thus uttering one of my favorite words, was flattened by my hefty bulk flying down the stairs to the garage door. No time for a disguise.

So the astute librarian from the Brown Elementary School in Natick immediately spotted me, and this a.m. a bright young Lilja student, who I see often on her way to school, said she'd read my blog thanks to the newsletter.

As memoirs are in vogue, I'm glad I'm promoting reading. And a great independent bookstore.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beastly treatments: pampering and debarking

I just don't understand people. On the one paw, they dress us up and make us miniversions of themselves. Did you see this week's (Feb. 8) New Yorker cover? It features a plethora of pampered pups who clearly have no idea how to play. They're covered from nose to tail in fleece and down, swathed in sweaters and scarves. They all look toasty warm, and every one looks completely miserable.

I for one prefer going au naturel into the elements, although as I have admitted, I am not a candidate for the postal service: rain, wind, snow and temperatures below 32 degrees have me turning up my (I have used this phrase before, but it is apt) considerably long nose and spurning the invitation of the open door.

My dad, who is very fond of tangential phrases, gives this advice: never resort to the rhetorical error of numbering the points one plans to make, in case you forget some of them. However, he always returns to the place where he left off, even if your brain has become numb trying to keep track of all of the twists and turns of the journey on which you have been led.

So to get back to my point of the other paw: today's New York Times ("Heel. Sit. Whisper. Good Dog.", by Sam Dolnick) reports on the barbaric practice of—shudder—removing a canine's vocal cords in order to have it become a more acceptable member of the family, as well as positively suffer the scrutiny of the co-op board.

I ably demonstrated my vocal abilities just this afternoon, and cannot imagine what I would do without them.

So which is it: pampering, or perilous surgery that isn't even taught any more in vet school? Maybe both practices actually work together to subsume canine companionship into the human hierarchy, rather than just accept us as who we are. Top dogs, of course!