Tuesday, March 26, 2013

TuckerMan avalanche!

Showing Mom how to do a little Downward Dog.
Like an avalanche, I descended unexpectedly and with great force upon Southboro Kennels last weekend. For once, it wasn't my fault.

This human-triggered avalanche was caused by Dad, aka the absent-minded professor (literally). Mom was off with her pals at the Whispering Pines Writers' Retreat, soaking up lessons about paths to publication, gorging on delicious treats and toasting marshmallows at a pondside bonfire.

Dad was off hiking into avalanche terrain at Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. (Let's not discuss the wisdom of this particular folly, at least not right now. But if you'd like to learn about Saturday's harrowing conditions, which included the advisory "very dangerous avalanche conditions exist; travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended" you may click here. )

Rather than allow me to continue my lounging life at home, Mom arranged for me to be boarded nearby, one night only, at Natick Animal Clinic. Organized as she is, she made the reservation, left detailed instructions for Dad and headed off to the Middle of Nowhere, Rhode Island.

Apparently, her instructions were not detailed enough. Dad brought me instead to my fav place, Southboro Kennels, which was fine with me, except somehow they had no record of my reservation. Because, of course, no such reservation had been made.

Being that I am beloved at Southboro (you might remember I am not received in this gracious manner at every pet hotel), dear Mary found a spot for me. And not just for one night, for two, because Mom couldn't haul it all the way out to Southboro in time to pick me up.

"Don't worry: we'll take care of the Tuck Man," Mary assured Mom, who frantically called from her cabin, through the miracle of cell service.

Thank goodness for my friends at Southboro. I really liked the pampering I received. We all, then, had an eventful weekend. Although Dad was feeling a little bruised from his error, as well as the extreme conditions through which he put his body, no one was injured. That's a good thing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Weekends with Daisy, Part II of my exclusive interview!

My new role model.
Just back from a weekend with the incredibly kind folks at Southboro Kennels (check out my post tomorrow on exactly how it was that I ended up there, because it's quite a tale of human foible). I happen to be completely exhausted, which is not unusual. I can empathize, then, with Daisy. What must it have been like for her to hustle from one place to another every weekend? I am sure that she was much loved wherever she went. Maybe she was like me, and simply took advantage of every situation as it unveiled itself.

However, I know better. In my last post, trainer and author Sharron Kahn Luttrell said that Daisy epitomized the best in life. Hooray for her! Let's learn more about Sharron's life with Daisy, shall we? We'll go back to cataloging my own charming foibles soon enough.

T: As a blogger, I know it can be hard to keep up with writing even when you have lots of ideas. How do you manage writing and dog and people raising?
Sharron: It’s a lot easier now that my kids are nearly grown! (My son is 15 and my daughter is 19.) Even so, self discipline is hard for me. Deadlines help.
T: Congrats on the movie deal. Is it in production? Who will be playing Daisy? I've been told I'm very handsome: any call for extras? I mean, I wouldn't want to steal the movie, but still...
Sharron: With the right makeup artist, maybe you can play the lead. Anyway, we’ll have plenty of time to think about it. The screenwriter is still working on the adaptation.
T: What have you planned for the movie premiere? Will pups be allowed in the theater when it's showtime?
Sharron: Service dogs will be (that’s the law). We brought our last puppy-in-training to the movie, “The Artist.” She slept the entire time. That is, until the canine star of the movie barked. Our puppy’s eyes sprang open at the sound and she rose to her feet, searching the theater for the other dog. I had to pop treats into her mouth to keep her from barking in return.
T: What do you hope the book and movie will do for prison pup training efforts?
Sharron: Most people who stop me to ask about the puppy are impressed by the logic of teaching inmates to train service dogs. After all, who has more time to devote to the task than a prison inmate? The genius of the arrangement, though, is that it allows convicted felons to do something good, many for the first time in their life. The puppy shows them how to nurture and teach, and to love. I think we’re all better off if a prison inmate develops these qualities before being released back into society. I hope that the book and movie bring that message to a few more people than the handful who stop me in the supermarket on weekends.  
T: Are you training a pup now?
Sharron: I am! I’m working with Rescue, a black Lab. He’s 10 months old now and is showing great promise as a service dog. Rescue was named by the Worcester Firefighters Association in memory of Jon Davies, a firefighter with the department’s rescue unit who was killed while searching for victims in a burning apartment building. It’s an honor to help prepare Rescue for his future as a service dog.

Thank you, Sharron, for inspiring us and teaching us. Best of luck with your book and we look forward to the screening!
Weekends with Daisy can be preordered at your local bookstore or on Barnes and Noble or  Amazon! Check out Sharron's web site, too, for info about her and the other lucky dogs she's trained!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Weekends with Daisy: Feel-good dog story about training a prison pup. Two-part exclusive interview!

Back when Mom worked at the Paper, whatever that was, she had a friendship with a colleague named Sharron Kahn Luttrell. Nearly 20 years ago, and within a couple of weeks of each other, they each had little girls. They did new-mommy things together, like trying to figure out whether there babies were progressing typically and taking their lambkins to visit farms and such. Often underfoot was Sharron's dog. More about her later.

What does this have to do with moi? Nothing, until now. The versatile Sharron has penned a memoir about her experiences training a dog to be a helpful companion. Through NEADS, prisoners train puppies during the week, while host families take weekend duties and introduce the pups to the world. Eventually, pups graduate and are placed in their forever homes.

(Mom will not let me make the invidious comparison, which would highlight her failures—my successes, of course—in training moi. Nevertheless, the comparison is obvious.)

Sharron's book, Weekends with Daisy, is due out this fall (one can pre-order now), and Sharron's also cut a movie deal with CBS Films! News hound that I am, I communicated with Sharron to get the scoop on her life with this adorable, do-gooder pup.

T:    A dog's life is wonderful--we only wish we could be with our people longer. Tell us about the beloved pup who set you on this journey of training assistance dogs. 

Sharron: Well, she was a German shepherd and she had the best name ever: Tucker! I know that’s traditionally a male name, but it fit her personality. My husband Marty and I brought Tucker home as a puppy soon after we bought our first house. She was with us for all of those firsts: first child, first steps, first day of kindergarten … and beyond as we settled into being a family of four (five, if you count Tucker, which of course we did).

She was nearly 15 when we said goodbye. Marty and I couldn’t bear to go through that again with another dog. Yet, there was this huge void without one. When I found out about the NEADS weekend puppy program, it seemed like the perfect solution. NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services) trains puppies to be service dogs and places them with disabled clients. Most of the puppies are trained by prison inmates and are furloughed to volunteer puppy raisers on weekends.

T:     Each pup has their own characteristics--lovable, frustrating, exhausting, inspiring...What made Daisy unique?

Sharron: Besides being cute and loveable and smart – and I know this is going to sound extreme --  Daisy was a role model.  My goal was to approach the world as she did, without judgment and always expecting wonderful things to happen. Sometimes I list toward the gloomy side, but every weekend, Daisy helped set me straight. She loved everyone she met and because of that, everyone she met loved her. She threw herself into whatever she did: fetch, walks, training exercises. But when it came time to work, she’d collect all of that energy into a neat little bundle and apply it to the job at hand. If I could approach life like Daisy, then I would be the happiest, most contented human on earth.
T: Mom has attempted the training process with me, but I really have both my parents well in hand. Who actually was trained in this process, you or Daisy?

Sharron: We were both trained. Daisy was trained by a prison inmate and I was trained by NEADS’ staff. The people at NEADS had the harder job because it’s not easy to train a human to train a dog. Not only do we perceive the world much differently, humans interact with one another in ways that are confusing or threatening to dogs, so we have to undo a bunch of habits and instincts before we can communicate effectively with our dogs. That’s a lot to overcome.

T:  What do you know of Daisy's life after her time with you?
Sharron: Daisy became a “social dog” for a boy with Aspergers. She helps him feel comfortable around other children. She also keeps him calm and centered. 
T:  What does it take to train a "prison pup"?
Sharron: In prison, the inmates have a schedule of commands they teach the dog over the course of a year, beginning with the basics like “sit,” and ending with advanced skills, such as opening a refrigerator door, retrieving an object from inside, and closing the door. The inmates use clicker training and positive reinforcement.

Our job as weekend puppy raisers is to expose the dogs to the experiences they’re likely to encounter once they’re working as service dogs. We bring them to the mall, the supermarket, museums, on bus and subway rides so they’ll be comfortable and confident everywhere they go. We also make sure they understand that the commands they learn in prison apply in every other situation – that “leave it” on the cell block is the same as “leave it” in a restaurant when your child just dropped a French fry on the floor.

If Mom could approach life like me, she'd certainly be the most well-rested human on earth. Except for all the fun I'd have once I learned how to open the refrigerator door! Speaking of, I'm hungry. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of my exclusive interview!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Abolishing the Tuck rule: don't even think about it

Tucking myself into one of the living room chairs.
Look, in our house, the Tuck rule is sacrosanct. It first was introduced sometime in March, 2008, when I joined the household. It's really a simple rule: when the dog formally known as Tucker decides to do something, he gets to do it.

Here's an example.  For several weeks now, I have slowly but surely been insinuating myself into the ivory damask sofas in the living room. Mom puts the cushions up; I put the cushions down. Mom hides the cushions; I drag them out. After all, someone has to live in there. Why not me?

Dad, finally tiring of Mom's constant vacuuming, came up with a wise move. He covered one of the chairs with a cotton sheet, saving Mom the trouble of cleaning and making the chair even more comfy.

There you have it: the Tuck rule. I rule. Always.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

How much snow fell in Wellesley?

In the line of duty: measuring the snowfall in Wellesley.
Well, there's the yardstick method. Dad put the yardstick on our outdoor table and measured 15 inches. Keep in mind: its top has grid-like holes in it.

Then there's the Tucker Measurement System. I braved the snow in the name of science. Mom measured me from paw to armpit. Result: 16 inches. It's official.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Snow day, hooray!

Watching while Dad heads out to feed Licorice, my bunny
brother, is as close to this storm as I will get.
Not that I was planning to go outside...I slept through Wellesley School Supt. David Lussier's early notice of a two-hour delay, but when I realized Mom was snuggled in, too, I decided to snooze next to her. Then Supt. Lussier called again: no school! Permission to stay in bed granted.

Fair or not, the hallmark of a wise superintendent is knowing when to call off school. And this was a very wise call--while it may be fit out there for man, it certainly is not for beast.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Rocket loves to chew: a golden retriever pup with plenty of pluck

Meet Rocket, my new neighbor. He just moved here from Maine to a home that's had two generations of golden retrievers. I can't wait to play with him.

Rocket immediately showed appreciation for his gifts. What manners!
I can tell that he's a plucky little fellow. Mom delivered a small gift from me (two fleece braided bones she made herself) and a calendar featuring the NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans assistance pups. Rocket, who really doesn't need to keep track of his schedule right now, focused on the bones.
My reading suggestions for Rocket: two books by Tad Hills. How Rocket Learned to Read and Rocket Writes a Story. It'll be nice to have a literate neighbor around.
Rocket may be tiny, but his teeth are sharp, as Mom discovered.