I don’t remember much about my bio-mom, but there are two recollections of note.  One occurred four days after my littermates and I were born.  My mom was still tired from birthing us, but as she was lying there nursing her pups she opened an eye and spotted a little beetle crawling among us.  She casually arose and stomped on the insect with her formidable paw.  As she slumped back down to rest, she said “Sucks to be a litter bug.”  The second thing I recall is her teaching us that we will never find anything worthwhile unless we exhibit curiosity.  “Discovery belongs to the curious,” she said.  As usual, she was right.

And so, as my life has raced along, I have been curious about virtually everything.  But I somehow feel that curiosity was always in my nature, and the motherly advice, however well meaning and accurate, was probably unnecessary.  If you know my history, you know that curiosity has served me well.  I have discovered friends, family, and new adventures everyday.  The “find” may simply be a new sight or smell.  Or it may be someplace entirely new to visit and explore.  Today I was running around at a park when I saw a young boy drop a candy wrapper on the grass.  Being curious, I had to run over and sniff it.  Then, being helpful, I picked it up and brought it over to the boy, thinking he may still need it.  A lady who appeared to be his mother said, “Look Jason.  Even that nice dog knows you shouldn’t throw trash on the ground.  Now go put it in the trashcan.  It sucks to be a litterbug.”

It sounded familiar, but I didn’t see any beetles around.  That’s curious.

Dog Training 101

People have been lining their coffers for years by selling their purported knowledge of dog behavior and training techniques to gullible “owners” of unmanageable mutts.  So, with all due respect to capitalizing on capitalism, I can disclose to you a few free simple secrets of addressing what people view as bad dog habits.  This is not to detract from the “expertise” that’s out there…OK, it is.  I advise you to ignore the experts and adhere to the following abridged rules which will result in happier, more well-adjusted dogs, and human beings who know how to please their pets.  Hmmm, I think I’ve talked myself into jumping on the bandwagon.  So, start with the three rules below.  For a more comprehensive view, you’ll have to wait for my dog training book, “Make Your Dog Happy, and Forget About Your Selfish Needs For Once”.

1.  Digging.  Understand that your yard is now the dog’s excavation field.  It is a place where dogs can exercise their archaeological and other exploratory talents.  Digging can also expose hidden IEDs and other dangers, saving the family from disaster.  For example, on the fifth of May I was digging in the yard and discovered a sink hole in which my family would have undoubtedly perished.  My discovery became known locally as the Sink Hole de Mayo.  But I digress.  If the dog is attempting to tunnel under the fence, you should ascertain the reason; there is invariably a legitimate justification for tunneling.  The grass could be greener over there, or there could be great food, romance and adventure.  (Sound familiar?  Think ‘vacation’.)  In other words, the dog’s OK.

2.  Jumping.  Jumping is almost as natural to dogs as watching TV is to humans.  Get over it.  Teach your young, elderly and disabled to brace themselves for impact.  Perhaps you could hold out a treat and give the dog something to jump for other than your body.  In addition, a couple of pair of Nike Air Lassies would be a nice gift for your jumping dog, to cushion the impact when he lands on your hard flooring.  In other words, the dog’s OK.

3.  Failing To Heel.  Most people get dragged on walks with their dogs.  They return home with dislocated shoulders, leash burns on their hands, miserable attitudes and vows that the experiences will never be repeated (but they always are).  I could tell you how to make your dog heel, but where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I advise you to purchase one of those leash extension devices and set the leash to play out for – oh, about 2 miles.  That way, it feels like you have some control, you are conforming to your county’s leash ordinance, and most importantly, the dog is not forced to act like your conjoined twin.  In other words, the dog’s OK.

Get the idea?  See you at my book signing.

See Ya Vader

Not too many people believe that my dad’s mother was the inspiration for the Darth Vader character in Star Wars.  But my historical research proves this to be true.  There was a period of her life when she was seduced by the dark side.  It began when she gave birth to my dad, and reached its zenith during his early teens.  At times, the comparison was startling.  Her cape-like dark robe, the hair style and night cream which resembled the famous Vader headgear, and even her voice (“I am your mother!) resonated with a James Earl Jones heart-stopping sonic boom.

She was highly trained in the use of The Force.  She could point her finger at my dad’s throat and choke off any verbal protestations.  When Dad would say he’d have his chores done by noon, she would somberly intone, “Pray that you do.”  And her skills and dexterity wielding a mop or broom as she virtually floated from room to room was an obvious harbinger to Vader’s talents with a light saber.  When she was too busy in galactic matters to mete out routine discipline, she would call on a storm trooper (my dad’s father) to do her bidding.

But like Vader, she eventually abandoned the dark side (when, coincidentally, my dad’s rebel alliance matured).  She began using The Force against evil, spent years traveling the galaxy on diplomatic and recreational missions, and is now a nonagenarian residing at Chewbacca’s Home for Wrinkled Wookiees.  I talk with her by phone now and then.  Her once sharp mind has been blunted by a lifetime of interacting with my dad, so she rarely remembers my name.  She has referred to me as Flagstaff, Fleabag, Flophouse, Fast Track, Flab Sack and Pancake.  But I don’t mind.  I know I am talking with a legend, and because I am now living with her son, I can relate to her battle scars and cognitive decline.

Now I’m channel surfing between an old Star Wars movie and a college baseball game between North Carolina and Duke.  And because my dad’s mother has rubbed off on me, I’ll probably later only remember watching something called The Umpire Strikes Back.  Use The Force, Duke!!

A Salute To Mr. Peabody

All too often, my dad calls my attention to the TV or computer screen to view something he thinks has educational value.  He forgets that some dogs (me, for example)  possess intrinsic wisdom and awareness which renders media sources unnecessary.  Nevertheless, he showed me clips from an animated feature he watched in the early sixties involving a dog genius and his child companion.  The characters, known as Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman, traveled back in time via the WABAC machine invented by Mr. Peabody.  Once they arrived at a historic location, they found events were skewed due to Mr. Peabody’s having manipulated the machine’s programming.  This provided Mr. Peabody the opportunity to make things right and to subject Sherman to some of the most painful puns ever recorded.

Brilliant!!  I was transfixed.  Not only did the premise seem vaguely familiar – incredibly intelligent dog bearing a strange resemblance to me, hanging out with a kid who was somewhat less than astute – but it indulged the fantasies of many dogs to bash humans over the head with life lessons, one of which is to lighten is too crazy to be taken too seriously.

I was excited.  So, I immediately took a nap (hey..priorities).  I dreamed that I had invented a modern-day WABAC machine, and I took Dad back to the Roman Colosseum.  The Detroit Lions were going up against Tim Tebow and company.  Sold out stadium.  The concession stands were selling Ceasar’s Pizza.  Roman Polanski was producing the half-time show.  Autumn was in the air..the fall of Rome.  The P.A. system was too loud because Nero was fiddling with the controls.  A male lion had just consumed a woman convicted of  ‘tagging’  Hadrian’s wall.  She looked tasty, so the lion was obviously glad-he-ate-her.  Good times.  But it was getting late, so I took Dad for a bite at the olive garden before we returned.

A famous man (undoubtedly inspired by a dog) once said, “If you will it, it is not a dream.”  So I intend to start work on a real WABAC machine as soon as I can develop opposable thumbs.  I know the creation of Mr. Peabody and Sherman was credited to Ted Key, but you just know ‘ol Ted had a dog.  Do you think the idea for Mr. Peabody may have germinated in the mind of that creative canine?  Elementary, my dear boy.

Bite This

“Let’s take a bite out of crime.”  We’ve all heard that slogan.  I was never sure if it meant that we should do what we can to diminish criminal activities or that we should decriminalize biting.

People are funny about biting offenses allegedly committed by dogs.   They are understandably quick to vilify a dog who, without provocation, attacks a person or someone’s pet.  The offending dog is quarantined and sometimes destroyed, and the dog’s human companion may be subject to prosecution and/or civil liability.  But folks are quick to forget the vast number of  dogs wrongly accused of biting.  My dad is ashamed to admit that when he was a child, he bit his infant brother on many occasions because he believed his brother was a hideous alien monster (to this day, he still has doubts).  Dad always blamed the bites on the family dog.  His parents took my dad’s word over the dog’s, even though the elderly dog had no teeth (his parents had the investigatory and reasoning talents of garbanzo beans).  So, my dad skated and the beleaguered dog always wound up in the dog house.  When the dog died of infectious false accusations, my dad came clean and admitted the truth to his father.  His father’s response?  “Who cares?  Go take the trash out.”  Immortal injustice!!

On April 26 of this year, a woman in Chicago bit her dog repeatedly.  Was the lady quarantined or destroyed?  Hardly.  She will plea bargain down to misdemeanor inappropriate display of  affection and be sentenced to limiting her biting only to weekdays.  The scales of  justice require a little recalibration.  That’s a cause I could really sink my teeth into.  Meanwhile, smart dogs will have to avoid not only humans who bite, but also those who level wild, unfounded accusations at defenseless creatures who don’t even have a biting sense of humor.