Write About Dogs

My favorite cartoon – by George Booth — was originally published in The New Yorker. It shows a man sitting in front of a typewriter. Dogs are everywhere A woman, presumably his wife, watches from the doorway. The caption reads “Write about dogs.”

My home is full of dogs. Anyone who comes to visit must compete with the dogs for the comfortable chairs and the best spots on the sofa. (Come to think of it, we have to fight them for the best seats too.) That’s the way it is. The dogs are family.

If we have guests who are old, frail or allergic, we do our best to accommodate their needs. We put the most rambunctious, smelly, and hairy dogs out of the way if we can, but that depends on the weather. Basically, if you don’t like dogs, you’ve come to the wrong house. People who don’t like dogs are not frequent visitors.

That’s fine with me. I prefer the company of most dogs to most people. There are lots of reasons to prefer dogs. But the two big ones are love and honesty.

Dogs love you completely, totally, and without reservation. They don’t care about your social status or education, whether you are young or old, ugly or beautiful, rich or poor. They love you completely.

Your dog will never betray or abandon you.

Dogs are terrible liars. Not that they don’t try. Every dog will do his or her best to convince each human to give them treats. Your dog will tell you she needs a biscuit now or will collapse from hunger. This is not particularly convincing when the canine in question is a beefy pooch who has obviously never missed a meal. Eternally optimistic, all dogs figure it’s worth a shot. It’s a dog thing. You never know when a biscuit might fall your way.

When the performance our furry kids put on in hopes of getting a tasteless dry biscuit is especially hilarious, we relax the rules and give them a little something. After all, they don’t have hands and can’t grab one for themselves. Now and again, they need to get lucky because they’re cute and we love them.

Dogs lie, but their lies are simple and transparent. There’s no malice in them. They just want a biscuit. If they don’t get one, they love you anyway.


When it comes to love, dogs are the best. They “get” love and think you are wonderful. They think you are wonderful every day of their lives. When they are dying, the last thing they will do is look at you with love in their eyes, wag their tail one final time and try to give you a kiss.

I have spent my life lurching between my quest for God and an equally ardent quest for the best dog food at the most reasonable price. When times have been hard and we’ve had to choose between food for us and food for our furry children, the fur kids always win.

Our dogs do not suffer from angst. They don’t worry unless supper runs late or biscuits are forgotten in the bustle of a day’s activities. If such a catastrophe should occur, they know exactly where to present their grievances and apply for redress.

Dogs live close to their deities. They hang out with their gods on the sofa. They get biscuits from them in the morning and evening. If life is circumscribed and a bit confined, it is nonetheless good.

Sometimes one of their gods gets angry and yells at them. That might make them unhappy for a few minutes, but the gods of their world don’t stay angry. Our dogs have kindly and loving gods who are inclined to scratch them behind the ears and talk to them in soft voices.


We are gods to our dogs and as such, we set laws for them to live by. Don’t poop or pee in the house.

Do not chew things not given to you for chewing, especially not anything containing batteries. Don’t jump on old people or babies. Don’t growl at delivery people. Don’t stay up late barking. Abide by the law and all will be well.

When rules are clear and understood by all, life runs smoothly.


The human side of the contract is more complicated. It’s harder being god than dog.

We pledge to care for them all the days of their lives. We keep them healthy. We love and nurture them. We feed them properly, make sure they get exercise – though they don’t get enough of it and neither do we. We keep them warm and dry in winter, cool and dry in summer.

If we force them to go outside to do their business, it is because they are, after all, dogs.

Every evening, for at least a little while, their gods climb down from heaven to play on the floor.

Our dogs don’t fret about the future. They live in a joyful present. When their time comes, we will make sure they pass gently out of this world. We promise to keep them as free from suffering as is within our power.

That is our solemn contract. We live up to that pledge because we really are gods to our fur children and must never let them down. Pets teach you a lot about the divine contract.

Sometimes you just need a good shake …

Griff - good shake

This was Griffin having a good shake. He was a pure-bred Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, a medium-size shaggy scent hound originally tasked to hunt rabbits over rough terrain. Petits (or PBGVs) were never pack hunters, not like Beagles or Harriers. They were usually hunted individually or in a small pack of two or three.

I got him as a pup and he grew up to be my huggy bear. He was the smelliest, noisiest, funniest clown of a hound ever put on earth. He would do anything to make you laugh. The harder you laughed, the sillier he behaved. He liked to snuggle, but he wasn’t a needy dog. He would drop by for a hug and a treat, then he’d be off about his business.

He was always busy, but he was always good-natured. I never knew him to snarl, growl or be even a little unpleasant to any person. As official leader of the pack, he sometimes let another dog know she was out of line, but all he needed to was make a little soft growly noise deep in his throat. That was enough.


No super Alpha he. Nope, if Griffin were human, he’d have been the kind of guy who was so popular, he never needed to prove anything. He’d have loved sports and drunk a lot of beer.

About a year before he died, he suddenly wanted to be near me all the time. I knew something was very wrong with him. He got so old so fast, but there was nothing obvious … but I knew. We always know, don’t we?

Tinker died first, of cancer. About a month later, Griffin had a massive seizure and died. We never knew what was wrong with him. There will never be another like him. Half clown, all hound. Smart and funny and cute in a big, hairy way. I miss him very much.

Dogs of Morning

Pagan's Granddaughter carried on her granny's reign of terror for more than a decade.

Pagan’s Granddaughter carried on her granny’s reign of terror for more than a decade.

Long ago, many years having passed since then, we lived in the great city of Boston, Hub of the Universe. In addition to thousands of books and millions of “little wheels off things,” we accumulated furry friends. Two ferrets (Bonnie and Clyde), one smart, sickly and extraordinary Somali cat, a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, and a Norwich Terrier, both retired show dogs. Of the many critters, only the dogs needed walking … but everyone needed love. And snacks.

* * *

Morning. 6am. Do you know where your dogs are? I do. Divot is tap dancing on my head and growling ferociously. I don’t know how she gets up on the bed. It is 2-1/2 times her height.

Pagan, ever subtle, knows there is one sound which will always get my full attention in a hurry. It’s the sound of teeth crushing plastic. For her morning delicacy, she has chosen an elegant blue disposable razor which she dug out of the wastebasket in the bathroom. Good choice, Pagan!

The dogs are raring to go. To start their day. Once, not long ago, they were separate dogs, merely sharing space. But something happened. They fused into a well-oiled, coördinated team of four-legged terrorists, able to raise the reluctant dead. I admit I shouldn’t have stayed up reading quite so late.  Perhaps early might be more realistic. The sun was peeking over the horizon when I finished the final chapter. But golly folks, I’m supposed to have free will, including the right to do stupid, even self-destructive stuff because I am a grown up person and I can do whatever I want. More or less.

The dogs are unimpressed by my arguments, to which they are not listening and if they were, would not understand or care. They just want me up and handing out biscuits. And walks in the neighborhood. Whose idea was this? Oh, right. Mine.

I let them sleep with their leashes attached. It is one less task for me as I stumble through the haze of unfinished dreams into the day. I don’t have to play hide and seek with collars and leashes.

“I need to get dressed before we go out,” I explain as they charge around the room. This is clearly Pagan’s doing. Divot used to be so polite. Now she growls and bites my legs and arms if I don’t dress fast enough. A shower? Don’t kid yourself. These dogs want to GO OUTSIDE NOW. I find a sweatshirt. I find jeans. I’m already wearing socks. Cold feet in the night. Slide into clogs. I’m moving.

Garry and Divot

Garry and Divot

Eyeglasses? I fumble for them. The girls are going nuts. The bedroom is a mad whirlwind of zooming PBGV and snapping terrier jaws.Ferocious growls and chuffing mix with my moans of misery. A mere three minutes has passed since the girls decided to get me on my feet, but It seems so much longer. I open the bedroom door and we pour out of the room, nearly crushing Big Guy — our beautiful, sweet Somali cat — who waits patiently by the door. He needs to remind me lest I forget that he gets a can of Fancy Feast before anything else happens.

I am so tired. I didn’t get much sleep. But the girls did. They sleep all the time, saving up energy for moments like this. They are fully charged.


Stumbling and groaning, we get to the door. I unlatch it and anchored to my wrist, they drag me down the steps, splitting at the foot of the stairs to the right and left. I stand there as my shoulders slowly separate from their sockets while the girls work out the details. Left. They are going left. They drag me to the first of four fields we will visit this morning on our travels where serious business will be conducted.


With the coordination of a marine corps drill team, they perform bodily functions with grace, dancers in the high grass. I would be impressed, but I am looking for someplace to lie down for a little nap.

On to the next field. This is the bird and stray cat field and Pagan who is a scent hound, has reinvented herself as a pointer and general field dog supremo. Divot, the Norwich American Princess, is interested in rats and mice, with an occasional frog for dessert. She likes her frogs still squirming and they are the only snack on the hoof for which she will get her dainty paws damp.

We stalk birds for a while. The stray cats are — wisely — asleep somewhere. How I envy them.

At home I announce, “I’m going back to bed.”

“WE’RE COMING WITH YOU, HUFFA HUFFA.” the girls explain. I go to the bedroom. I drop my jeans by the bed, and still wearing the sweatshirt, I lie down. Divot bounces up.

She is kissing me. She is biting me. Pagan is zooming around and over the bed. She is eating my stockings. She is unearthing all my dirty underwear. In fewer than five minutes, I am defeated. It is over. I am not going to back to bed or to sleep. I’m up for the day. I am mumbling imprecations interspersed with pathetic pleas for coffee.

I am trying to put my jeans back on. Divot, corrupted by Pagan’s PBGV ways, is growling and pulling at my jeans while I try to slide my body into them. I win, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best.

Nan, now.

Nan, now.

And now, at the computer, I have only the cat, purring in the my lap for company. The girls, having accomplished their goal of making sure that I get up on time, are out cold on the sofa. It will be a long day.


Does it really suck?

Buying a vacuum cleaner when you own pets, especially long-haired dogs or cats, is a big deal. Normal people go to a store and buy a vacuum cleaner.  Almost any reasonably good machine will do the job and last for years.

NanFor pet owners and especially for those of us who have more than a few pets, in our case dogs, buying a vacuum cleaner is a major life event, potentially a life-altering event. For us, pet hair is not a sidebar: it’s the central theme of life. During shedding season, which for long-haired breeds is all year — though much worse from late summer through autumn — the house looks like someone slashed open a cushion and spread the stuffing everywhere. Vacuuming is a massive undertaking performed daily. Failing to vacuum for a couple of days might make the house a candidate for condemnation and/or a Hazmat team.

When our Australian Shepherd is blowing his coat, no amount of vacuuming is enough. Everything is covered in fur. Note the main difference between purebred and mixed breed dogs is that purebreds “blow their coats” while mixed breeds simply “shed.” The results are identical, but it sounds classier for purebreds.

Nov 2012

Many long-haired breeds are bred to have huge coats and most owners who aren’t showing their dogs clip them.  Even clipped, there’s still an awful lot of fur. We adopted our Aussie; he had been a show dog … and the absolutely heaviest coated Aussie I’ve ever seen. All of that coat falls out annually. You can comb and brush him daily; there’s always more. The volume is astonishing. No mixed breed dog could generate such a gigantic mess. I always swore I would never own a dog with that much fur. I’ve turned down free pups and full-grown show dogs because they had too much fur. I had a breeder beg me to take one of her Samoyeds. He was gorgeous and a champion, only 8 months old … if I was willing to bathe and groom him myself.

I was young and hardy then. But I looked at him and I said, NO. A large (he was bigger than most Samoyeds), snow-white dog with a coat designed to withstand an arctic winter? I love dogs, but not that much. Yet despite more than forty years of dodging that particular bullet, I still wound up with a dog that sheds enough fur to carpet the world in hair. Somehow, I lost focus long enough to adopt him … and here we are, up to our eyeballs in fur.

If you happen to own (for example) a Great Pyrenees, a Sheltie, an Australian Shepherd (think Collie without a tail), anything that looks like Lassie, a sled dog (any sled dog including mixes), an Old English Sheepdog (possibly THE worst of all, being triple-coated), a long-haired St. Bernard  (the list goes on), you are permanently in search of a better vacuum cleaner. It’s a mission.  

Thus the purchase is an event requiring consultation, discussion and complex negotiations. What are the parameters? First and foremost, that baby has to suck. You want a machine that will pull the wall to wall carpeting off the floor, pull the cushions off the sofa and try to eat the draperies.

You have to balance the percent of carpeting versus hardwood flooring, number of stairs, weight, portability, how hard is it to clean it out because pet hair really clogs the works and finally, price. If you don’t keep clearing it, no vacuum will survive long. You quickly learn that small, light machines are a waste of money. If it doesn’t have a bag, anything other than a small hand vac will die in short order. You need power. You need a bag. You need strength of character, the understanding that you are going to have to deal with filth and lots of it. You need amperage, determination and above all, you need sucking power. Nothing can be too powerful. Your budget determines the limit, so within what you can manage, you try to get the best sucker available.

Bagless machines are weenies. We multiple pet owners need bags. Big ones.

The terriers don’t shed much. The short-haired dachshund doesn’t shed much. The Aussie sheds enough for 10 normal dogs and in the fall, it’s indescribably awful. Every morning, the house is covered in fur, great gobs of is. Huge piles of it cover the rugs, floor, and sofas. It infests the upholstery, adheres to the drapes, forms giant cobwebs that make your house look like the Adams family redux.

We’ve burned out two vacuum cleaners in less than a year, both bagless. This time, we bought a Hoover Commercial Portapower Vacuum Cleaner, 8.3 Lbs, Black. Typical five-star reviews say stuff like “This little commercial vacuum cleaner is one of the best buys out there. I can clean up Great Pyrenees hair with ease and empty out the bag and start over again without clogging up the vacuum like other machines I have killed with dog hair.” This customer understands our needs.

AmberWill will also need an upright to deal with rugs? Probably, but affording ONE machine was hard enough. A second will have to wait until next month at the very least.

I really hope this machine seriously sucks.

Danger Dogs

We spent Labor Day quietly. Both son and daughter-in-law were working, and The Granddaughter had her own friends over. At 16, they have their own social lives, and probably that’s the way it ought to be. So youngest generation had their own barbecue and they would have cooked for the Old People, but it was too early for me and Garry. I cooked our food later. No problem.

Terriers on duty. Nan and Bonnie stand guard.

Without communal festivities, I was left with time on my hand. It was a nice day. Too nice to not least venture outside and give my camera a bit of exercise. I decided, against all logic and reason, to try getting some pictures of the dogs.

Bishop on guard!

You’d think, with four dogs I’d be able to catch a few good pictures, but my dogs have a sixth sense. The moment I turn the camera on, they are all over me, licking and jumping. If they would stay back far enough so I could at least focus, I might get a few pictures that look like dogs, but all I get are nose smudges as they press their big black noses against the front of the lens or  great shots of the rear ends of the retreating canines.

Nan guards house and home.

And people ask me why I use a filter to protect my lens! Welcome to my world.

Bonnie the Bold

With nothing to lose, I tried something new: shooting through the front gate.

See our dangerous dogs? Beware. Do not carry hamburgers in the presence of canines!

Meet our pack of Dangerous Dogs, shown here in their natural habitat. If their obvious fierceness fails to intimidate you, be careful. You never know what they’ll do if they smell cheeseburger on your breath.