Saturday, February 21, 2015

Small Dog Syndrome

One of my favorite sporting events on the February calendar is the Westminster Dog Show. I watched all six hours of the finals aired on Monday and Tuesday this past week. It is the best people-watching on TV.
“People?” you ask, a bit taken aback, “Surely you mean DOGS!”
“Well, the dogs are great,” I reply, “But really, it’s the people that are fascinating!”
Don’t get me wrong – I love the dogs. But, let’s face it. The dogs are almost boring in comparison to the handlers.
Let’s start with the dogs. They are pure-breds. This means that the dogs we see in the show ring conform to American Kennel Club (AKC) guidelines. Judges look for dogs that best exemplify these specifications in each breed and, over a few days, narrow the field from hundreds down to single Best of Breed representatives. These near-perfect pooches then vie for Best in Group, i.e. the type of dog breeds they belong to, like Sporting, Herding, Toy, Working Dogs, etc. Finally, one dog from each group will compete for Best in Show. Mostly the dogs are pretty stoic about it all. They pose just so and strut their stuff running, on lead, away from the judge and then back again. They’ve got mere minutes to make a good impression.  Some dogs are hams and try to win on personality. They work the audience, winning the crowd over by being cutie-patooties, but mostly it’s up to a judge to award Best in Show to the one dog they think comes closest to the ideal of that breed.
In other words, this year’s Pekingese looks almost identical to last year’s Pekingese.
Sure, you can argue that there is an astonishing variety of dog breeds to see. But for real variety, my money is on the handlers. Unlike their poochy protégés, people showing their dogs at Westminster come in all shapes and sizes. They dress in all kinds of different outfits, with all kinds of different, flat-soled shoes. There are standards for the dogs, but not so much for the humans. So, this is how I see it: most sporting events on TV are populated by really beautiful athletes with Adonis builds and perfect proportions. It is so refreshing that Westminster Dog Show isn’t.  
This makes me feel good. I am not ever going to look like a Sports Illustrated swim suit model, but I can sure see myself in so many of the athletes competing at Westminster. And I mean the humans, not the dogs (ha ha!)
I also love the commentary. The announcer reads things about the various breeds, right out of the AKC handbook, like, “Clever, confident, friendly and devoted” I muse about similarities between dog traits and people personalities. What if there was a short paragraph about each of us that described our characteristics? Oh, wait, there is! I saw this quiz on Facebook: “What Kind of Dog Breed Are You?” I took the test and it turns out I am a Golden Retriever! Not surprising, I guess. Riley and I are very close.
But secretly I think I am more of a Scottie dog; “A bold, confident aspect that exemplifies power in a small package….independent and stubborn character, but also quite sensitive….staunchly self–reliant, and can be dour and crusty at times….jaunty and humorous….a good walking companion, but not suited to jogging with those incredibly short legs….home-loving and steadfastly loyal to family….reserved with strangers but once your friend will be your friend for life….if the rules are not clear, a Scottie can develop small dog syndrome, thinking it is in charge.” Hmm. That’s me! A small dog with the soul of a lion. I like that!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Feeling Watched? OR: The Privacy Zone

I don’t know about you, but I am quite unnerved by all the recent reports about computer hacking and loss of privacy and so on. As if the thought of some low-life, mouth-breathing trouble-maker taking down our entire economic system isn’t chilling enough, now I see dire warnings in the news this week that so-called Smart TVs can actually watch YOU in your own home! This means that SOMEBODY – and I have no idea who this SOMEBODY is – can know exactly what you are doing when you think that you are enjoying a private moment wiping away drool from the corner of your mouth as you salivate over a chou pastry on The Great British Baking Show.

“I find this appalling!” I said to the Mister. “I don’t want anybody watching me from our television set!”

“They’re not, dear,” said the ever-patient Mister.

“How can we know that?”

“Our TV doesn’t have that technology.”

“Really? Are we sure about that?”

“Yes. It’s over six years old. It’s only the newer models that have that feature.”

“Well, o.k., but I don’t want one of those!”

“What do you think they’ll see? You falling asleep during Downton Abbey?”

“I don’t fall asleep during Downton Abbey!”

“The old Head-Bob-and-Weave? The old Neck-Snap? I’ve seen it. With you it’s practically an Olympic event.”

“Oh, maybe I nod-off a little here and there. But only during the scenes with poor wretched Edith.”

“Snoring. Whole show.”


So, I might drop off a little now and then, but I definitely do not snore. (Do I?)

Anyway, after I contemplated getting caught napping, my paranoia mounted. My mind reeled with the implications of it all. Could there be an agency out there assigned to spy on late-middle-agers via Dancing with the Stars? But, please, are the daily activities of the AARP set really worthy of a surveillance operation? That’s absurd! Most of us left behind our activist ways back in the 70s. What earthly point could there be to gathering thousands of video hours of us in front of the boob tube? What is the least bit incendiary about me tossing popcorn to the dog? Is there any real menace implied by watching Jon Stewart? Or trying to figure out how to DVR American Idol so we can watch it in Fast Forward to cut out all the personal biography drivel? Is it really all that provocative to see two 60-plussers at either end of a couch with a Golden Retriever curled up between them all wrapped up in their magic blankets fast asleep during yet another boring episode of House Hunters? How could anyone conclude that we are agitating rabble-rousers if they’ve been watching us have our milk and cookies every night at 9:00 and toddling off to bed at 10:30?  Honestly, we are such scamps we ought to be taken in for questioning!
Crazy! And so, I have come to the conclusion that I can relax about TV surveillance. If SOMEBODY is watching every move we make every hour that the TV is on, then I feel sorry for them. Because their life is way more boring than ours!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Reading with Riley

As dogs go, I think I am considered a good boy. At least, that’s what my mom and dad say all the time. Although, my mom also calls me a “Big Galoot” every once in a while, as well as a couple of other things if I have been naughty that I won’t repeat in polite company. But, as I say, on the whole, I am a good boy.

My name is Riley Neufeld. I am 5 ½ years old; I’ll be 6 in late July. My breeding is Golden Retriever through and through. We Goldens are naturally friendly. We are known among canines for our outgoing, eager-to-please personalities, which makes us suitable for social service work. We don’t like to appear threatening at any time and so we greet everyone with friendly smiles and waggy tails. It’s just who we are.

We Goldens are also regarded as smarter than your average dog. I hate to brag, but I can figure out an “educational feeding toy” in seconds. If there is food involved, there is no holding me back! I can open my crate door by myself and I know the names of most of my plush toys. If dad says, “Get your squirrel!” I know which one to bring him. Or mom will ask, “Where’s your ball? Let’s look!” And I show her where it is. She sometimes can’t find it on her own.

I’ve been to school to learn the basics: sit, down, stay, come, heel, shake-a-paw and fetch. And I have done graduate work in off-leash heeling, find-it, touch, wait and high-five. Since I got good grades in all of those classes, my mom decided to enroll me in training for Animal Assisted Therapy with DOGTORS, a regional training program offering certification in AAT. We graduated in June, 2014 and I am now a therapy dog with my own bandana and ID tag. Mom and I launched our new career in July of last year, just after my 5th birthday.

I like to think that I bring some furry comfort to patients and their families at Hospice of Dayton where we go every other Wednesday afternoon, as well as to the residents of an Assisted Living and Memory Care facility we visit on the alternate Wednesdays. I get a lot of pats and dog cookies and I try to make people feel better.

One of my main ambitions, though, when we em-BARKED on this venture was to read with little kids at school.

Perhaps you are SCRATCHING your head and saying, “Dogs in the classroom? Really?” Yes, really! Studies show that kids sometimes struggle with reading when they are in 2nd and 3rd grade or maybe they get nervous when they have to read aloud in class. Turns out they can do better and improve their reading if they get some help from a therapy dog! A nonjudgmental fur ball, like me, sitting with them while they practice their reading is just what the doctor ordered for boosting their confidence!

And it’s fun! We go to the local library every other Saturday along with four other FUR-riends from DOGTORS. A bunch of kids and their parents have been coming to see us. We dogs lie on fleecy blankets while the kids pat us and read funny stories to us.  Last week a little girl read me a story about two friends: a possum and a beaver that went on adventures together! Ha Ha! Can you imagine? A possum and a beaver! Well, I never heard of such a thing!

Just this week, we had our first visit to a real school! My mom’s friend, Mrs. Goff, who is my girlfriend, Kenzie’s mom, taught at this elementary school and she helped arrange it for us. We visited a 2nd grade classroom where the teacher got out a big bean bag chair for the kids to sit in while they took turns reading their books to me. Some of the stories had dogs in them! But one I especially liked was about a boy reading stories to an old man who couldn’t see so well anymore! I told the kid that was kind of like what we were doing together and he said, “Oh, yeah!”

My mom made a big chart with colored paw prints on it. All the kids will print their names under the paws and then they’ll choose stickers to show that they had a turn reading to me. Everyone will get their turn by the end of the school year. I hope we help them read better.

I can’t wait to hear more stories. See, I can’t read myself, but I’ve heard that there is exciting literature about dogs out there! I hope someday someone will read me Call of the Wild, and Marley and Me, and Lassie Come Home, and The Incredible Journey. But not Old Yeller. I hear that one is too sad.