Busted by a Beagle

September 29, 2009

My husband and I were waiting for our luggage at LAX after an 11-hour return flight from Paris. Lulled by the sight of the bags going around and around, I waited for ours to appear. Suddenly, I was jarred from my near-daze by the sight of a loose dog dragging a leash. Like any dog trainer worth her salt, my reflexes took over. Within seconds I stood proudly, foot on leash, potential dog disaster averted. Only then did I notice the dog was wearing a vest, and the “owner” the beagle had gotten away from was wearing a uniform too—that of a Customs officer; a none-too-pleased customs officer, who had let the dog loose to do his sniffing. I apologized and went back to wait for my luggage.

Minutes later, the dog and officer approached our area and all passengers were ordered to place shoulder bags and carry-ons on the ground. I watched in admiration as the beagle dutifully walked from one bag to the next, every now and then alerting the officer by placing a paw on a bag, the officer rewarding the dog with a treat. I was lost in musings of how nice it was that this dog, who looked to be at least seven years old, could have a nice, long career doing this type of work. Aww. The dog was alerting again, what a good dog. No….wait! That’s my bag!

“Do you have any food in the bag, ma’am?”

Okay, honestly? At that moment I was thinking, it’s a beagle, for crying out loud. I could have Crumbs of Sandwiches Past in that bag and a beagle would alert…

“I have some granola bars,” I answered honestly.

“What about fruit? Are you carrying any fruit?”

“No, no fruit.”

“Are you sure you’re not carrying any fruit?”

Suddenly I remembered the banana—the one that, approximately fifteen hours before, had seemed like a great idea to stuff into my carry-on. Only I’d completely forgotten it was there. Did I mention the 11-hour flight?

“Oh…uh…sorry, I do have a banana. I’m happy to throw it away.”

Shooting me a look that can only be described as the visual equivalent of a collar correction, the officer snatched the landing card from my hands and scrawled BANANA across it in large letters, to mark me as the fruit-carrying criminal I was.

As we continued to wait for our luggage, my husband and I laughed about my being busted by a beagle. In fact, it seemed amusing enough to blog about. And what’s a blog without a photo? Hmm, I thought, I’ll just grab my iphone and take a quick photo. My husband pointed out the dog and officer across the way, still hard at work. I walked up and aimed my camera-phone at the pair.

The officer spied me immediately and put a hand up. “No photos,” she snapped.

Clearly this woman was not a fan of mine. But perhaps she just didn’t want to be on camera? “Can I just take one of the dog doing his job?” I asked.

“No. We can’t have photos in here. We don’t want terrorists taking photos of the Customs area.”

Obviously the Banana Caper had marked me as a threat to national security. Or at least a giant irritation. “Okay, no problem,” I answered, and slunk away.

After picking up our luggage, we reported to the red zone area so my suspicious bag could be x-rayed. The offending banana was placed in the trash, paperwork was filled out, and, finally, we were free to go. I silently bid a fond farewell to the hard-working beagle and headed for home.


Florida Bill Would Grant Deductions to Pet Parents

September 25, 2009

U.S. Rep. from Michigan Thaddeus McCotter, a man after my own heart, recently introduced a bill that would allow pet owners to deduct up to $3500 per year for pet care expenses, including veterinary care. House Bill 3501, also known as the HAPPY bill—an acronym for Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years—would alleviate the financial strain of owners whose pets need long-term veterinary care, emergency care, or other expensive surgeries and medications.

Of course, the first thing that crossed my mind when I read the story was all the money I’d spent over the years on my own fur-kids. There was Mojo’s triple pelvic osteotomy at the tender age of six months to fix a hip that didn’t seem to have much of a socket; his ruptured cruciate ligament at the age of 11 years; and his emergency bloat surgery at 14 years. Let’s face it, that’s more than a down-payment on a house, and although of course I was happy to pay any amount of money to ensure Mojo’s well-being, some financial assistance certainly would have been welcome. And that’s just Mojo; add to that my German Shepherd Soko, and the three wolves/wolfdogs who lived with me for 10 years, and you’ve got a condo’s worth of medical bills, at least.

 It only seems fair that those of us who have chosen to have dogs rather than human offspring should get some assistance in “child support.” Last year, having a qualified child dependent gave a parent permission to take a $3500 tax deduction. Can you think of anyone more dependent than our dogs? It’s progress that there is medical insurance for pets, but as many of us know, it doesn’t typically cover the things we’d like or go far enough. Here’s to hoping the Florida bill passes and other states follow suit. It’s about time.

Are “Dog People” Wired Differently?

September 15, 2009

My husband and I are taking a trip to Paris. All the travel guides warn about pickpockets who prey on tourists in certain parts of town. Apparently a child or two will approach and pretend to need help, engaging you in conversation while their little friends make off with your wallet and other valuables. Want to know the first thought that crossed my mind? “Thank goodness it’s not someone pretending a dog needs help.” I know, that’s awful; and of course I would help a child who was truly in need. But the truth is, I just don’t have the warm, fuzzy reaction toward kids that those prepubescent pickpockets are counting on.

Way back when, during the time I worked in corporate offices (or, as I like to call them, The Hell Years), there seemed to be a constant stream of young children visiting their parents at work. Employees proudly paraded their offspring around the rows of cubicles, and displayed them in silver and gold frames on their desks. Can you guess what sorts of photos hung on my walls? Let’s just say I had the hairiest kids in town. What’s that you say? Liz from accounting is having a baby shower? Hmm. That’s nice. What? Nancy from PR is getting a new puppy? What kind? When? Will she bring him to work? …Yep, co-workers thought I was strange.

Among “dog people” that sort of behavior isn’t unusual in the least. Although I know plenty of folks who have two-legged kids as well as dogs, and are still most definitely dog people, I also know many who proudly declare, “My dogs are my kids.” I may not be susceptible to the Baby Awwws, but I do get an instant feeling of pleasure upon spying a dog. And a puppy? Resistance is futile—magnetism takes over. I find myself drawn toward the wriggling bundle of cuteness, anticipating the feel of velvety fur and the sweet scent of puppy breath. Cuddling the pup, the world disappears. I’m sure those who are wired to feel that way about babies have a similar reaction when holding an infant—in fact, the chemicals released into our bodies are identical.

Those who are not dog people may not understand the lengths we of the dog-centric circuitry go to for our dogs. We often spend excessive amounts of money to ensure they get the best nutrition and health care. We stay on top of the latest medical research, and go the extra mile (or ten) to provide for our dogs’ well being, even when turning to things like acupuncture and hydrotherapy cause the eyebrows of non-dog-folk to raise in an inquisitory “what the…?” In short, we go out of our way to make sure our dogs are happy, healthy, well exercised, and well trained. Our dogs are not “things,” nor are they second-class citizens; they are family.

The rest of the world may not always understand it, but consider this a tail-wagging, raised-paw shout out to all of you dog people!

The Allure of Adopting a Dog “As Seen on TV”

September 8, 2009

You may have heard about the recent case of the wolfdog (a.k.a. wolf hybrid) who carried the family infant off into the woods, crushing its tiny skull and ribs in the process. The wolfdog was impounded and, fortunately, the baby is fine. Now, after spending over a month at the shelter, the wolfdog, Dakota, has been adopted into a new home (hopefully a childless one). Interestingly, during her stay, the shelter received hundreds of calls asking to adopt Dakota. Sure, she was by all accounts a sweet dog who simply had the strong prey drive associated with wolfdogs, and never belonged in a home with an infant to begin with. But subtract the national headlines from the incident and…well, good luck finding a home for a wolfdog who’s severely injured a child.

We’ve seen it over and over, this media effect. A stray dog falls into a well or a rushing river. We hold our collective breath as crews work tirelessly to rescue the poor pooch. Finally, there’s public rejoicing—along with countless offers to adopt the dog. Never mind the dog’s temperament, history, or suitability for a particular home; the story captures our hearts and we want that dog!

It’s not so different with dogs who appear on adoption segments of talk shows or newscasts. Those dogs, as you might imagine, have a very high adoption rate. Naturally, shelter personnel choose candidates they think will entice viewers. They also pick dogs who are having a difficult time being adopted at the shelter; it’s a great opportunity for the dogs. I know this because I spent much of the 90s as a volunteer, volunteer coordinator, and then Animal Care Technician (kennel staff) for the L.A. city shelters, and my duties included choosing dogs for outside adoption events.

Due to the nature of televised adoption segments, there aren’t dozens of dogs to choose from. It’s not, “Which would be the appropriate dog for our home?” but rather, “Aww, look at that dog pawing at the host’s leg, he’s adorable!” The playing field is narrowed and a multiple choice question is turned into to a simple yes or no answer. And let’s face it, sitting in your easy chair and being presented with a potential adoptee is way easier physically and emotionally than going down to the local shelter, rescue, or humane society. But is it really the best way to choose a new family member?

What exactly is it about dogs in the media that causes us to bypass reason and instantly commit? Is it our celebrity culture, which has trained us to be impressed by something or someone simply because they are televised? Perhaps. It’s also an emotional response. In the case of a dog who’s been injured or rescued from a bad situation, that maternal (or paternal) genes fire, prompting us to want to care for the unfortunate creature. And hey, it makes for a great story when friends ask how you got your dog: “I was sitting on the couch one night watching television, and suddenly there was this dog on the news. He’d fallen into the river and they rescued him!” Pretty dramatic stuff.

There’s nothing wrong with adopting a dog you see on television, assuming it is the right fit for your home. But for every dog the station receives a slew of calls about, there are hundreds of others awaiting euthanization in shelters across the country. Why choose the dog on live tv when you could choose one on death row? Although their plight isn’t televised, there are an incredible number of adorable, well-behaved, affectionate dogs who are put down every day because people aren’t even aware of their existence. Sure, I know how hard it is to walk into a shelter, and I’m aware that many people avoid it completely. That’s where outside adoption events come in, such as the ones held at pet stores on weekends. These events are wonderful for getting dogs out in the community where they can be seen by folks who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them.

The next time you have a knee-jerk reaction to that adorable homeless dog on television, think of it this way: that dog’s got plenty of offers. Why not go a step further and seek out one who doesn’t have a public advocate? Those shelter/rescue/humane society dogs may not be tv personalities, but they’re sure to be stars in your life.

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