Archive for October, 2018

Expect the unexpected…(column #4)

Expect the unexpected..and then some

Expect the unexpected..and then some

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


“Expecting the unexpected isn’t even close.” UnknownIn 1963 I joined the Army. Following basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., I completed Advanced Individual Training at Fort Slocum, N.Y. graduating as a military information specialist. I was then stationed at Fort Lesley J McNair, the only military installation in Washington, DC and for the next two and a half years, I wrote articles for the Pentagram, the Military District of Washington (MDW) newspaper. The MDW was also responsible for providing public relations support for the Army.My job, as an information specialist, was outside the military base, housed in what were called Tempo Buildings. Those “temporary” structures, formed as huge igloo’s, were built during the Second World War. Forged from steel, they were sweltering in the summer and frigid in the winter.

Mostly, my workday ended at 5 p.m., except when my name came up for KP duty. Soon, I realized that I had a load of free time on my hands and very little spending money. Newspaper want-ads beckoned. And there it was…as if by wishful intervention. “Dog trainer needed. Apply in person at Animal TV Trainers.”

I had already tried selling pots, pans, and fine china door-to-door, with the only set of china sold being that which I bought for my mom. Since dogs couldn’t slam the door in my face, as did many housewives in DC, I knew dog training was the part-time job for me, even though I had no idea what it entailed.

I scheduled an interview with the manager of Animal TV Trainers.

The next day, following work, I walked the two-mile stretch from the military base to downtown DC, found Animal TV Trainers on 14th Street, and entered the captivating world of selling pets for profit.

The store measured about 25-by-45 feet with more animals per square foot than homeless dogs roaming the streets of New York City. There were cages jammed on shelves, stacked in corners, and hanging from the ceiling…all filled with a menagerie of animals…except for the ten to fifteen birds dive-bombing customers who mistakenly thought it was a sales gimmick. A mynah bird slung sun flower seeds at the cat cages; a boa constrictor’s dinner still withered in his stomach, and an employee chased a squirrel monkey who had released the birds from their cages.

The squawking, barking, screeching, and howling was crazy.

The manager, an attractive, blond haired lady, yelled at me over the intense racket, “Can I help you?”

Feeling foolish, I yelled back, “I’m here for the interview.”

Her smile was devious, and I should have known something was amiss when she yelled, “When can you start?”

Noting my stunned look, she mouthed, “Follow me.”

I cautiously followed, past monkey’s banging their heads on cage doors, de-sacked skunks with raised tails, and a whelping box with ten pups vying for eight nipples. An iguana the size of a broom closet watched as if he were contemplating his next meal. The office was large enough for a small desk, an upright chair, and for two people to stand nose to nose…personal space be damned. At least we were away from the ruckus. Her perfume was something out of Cosmopolitan. The hook set, she began reeling me in.

“There was a small mistake in the ad,” she smiled.

“Oh,” I said, still captivated by her fragrance.

“They left out a few words. Three to be exact.”

“Oh,” I said again.

“And cleanup boy. It was supposed to read dog trainer ‘and cleanup boy’ needed.”

Fresh out of college, a thousand miles from home, recently out of Army basic and advanced training schools and standing nose to nose with this beautiful lady in the mini-office of a pet shop of horrors in downtown Washington, DC…I was trapped.

Fortunately, they didn’t need a dog trainer for a couple of days. So, I spent Saturday and Sunday cleaning every kind of animal poop imaginable and those same nights studying how to train dogs by reading books in the Library of Congress. I read as many books as possible about dogs, training, and their history. When Monday evening rolled around, I planned to be as good a dog trainer as possible. Although, I had no idea what I’d do if the dog on the other end of the leash didn’t see things my way.

The precursor to dog training however, is to understand some very basic differences between dog and man. Differences that may not shock you but will surely surprise. Those answers come in my next column.

Thanks for reading, John

John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at Questions or comments can be directed to Proceeds from his writing support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

A ‘buyer’s guide’ for National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist(column #3)

A ‘buyer’s guide’ for National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


October is national Adopt a Shelter Dog month.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the American Humane Association (AHA) have banded together to promote the idea of getting as many adoptable dogs in homes as possible…especially during the month of October.

Having trained and handled over 14,000 dogs I’d like to present my views on adopting pets from shelters.

Every dog of my childhood (heck, I was 27 years old before I purchased a purebred dog) was of mixed ancestry: Jeep, Taxi, Silver, and Chad, by name. All purchased by my dad from the city pound. Note: It is believed that the word “pound” came from the “animal pounds” where stray livestock would be “impounded” until claimed by their owners. Over time the word ‘shelter’ replaced the word ‘pound’ primarily because it sounded much more pleasant.

Today, there are approximately 14,000 government-supported and independently operated animal shelters in the US. All of which are attempting to provide shelter, promote adoption, and control the population through neuter and spaying programs for about 7.6 million animals annually, 3.9 million of which are dogs. About 1.2 million dogs are euthanized annually. However, the no-kill movement started about 20 years ago and is responsible for saving a significant number of dogs and cats.

Please excuse the statistics, but it’s the only way for me to get your attention and impress upon you this straight-forward plea: If you are considering a dog for your family, please consider adopting from a shelter as opposed to purchasing from a breeder.

When adopting from a shelter, here’s my thoughts:

Before visiting a shelter, know what you are looking for in a dog. Do you have a large or small family? Are you looking for a pup…who’s going to clean up behind him until he is housebroken and trained? Who will be responsible for feeding, exercising, and training? Are you looking for a dog who is older and housebroken? Older dogs are more difficult for shelters to find a home for…but if the dog is older (2 years or more) you will know if he is healthy, and (most importantly) you will know his temperament. The older feller might be just the mutt for you!

When you visit a shelter for the first time, observe how well the grounds are maintained: is the grass cut, are shrubs trimmed, and windows cleaned?

Generally, when you walk into an animal shelter, be prepared: pandemonium breaks out. That’s the nature of the beast and it’s ok. However, are cages and enclosures clean, are floors mopped, and are odors controlled. Do you get a “good feeling” about how the dogs are cared for?

Do not be overwhelmed by the number of dogs. Take your time. Look at each dog individually, as opposed to a sweeping glance. Do not necessarily pick the loudest dog or the one you think is vying for your attention more than any other. To a great degree, what you see in the shelter, is what you will see at home. If you are looking for an aggressive, outgoing, controlling dog…then the one bounding against the gate and barking like an idiot, might be just the dog for you. But, if you are looking for a quiet lap dog, maybe consider the guy sitting in the back of the cage. Look at the expression of the dog. Are his hackles up or down, is his tail wagging or held low to the ground, are his ears back or forward, does he pee when you approach, or does he seek a pat on the head? Are his eyes clean? Are his nails clipped?

Size matters. Looking at pup’s feet will not tell how big he is going to be. Fact is, there’s loads of big dogs with small feet. A pup mixed with German Shepherd and Beagle may grow to the size of a German Shepherd…or a Beagle. So, if you are looking for a dog of size, consider an older dog.

If you see a dog you like, take him for a walk, a ride in the car, or sit under a tree in the city park and see how he reacts to squirrels, other dogs, kids on bikes, runners and other commotions. You will learn loads about his disposition when distractions abound.

If he has not been neutered (spayed, altered) you will be asked to have that done as soon as possible. However, be sure that you get a reasonable period in which you can return him if he does not fit into your family. Generally, you will not get a refund but can choose another pet.

If you are purchasing from a no-kill shelter, be prepared to get the once-over. You may have to answer personal questions about your lifestyle and they may want to visit your home to assess how they feel the dog will fit into your living conditions. Can you shoulder the scrutiny?

Finally, never purchase a dog as a gift, unless you are positive the recipient will be overjoyed and accept the pup with open arms.

In closing, I want to assure you that I fully and wholeheartedly endorse acquiring a dog from a shelter. However, it’s at least a 10-year obligation…an obligation that should be entered with commitment, compassion, and consideration for all who will be involved with caring for your newest family member.

Woof!!! John

John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at Questions or comments: Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

Point Pleasant Register, Column #2



Is there any other animal wired like a dog?

Is there any other animal wired like a dog?

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


“Their single-minded devotion teaches us very clearly about unconditional love.” Unknown

Behind the house where I grew up, in my mind, our small backyard stretched to the horizon; a distance such that you could ride a horse into the ground before catching an hombre on the run. Back then, jumping from the back-porch steps and into the yard transported me from the age of seven/eight into a world of fantasy.

My first death was there, but not before I ‘kilt’ some of the meanest, low-down scoundrels in the West. Always, though, my sidekick Jeep, a Heinz special, black haired and medium built, stood by me. He knew though, there were times he would have to scamper for his life…depending on my supply of rubber-tipped arrows or plunger-tipped darts, because in that world of childhood fantasy, he was deemed anything from a wild boar to a diseased wolf.

My second dog, Taxi, endured every minute of my pain as a plains-drifting cowboy. Once, outlaws burst into my campsite, robbed and beat me, and then dragged me behind a horse by my feet along rutted forest paths, through rocky creek-beds, and burning coals. Through it all, Taxi, a black and white mutt born out of wedlock, licked my wounds and never left my side.

An old dilapidated shack at the end of the yard doubled as an oft-robbed bank, a fort surrounded by Indians, or a cabin on fire where distressed damsels awaited rescue. Silver, another dog of mixed ancestry, often played the part of the bad guy, the demon, or the bank robber on-the-run.

Death in the backyard was not only inevitable but it was dramatic. Being struck by imaginary bullets or arrows, I fell dead in rusted fencing, in piles of rain-soaked leaves, or draped across low-hanging limbs of an oft-climbed Maple tree.

Always, my dogs Jeep, Taxi, or Silver remained in the midst of my make-believe world. They were my fantasy friends come to life.

Today, I can still smell the pungent odor of the exploding caps that came through the barrel of my cap-gun. I can still taste the remnants of the powder that I sucked into my mouth and lungs. And I remember blowing that gray-colored smoke back into the air as if I were the toughest cowboy this side of Death Valley.

None of that, however, came to life without one of my dogs at my side. Each patiently listened as I planned every adventure, they jumped from the back-porch steps and into that fantasy world with the same excitement as I, and at the end of each day, I would sit on those same steps with one of my dogs snuggled at my side. I never considered that they didn’t understand me, or that they could not speak…in fact it was quite the opposite.

And then there was Chad. A dog of assorted ancestry with a coat that was a mixture of brown found in a freshly fallen acorn or the inner coat of a Grizzly cub.

In junior high school I attended summer Boy Scout entrapment at Camp Arrowhead where my scout master learned that I could not swim. And, reasoning that I might be the only member of BSA who did not know how, threw me into the deep end of the pool. As I flailed for my life, no one came to my rescue but my dog, Chad. Thankfully, I had been given permission for him to come with me to camp.

Will someone please explain this to me? My dog, untrained in the art of protecting the life of his master, even at the risk of death, belly busted into the pool fully intent on keeping me afloat. I know about wolves, from whence dogs descend. I know what the pack is willing to do for its leader, even unto death. True, my family became Chad’s pack the day we picked him up at the pound. But, knowing I was in peril, how did figure he needed to do something about it? Tell me, dear reader, is there any other animal wired like a dog?

I didn’t know, back then, that most of my future failures and accomplishments would end the very same as when I was a child…with one of my faithful and trusted canine companions at my side.

In high school, I passed the tests for a driver’s license. Let me tell you, I thought I was Mr. Cool behind the wheel. That is until the day mom asked me to take Chad to the vet. Anxious to drive, I loaded him into the car and then grabbed his collar and leash from the garage. When I came back to the car, just as I reached to open the door, Chad jumped on the automatic door lock. We just looked at each other. He on the inside. Me on the outside. I swear he knew where we were going and locked me out of the car on purpose. Okay, okay…I know you think I’m looney. But consider this, if he belly-flopped into the deep end of the swimming pool to save my life…could he not also have figured he didn’t want to be taken to the vet?

Surely, you’ve experienced something similar with your dog. Tell me about it.

Thanks for reading,


John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at Questions or comments can be sent to him at Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.