Archive for the ‘Best Friend’ Category

What is it about dogs? #8

What is it about dogs?

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist

 


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“Histories are fuller of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.” Alexander Pope

What is it about dogs?

In the wild they search for, stalk, chase, grab and kill their prey. This highly honed aspect of the pack instinct comes from one of the most organized and social animals of all time; the wolf. And yet, in partnership with man they will retrieve, guard, hunt, herd, seek, protect, and search.

We can talk to them, confess to them, and blame them for our bad day…and still, under all circumstances, they great us daily as long-lost friends.

We use them more for our own edification than for theirs. Too often, after the excitement of puppyhood has worn off, we leave them to fend for themselves. We dispatch them to the basement, garage, or backyard. Fortunately, we do not do this to our children!

We leave them cooped up throughout the day until they are forced to relieve themselves, and then oftentimes we reprimand them for soiling the carpet.

We reprimand them for the slightest wrongdoing because we are moody, irritable, or short-tempered…which, by the way, is absolutely the worst time to correct a dog. In my training classes, I constantly reminded my students that the dog who piddled on the carpet because you left him in the house for ten hours is the same dog that anxiously awaits their return home every day with a wagging tail, bounding with excitement, and ready for a jaunt in the park…or a mere pat on the head if that’s all you are willing to offer. And guess what, they’d be waiting with that same exuberance whether you were a banker or a bank robber.

Speaking of dog’s behavior leads to similar topics. What do dogs think about, do they rationalize, are they problem solvers, do they think about their next meal, are they bored when left alone, etc.?

I do not want to get in a battle with those not in agreement with my opinions. I am not a scientist, nor animal psychologist, not geneticist. My pedigree is simply more than 50 years of training dogs.

Since dogs can’t talk with us, the best we can do is assign the same words to them that we assign to ourselves. From the get-go, this is a mistake. Because most words we use with dogs are not absolutes, they are relatives.

Example: the word happy. If you ask ten different people what makes them happy, you will get ten different answers based on what the word happy means to them. So, when we think our dog is happy, what are we basing that on? (Example of absolutes would be sit, stay, down, heal, and come.)

How about other words we use referring to our dogs: boredom, loving, affectionate, sad, lonely.

I’ve heard people say, “He licks my mouth because he loves me so much.” Not true, all dogs lick their master’s mouths hoping to find a morsel of food that has been left behind.

Example: Through the years I’ve seen thousands of dogs staked outside on a chain. By the end of the day many of those dogs are wound so tightly they can barely move. I’ve yet to see a single dog smart enough to unwind himself. Am I saying the dog is therefore dumb? Absolutely not. On the other hand, he surely is not smart or intelligent based on our definition of those words.

Animal psychologists use the word intelligence when speaking of wolves. But they use that word in the context of describing how a wolf might survive within his surroundings. In other words, they are not using that word within the confines of human description. Rather, it is used as a description pertaining to wolves’ dealings within their environment.

Dogs are not rational thinking beings. They don’t plan their day, hope to have steak for dinner, think about winter versus summer, or wonder if tonight is the night that you take them for a run in the park. And they certainly don’t think about that sweet looking Poodle that just moved in down the street!

Dogs live in the present…not in the past, and not in the future. Eight hours locked in the basement or yard while you work is not eight hours that they wonder when you will return. If I were to assign a human word as to how dogs perceive time, I would say that they merely exist.

I was once asked what I believe dogs represent. Here is my answer, as stated by The Representative of All Dogs, in my book, “The Bog, The Legend of Man’s Best Friend.”

“We represent loyalty. We are our masters’ keeper. When you are given to us it is a pact for life…for our life. There is no one in your life that you always think about. It is impossible for you. It is fully possible for us.

“Your’s is a life of multiple purposes. You are to be both good and gentle. You are to love one another. And you are to aspire to the kingdom of God.

“Your time on earth is challenging and demanding…full of days of wonder and nights of dread. For some life is unbelievably short, for others it endures for many years. You may be prosperous, or you may be a pauper. Your fellow man may measure you as a success or judge you as a failure. You may have been granted the elixir of health or the poison of sickness, pain, and suffering. Yours is a life of the oxen: you are burdened with the gift of choice, you must carry the yoke of life-defining decisions, and you must control the beast of desire.

“Loyalty, however, is the defining trait of our kind. We are a pack of the pact. We have accepted the ‘one thought,’ the ‘single purpose,’ and the ‘just cause.’ Because of this we think of you at all times.

“It is not our death that we fear, it is your’s. We can deal with our’s, we cannot live with your’s. You have been granted multiple coping methods if your friend or family member passes. We have none. That is why we lay at the casket, at the grave, or beside your lifeless body. That is why The Almighty has granted us such a short life…because we cannot live if our best friend is lost…that is why our world is over so quickly.”

Thanks for reading, John

John Preston Smith is the author of “The Legend of the Last Dog.” All of his books are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments: facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

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The table, a Christmas tale #7.5

‘The Table,’ a Christmas tale

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist

 


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“It is in giving that we receive.”

At the time, I did not realize it would become my most memorable Christmas. I was ten, it was December 20, and I was on angelic-behavior-mode in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. I was traipsing through knee-high snow drifts and blustery winds along near-empty streets with dad.

Near frozen, I remember asking, “Dad, how much longer?”

“One more store and we’ll call it a day,” he said.

The bell jingled when we entered our seventh antique store. Finally, our search was coming to an end.

“Surely, we will find it here,” dad said.

The odor was stale and musty, the wooden floors creaked, and dusty antiques were stacked everywhere. Glass bottles piled on old beds and desks, open chests filled with blankets, and walls lined with bookcases, vanities and cupboards. Chairs, couches, and feather-tick mattresses formed a tunnel to the back of the store, where books, toys, old picture frames, lion-clawed tubs, coat racks, record players, adding machines, file cabinets, and mirrors were displayed and priced. We walked through the “tunnel” and shook the cowbell on the counter.

A jovial voice came from the top of a ladder. “Gentlemen, what brings you out in such wintry conditions?” He descended the ladder and shook dad’s hand. He looked as worn as the antiques. “Last minute shopping?”

“Our daughter will be married on Christmas Day and has asked if the reception could be held in our home. We are looking for a table for the wedding cake, food and wine.”

The old man’s demeanor changed as if a switch had been thrown. He straightened his slumped shoulders, removed, cleaned, and replaced his glasses as his serious stare studied dad.

An uneasiness was building in my stomach.

Following an anxious 30-seconds, dad said, “I too am a collector.”

The man sighed and smiled. “Come, follow me.” He led us down a dark hallway through dimly lit rooms and into his living quarters.

Dad’s gasp startled me. He was staring at a table in the center of the room.

“It has passed through generations of antique dealers and collectors of fine treasures.”

Tentatively, dad reached out and touched the table.

“It may be two thousand years old.”

“It must be priceless,” dad whispered.

“It has never been bought or sold and has passed selectively from collector to collector.”

“And why is that?”

“Because of its origin,” he said, softly.

“Touch it,” Dad said to me.

Its alabaster finish was dull, but its ancient grain ran the length of the table. Six legs formed from hand-hewn timbers were bound to the table with wooden dowels.

“Surely it was fashioned by a master carpenter,” dad said.

The man did not respond.

“We want to do something special for our daughter’s wedding…but in truth this is beyond our means.”

Again, the man did not respond.

* * * *

On Christmas day, our family gift exchange took place early in order to prepare for my sister’s wedding. The table had been delivered and stood in our living room adorned with gifts, food, and wine. It was, in a word, magnificent.

Later in the day, after guests had departed, and my sister and her husband had left for their honeymoon, dad and the antique collector sat at the table drinking wine.

Dad said, “Thank you.”

“It has been a part of my family for many years,” the collector said, “and has witnessed celebrations of birth and death, baptism and wedding, happiness and sadness. Many generations of families have sat at this table to express thanks for daily bread and to thank God for His many blessings.”

Then, he said to dad, “Have you ever owned such a gift?”

Dad laughed. “Never.”

“This is the table that was used for the wedding feast at Cana when Mary, Mother of Jesus, asked him to perform his first public miracle.”

Dad and I stared at him; mesmerized.

“Jesus’ foster father was Joseph the carpenter. Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph took the Child and Mary to Egypt to escape the proclamation of Herod to kill the first-born child of every family.

“During Christ’s childhood, Joseph taught his son the skills of carpentry. And one of the lasting mementos of that father-son relationship was this table. When Jesus returned to Jerusalem, he brought the table with him by donkey and cart. It is said that he encountered a man of God who believed that a savior would one day bring peace and love into the world. Jesus was so taken by the man’s steadfast faith that He gave him the table as a gift, cautioning him, however, that it was to pass only to others who held his strong beliefs in salvation.

“Further, each owner was to carve his initials on the bottom of the table. And finally, the table was to be used at celebrations throughout the coming generations.”

Finally, the collector said to my dad, “I now pass this table to you.”

“I am honored,” Dad said softly. “But, when did you carve your initials into the wood?”

“This morning.”

“How did you know?”

“I just…knew.”

“There are two carvings in the center of the table,” dad said.

“One is the Aramaic symbol used by Joseph to identify his work as a master carpenter,” the man said. “The other is the sign of the fish, first used by Jesus of Nazareth. They would have carved those symbols by their own hands.”

Dad leaned under the table and gently touched the engraved symbols. “I accept this table and all that it represents,” he said, as if speaking to all whose initials had been carved.

* * **

Dad passed away last Christmas…just after he passed the table to me. Yes, I’ve looked. His initials are there. But so is something else. Something I had not previously noticed. After each set of initials, carved ever so small, is the date the table was passed to a new collector. An uneasiness builds in my stomach every time I think about it. In each case the date is the same…December 25th!

* * * *

The Christmas season is magical. There is no other time whereby people share their time, wealth, compassion, friendship, and love for one another as they do during the season of the Christ child. With this thought in mind, I wish for each of you the merriest and holiest of Christmas’.

Thanks for reading,

John

John Preston Smith is the author of The Legend of the Last Dog. All of his books are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments: facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

The day the music died…

The days following President Kennedy’s assassination

The days following President Kennedy’s

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist

 


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John F. Kennedy had a profound effect on all of us not yet encumbered with stone-hard impressions of what a President should be. He was endowed with so much charisma that the entire country had its spirit lifted, just knowing he stood for them.

As such, his murder on that grey, November day of 1963 brought all of America to its knees. The collective feeling of loss was profound. All forward motion came to a halt. Words of solace rang hollow. Faces were white and cold. Everywhere was deathly quiet. It was the day the music died…too, it was the day that America’s newfound hope died.

Teachers interrupted classes with the somber news. Children found their mothers weeping and their fathers arriving home from work visibly shaken. Families piled into living rooms to watch television, glued to the news out of Dallas. Our leader had fallen.

We all encounter life changing events: tragedies, celebrations, or unforeseen revelations and encounters that come upon us in the blink of an eye. Events never foreknown, or prearranged, or expected. Events that shake us to the core…events that change our lives to the end of our days.

A health scare, witnessing a shooting, an airplane that suddenly drops 1,000 feet before the pilot regains control, fighting in Vietnam when your outpost is overrun, watching in horror as towers collapse in New York, the murder of a friend or family member…there’s thousands of examples. You know what they are, dear reader…they’ve happened to you.

For me, President Kennedy’s death was the beginning of three days that melded into a life-changing experience that, since that time, has deeply affected my outlook on life’s precarious nature.

In 1963, I was an Information Specialist in the US Army stationed at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, DC. Two months prior to the shooting, I had briefly met President Kennedy when he paid a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (as it was known back then).

Three days after his death, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. My life-changing event lasted those three days. From the moment he was shot until his wife, Jackie, lit the eternal flame at his gravesite.

I was part of the Army public relations team in the Military District of Washington. Not only was our office tasked with providing information to the news media regarding any contingent of the US Army that would be participating during any of the events of the upcoming weekend, but too, it was our responsibility to plan and monitor all media stations along the route of the funeral procession. Keeping in mind that members of the news media were converging on Washington from all parts of the world.

For 21 hours, President Kennedy’s body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. More than 250,000 people paid respects.

For reasons I cannot explain and do not understand, most of that weekend was a blur. I remember the activity level was beyond hectic, I remember working night and day, providing news releases, fielding questions from thousands of members of the news media, and mostly, preparing for the coming Monday, the day of the President’s interment.

At 10 a.m. on the morning of the funeral I was taken by military vehicle to the cemetery where I would wait until the procession arrived around 2:43 p.m. More than a million people lined the streets…many cried openly.

Throughout that day I was stationed on a wooden platform that had been constructed below the Custis-Lee Mansion (today known as the Arlington House) and just above the burial site. That platform held approximately 100 members of the media. Well known pictures of the cortege (funeral procession) crossing the Lincoln Memorial Bridge with the Lincoln Memorial in the background were taken from that platform.

Following mass at Saint Matthews Cathedral, the casket was carried by a horse-drawn caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. (A caisson is a two-wheeled cart designed to carry artillery ammunition and is used to bear the casket of the deceased in military and state funerals).

Black Jack, a coal-black Morgan-American Quarter Horse followed the caisson with boots reversed in the stirrups symbolizing a fallen leader.

I remember that there were certain notables I looked for at the gravesite. The ones I recognized were the Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Pearson, the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, President Charles de Gaulle of France, and Prince Phillip and Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, both of the United Kingdom. There were others, but these were the dignitaries I wanted to see. Kennedy’s funeral was the largest gathering of foreign dignitaries at any funeral in the United States, drawing 220 foreign dignitaries from 92 foreign nations, including 19 heads of state.

There were sights and sounds that will stay with me until my death. Muffled drums, steel horseshoes as they struck the pavement, Black Jack, the jet flyover, taps, “Ruffles and Flourishes,” “Hail to the Chief,” a detachment of cadets from the Irish Defense Forces performing a silent graveside drill.

And at the end of the service, I watched Mrs. Kennedy light the eternal flame.

At 3:34 p.m., the casket was lowered into the ground.

On November 28, 1963, Thanksgiving Day, Mrs. Kennedy visited the gravesite. I was there representing the US Army. It was an unexpected visit. A simple white picket fence, maybe 20-by-20 feet, surrounded the grassy gravesite with the eternal flame flickering in the wind. Thousands stood in line behind a single strand of rope that seemed to stretch forever.

After kneeling and saying a prayer, she opted to walk around the gravesite and view it with Washington as a backdrop. It had been raining and the ground was slippery. I took her arm to steady her from falling and expressed my sympathy. She merely nodded, but it was a sincere expression of appreciation.

That life-changing event was 55 years ago…. or was it yesterday?

“Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” John F. Kennedy

Thanks for reading, John

John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Direct questions or comments to facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

How dogs perceive the world (column #5)

How dogs perceive the world

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist

 


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“Dog training affirms that his natural instincts and skills can be encouraged and developed.” UnknownIn my early years as a dog trainer, I realized most folks I encountered considered their canine companion to be more than “just” another friend. Let’s face it. How many friends do you make excuses for when they to poop on the carpet, shred your curtains, pee on your pillows, chew your shoes, jump up on you with muddy feet, or run away just because you left the gate ajar?

But for your dog, your beloved pet, anything is excusable and pardonable. Why is that? Simple. It’s because there are several aspects, senses, or instincts of dogs that make them a perfect companion, therefore forgiveness is justifiable. Consider this:

The pack instinct. They crave leadership, companionship, and family.

They are social. Whether it’s just you or a large family, they can be perfectly content.

The territorial instinct. Yes, this can be problematic. It’s why they chase cars, the mailman, all delivery men, squirrels, rabbits, other dogs…and it’s why there’s a dirt path worn along the front fence. But, in their minds, they are protecting your property and your life. It’s a pretty good trade-off if you ask me.

They have an uncanny knack of adjusting to our needs, wants, desires, and wishes; no matter how quirky or peculiar we might be.

There is a breed of dog that will fit into every lifestyle, whether you hunt or fish. Whether you live in the country or a city apartment. Whether you travel or are solitary. Whether you desire a companion, protection, alarm, or guard dog. Whether you are a car salesman or a car thief.

They come in every shape, size, and color… except plaid.

You can find one that’ll fit your disposition, whether you are content, gloomy, cranky, crabby, outgoing, sullen, cheerful, controlling, submissive, or ecstatic about life.

At the close of my last column, I mentioned that the precursor to training a dog is to understand basic differences between them and us. Here they are:

SIGHT: Not too many years past it was believed that dogs’ sight was limited to black, white and shades of grey. Research today indicates that they also see shades of yellows, blues, and violets, although much more limited than you and I. It is interesting that dogs recognize movement at a much greater distance than humans, yet the human eye maintains focus at a much greater distance than dogs. On occasions, I have noticed my dog’s blank stare into fields where deer roamed. It was only with concentrated effort that I could distinguish the movement that he so easily recognized. Therefore, it would be to your advantage when training your dog to consider using hand signals. Believe it or not, some dogs are easier trained with hand signals than verbal commands.

TOUCH: Most important during the socialization period. Once grown, however, they may or may not respond to petting, caressing, or fondling. Many obedience dogs, however, will work extremely hard for simple pat on the head. Research indicates that dogs respond to physical pain to the same extent as humans.

HEARING: Voice inflection and single words enhance his understanding of what we want of him. The words we use and how they are pronounced can encourage, discourage, excite, or demoralize. They hear sounds of a much higher pitch than humans and they hear faint sounds that we cannot detect. We’ve all experienced our dogs’ barking a welcome or warning of a coming automobile well before the sound of that engine reaches our ears.

SMELL: This is where the world of dogs and the world of humans separate. Imagine a bloodhound on the heels of a killer. He may be following shoe traces left on plants and dirt, or skin rafts (dead cells) lying about or floating in the air (we shed 30,000 to 40,000 skin rafts every hour.) It may be raining or snowing, and the track may be days old. Maybe hundreds of people and other animals have contaminated the original traces. Yet, the dog persists, never tiring, never quitting, until he finds the culprit. He has an uncanny ability to smell or sense chemical changes all around…in the air, on the ground, and on your body. He does not know that death approaches, but he does sense the chemical changes your body gives off whenever you have a significant mental, emotional, or physical change.

TASTE: Dogs have about 1,700 taste buds as opposed to your 9,000. Mostly they are around the tip of his tongue. But, he will also eat trash, antifreeze, or other toxic foods that may be poisonous. If you have an outside dog, and you have cranky neighbors, or have concerns regarding intruders, you might consider poison-proofing your dog. However, study the process thoroughly before proceeding, better still, enlist services of a professional trainer.

Knowing and understanding how a dog perceives the world through his sense of sight, touch, sound, small and taste, without question will make you a better owner, handler, and trainer.

Thanks for reading, John

John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Direct questions or comments to facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

Expect the unexpected…(column #4)

Expect the unexpected..and then some

Expect the unexpected..and then some

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist

 


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“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 jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments can be directed to facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. 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

 


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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 jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments: facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. 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

 


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“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

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