Archive for the ‘dalmations’ Category

Basic litter assessment

Basic litter assessment…for dogs

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


“Why doesn’t he act the way he did when he was a puppy?” — John Preston Smith

Many times, when purchasing a dog, folks do get the horse before the cart. By that, I mean, they do research before buying. But, when they find the perfect litter of pups, how do they know which pup to pick? This generally leads to calling for my help in assessing the litter.

One of my favorite assessment techniques is age-old yet has stood the test of time better then the more modern forms of evaluation. In every case that I have personally used this test, and then contacted the dog owner one year later, the original test results have proven positive.

Here’s the process. Take the litter mates, one at a time, and place them in the doorway of a room they have never visited before. You stand still and remain quiet. Your only requirement is to observe. In general, you are to qualify what you see. Take notes.

The pup that backs away from the doorway will be submissive.

The pup that neither enters the room or lies down will be indecisive.

The pup that stands in the doorway, whining for his litter mates will be a follower.

The pup that bolts into the room, heedless of the unfamiliar territory, will be difficult to control and/or will be aggressive.

The pup that slowly enters the room, alert, nose to the ground, checking each nook and cranny, will be the ideal companion dog.

Put a color ribbon on each dog and label the results on your notepad.

Now, the second test. For this you will need one person for each pup…five pups, five observers.

Put all five litter mates at the doorway at the same time. See if their behavior changes. As an example:

The submissive pup will still be submissive, and his attitude may influence the indecisive pup.

The indecisive pup can easily be influenced by any of the other pups.

The follower will join whichever group is the largest.

The aggressive pup will circle the room like the antagonist he is while straining to subject all the other pups with his craziness.

The ideal companion dog will be the only constant; continuing to maintain his composure in the midst of mayhem.

And now the final test.

Close the door to the room. Put all the pups in a box in one corner of the room that they can easily climb out. Walk away from the box and sit in the middle of the room. Make notes on what each pup does according to the color of ribbon.

Who climbs our first? Who stays in the box? Who whines? Who leaves the box as if he’s an escaped convict? Once out of the box how do they relate to you; jumping all over you, nipping for attention, cuddling in your lap, ignoring you, staying just far enough away so you can not reach out and touch. You would judge the actions of these pups in the same manner as when you placed them in a doorway of a room they had never visited.

These are my favorite litter evaluation tests and are basic enough so anyone can perform a fundamental litter assessment.

Thanks for reading, John

Friends: By the way, if this is the first of my columns you have encountered, feel free to visit to read those that have been previously published.

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

Decisions on buying a dog

The need for finding your dog

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


“Purchasing a dog should not be a knee-jerk reaction to what you perceive as a want…when it is the need that is important.” John Preston Smith

Having trained more than 14,000 dogs since 1963, I have been asked certain questions repeatedly by my clients. They are five. Who, what, when, why, and where to buy a dog? Here are my thoughts.

Who to purchase a dog for? I think everyone in the world should have a dog. The practicality of this, however, is not, well, practical. I believe dogs are one of the greatest gifts our Maker has provided. But, dogs are not for everyone. Kids…yes. But disposition, character, and temperament are critical…of the dog, that is. Training for young tykes regarding the do’s and don’ts should be taken seriously. Dogs are not pillows, trampolines, punching bags, or pull toys. Children should be taught not to pounce on a dogs’ most tender possessions…his feet. Should teenagers have a dog? Maybe. Their interests are usually scattered. I recommend a heart-to-heart before purchasing a dog for young people. Will they be willing to feed, exercise, groom, train and clean up behind the new addition? For adults, dogs can be child, mate, and empty nest substitutes. However, before purchasing a dog try this. Drive through your neighborhood. How many dogs do you see chained, fenced in small enclosures, or rummaging through garbage. My take: if these dogs had been procured for the right reason, then these travesties would never have happened. No matter who a dog is purchased for it should be approached as a major decision. A decision that is costly, long-term, and emotional. Yet, consider this, where else in the world, for a mere hundred bucks, can you purchase a life-long friend?

What dog to buy? Purchasing a dog should not be a knee-jerk reaction. When you need a car do you run to the car lot and grab the first one you see simply because it’s “so cute?” Probably not. Rather, you consider size, how it will be used, the mileage, the initial cost and maintenance, new versus used, etc.

Try this: Give a lot of thought to what you need from a dog. Disposition is critical. Do you need a protection, alarm, or family dog? Is size a factor (do you live in an apartment, house, or 50-acre farm?). Single or double coat (definitely double coated if he is to be an outside dog). Many veterinarians and dog trainers can help you with understanding the characteristics of different breeds. Or you can study the “breed standard” of any dog by going online. And while you’re at it, read articles regarding health issues. Some examples: Bulldogs may have respiratory problems. Pugs may have eye problems. German Shepherds may have hip dysplasia concerns. Elongated dogs like Dachshunds may have back problems. And finally, does anyone in your household have an allergy to dogs? Bottom line…make an informed decision.

When not to buy a dog? I am not in favor of purchasing dogs for celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, or as a replacement pet if you have not discussed this with the person receiving the dog. Don’t buy pups in the wintertime that you plan to leave outside. Don’t purchase a dog for a child unless you plan training both. Many dogs are not intentionally mistreated…however, too often our best intentions get lost in the shuffle after the excitement of the new family addition wears off.

Why purchase a dog? Any of us who had a family dog when we were young know those times as memorable and special. I have previously mentioned how dogs fill a void in our lives in many situations. How about what dogs do for the military, the police, the blind, the autistic, and the disabled. In the early 60’s I advocated that nursing homes and homes for the elderly should have a resident canine. Why? For the same reasons that therapy dogs are used by volunteers in hospitals today. What do dogs bring to the table? Solace, comfort, relaxation, someone to talk with, friendship, good memories. They help us fight loneliness, depression, and fear. There are a gazillion reasons to buy a dog. Just be sure your’s is the right one.

Where to buy a dog? The choices are three. From a breeder, a pet shop, or a rescue organization.

From a breeder. When purchasing from a breeder be sure to see the sire and dame of the litter. In dogs, what you see, mostly, is what you get. If the parents are friendly, aloof, accepting, standoffish, reserved, playful, aggressive…then those balls-of-fur fighting for your attention will most-probably maintain the disposition of their parents. Many dogs a breeder has are not good enough to fit the ideal of the standard of the breed and will not be shown in the confirmation ring at a dog show. Therefore, those dogs are sold as “pet quality.” A pet-quality dog from a breeder will be more expensive than purchasing a mixed-breed dog. However, always compare price and cost. Price is what you pay for a dog. Cost is the money you will put out over the life-span of your pet. Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian about which dog he believes will be healthier in the long run.

From a pet shop. I am not a fan.

From a rescue organization. Probably, this is where most folks get dogs. However, the temperament of mixed breed dogs is often based on speculation. What really occurred in the life of a dog that caused him to land in a county shelter? Was it relocation, divorce, abuse, biting, health issues, or a lack of training? All my childhood dogs came from the city pound. They all had quirks, but they were great dogs and I loved them. In addition to your local Humane Society, there are many organizations that sponsor rescue and adoption for pets needing a forever home. One such agency, Little Victories, is in Barboursville, West Virginia, near my hometown.

The next question coming from many folks is this: How do I know which dog to purchase? I’ll discuss temper testing and assessment techniques in my next column.

Thanks for reading,


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

What is it about dogs? #8

What is it about dogs?

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


“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 Questions or comments: Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

The table, a Christmas tale #7.5

‘The Table,’ a Christmas tale

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


“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 Preston Smith is the author of The Legend of the Last Dog. All of his books are listed at Questions or comments: 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


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 Direct questions or comments to 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


“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.