02 May 2017

Saving Toto

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Saving Toto

Toto would be hard pressed to survive on a walk with Dorothy in 2017. And the leashless walks–forget it! The main threat to Toto and small dogs like him—the adoring owners who let their cute canines walk them. You’ve seen that owner the one who walks behind Toto as Toto leads him or her around the streets. And should a bigger dog walk by? Toto’s owner lets his irresistible dog lunge, bark or snap at the passing dog. Sometimes, the daydreaming owner will allow Toto to lunge into the big dog’s lane or even lunge at the big dog’s owner. Yep, Toto wouldn’t survive a minute given the bad judgment I’ve witnessed by Toto owners. Ultimately, the blame for Toto’s demise or injuries attaches to the owner who never bothered to train Toto with basic commands like “Heel, leave it or stay."  

When I walk my German Shepherds on a heel, I can hardly believe how a Toto owner will allow their pint-sized dogs, oftentimes with Napoleon complexes, lash out at my big dogs that are protective of me.  Like cats, it takes just a second to for a big dog to grab a much smaller dog by the neck, shake once and the beloved Toto dies. For that reason, I carry leverage, pepper spray, to protect Toto from the thoughtless owner. I don’t want to see Toto die, and a blast of pepper certainly trumps a dogfight or a lightening quick death.  For other big dog owners, I’ve had to use my leverage more times than, I want to admit, to deal with loose dogs and aggressive dogs who want to fight the biggest guy in the bar.  These days, walking a dog comparable to driving a car—being mindful, smart and safe—crucial to enjoying a day with man’s best friend or a day driving the Mustang fastback.

And by the way, I’m not a dog park person because one never knows what’s racing through the gate. Has it been vaccinated? Has it been caged or ignored for days, making it hyper and aggressive? Does the owner exercise good or bad judgment?  Does the dog respond to recall? Is this dog trained? Will the owner closely watch the dog or chat? When I had to go to dog parks, one person told me if someone’s dog hurt his dog, he would go postal with the knife he always carried. Scary, huh? Another dog park patron pulled apart two dogs, one his own, and tossed the other dog like a football in the dog park. Also, some owners don’t recognize ready to war behavior. And it only takes a split second for a vicious battle to begin. To get a policeman's opinion, I talked to a K-9 officer who told me," Dog parka are awful. Stay away!" After talking to professional dog trainers about dog parks and irresponsible owners, I've learned that we're all disappointed with what we see. Playing ball in the backyard and dog class—sometimes the best options for a happy day with my best friends.

14 January 2017

Observations from a Well-Traveled Dog Walker/Owner

As a devoted dog owner, I’ve wanted to write this blog for a long time.  My second award-winning novel, Plenty, spotlights the many ways trained dogs serve people. We owe it to our canine companions to be their best friend.  How to be a best friend and a leader? In my opinion, training, exercise and time build the bond needed to nurture confident good citizens and respectful family members.  Whether obedience or agility, nose work, rally or barn hunt, all lives stand to be enriched. For those who realize the win-win benefit of walking and exploring public parks, among the most useful commands – leave it, heel, come and wait.

Ever been ambushed from behind by an aggressive, truculent, loose, old Black Lab or charged by a loose Pit on the beach with family and canines in tow? I have. The lessons taught and bond forged can make the difference between life and death for your vulnerable best friend.

Some safety insights and anecdotes - for those who dislike suspense and drama- from a professionally trained, experienced dog owner.

Good citizenship involves common sense and common courtesy, chosen by dog owners and the general public.

I’ve walked miles with my German Shepherds and Pyrenees, typically 7 miles a week every week. A promise made to rescue groups, to work my dogs everyday for at least 30 minutes, formalized by signing a contract.  For those who don’t know, a walk can be transformative. How powerful is it? After a neuterectomy, the vet prescribed Ace and later Xanax for my young fit must-be-sedated dog.  After he chewed through two dog kennels and began jumping in the air to snap at imaginary objects, I began to search for another answer. Yes, the long slow walk - more effective than potent prescriptions. Never underestimate the power of exercise or the walk to calm a canine, change demeanor or control destructive behaviors.

Surprisingly enough, it’s not the leaf blowers, concrete trucks or other large dogs that create problems, but, by and large, the thoughtless actions of irresponsible owners – including but not limited to: letting dogs off leash, letting the dog charge other dogs and lack of basic obedience skills such as come, leave it and no.

Let’s start with skateboarders, joggers and bikers, all of which can easily startle a dog.

How to manage the sound of a grating skateboard and a free wheeling teen while walking dogs next to a busy street frequented by city buses? A command to sit and stay off the sidewalk to face the danger has worked for me many times. Add a smile to relax all muscles in your body -important because dogs can sense your fear, anxiety and anger through the leash. Once again, my dog trainer talked me through strategies to deal with life in the big city.  A trainer and desensitization exercises – a sturdy wall against scary surprises and challenges.  As part of the pack’s continuing education a skate board sits outsides the back door; so, that I can use it gradually as a desentizaiton tool.  One of my trainers told me “Be positive about the challenge – see it as a training test at which you’ll succeed. “   

How to best defend against the fall predicated by a shadowing runner?  Mindfulness listening, and tuning into a dog’s body language have always been tactics, but not fail proof. For runners, it’s always a good idea to call out to alert the owner of your presence. For the runner enjoying the day plugged into his favorite music, I recommend unplugging to maintain mindfulness about surroundings – to be aware of another runner with dog in tow or loose vicious dogs who label passerbys as trespassers. In my neighborhood this week, a runner, while tuned into his music, attacked by a loose Pit. His calves mauled and shredded by the angry dog.

How to defend against an eighteen year old jogger who suddenly turns from a blind corner in to a narrow park corridor and runs within a few inches of three protective dogs?  Well, my plan to step away from the sidewalk and park the pack thwarted by dense bushes flanking both perimeters of the sidewalk. Leave it and heel saved the day as only one dog barked a warning. Commands – the great equalizer when common sense doesn’t prevail.

Finally, how to deal with the stealth and silent bikers that whizz by? Listening and watching my dog’s reactions, especially the one that’s 360 alert all the time. The best bikers ring a tinkling bell or call out. The worst don’t do anything but zoom by triggering a negative reaction by the pack and me. Like horses, dogs sense fear and anger. Circling back to desentization training plus leave it and heel work wonders and so do classes with a professional.

Next on the drama list – kids, loose dogs and dog parks

How to defend against kids who run, screaming, up to the dogs? I wave them away or walk in a different direction. Don’t let your kids run at dogs because of a desire to pet the cute puppies.  Most dogs don’t like hugs.  Ask the owner first  - many dogs don’t like the traditional pet/tap on the head, but prefer stroking. Especially, not a good idea, for adults or kids, to run at the protective breeds or large protective breeds. Best not to be perceived as a potential threat.

How to safeguard your family and the pack from a loose charging dog on a touristy beach? How to take control when a loose hapless combative dog and an irresponsible owner cross paths with you? On the advice of my local police department and my dog trainer, I always carry pepper spray.

By the way, I’ve been told many times that if a loose dog attacks a dog on a leash, the loose dog will be deemed culpable and will be viewed as such by authorities. Finding a bodily injury defense lawyer also not a desirable project to add to the daily planner. Keep your dog leashed for his safety. Useful to know if someone wants to see what’ll happen in a dog fight match-up. I’ve met that person too.

How to survive the dog park? Observe the owner group and the dogs with laser like focus. Shadow your dog. If a dog owner brings a prey-driven, energetic, as in waited-all-day-to go-outside, dog to a dog park, the stage has been set for a fight.  Exercise a high-strung dog before the unleashing him in the park. A few sessions of nose work may effectively drain a dog’s energy level as will a game of fetch. Call a local dog trainer for details. I’ve had more training conversations re: dog park danger than any other subject. My trainer also recommends going to the dog park early morning, midday never after 5 pm.  Snapping and straining canines led by grumpy owners never a good mix.

I no longer go to dog parks, preferring to travel the sidewalks. My next post re: a small family pet being attacked at a pet park by a vicious dog in full view of the small children and their horrified mother coupled with numerous stories about dog fights tainted my view forever.  By the way, I’m not a proponent of breed phobia – the owner always responsible for exercising, training and controlling his dog. Unfortunately, some breeds attract “bad owners” given the most minimal standards. Furthermore, most folks don’t have the opportunity to quiz an owner before dogs meet in  “play” at the park. And unfortunately, some breeds have gained popularity due to their fighting skills, bloodlines honed by corrupt breeders and bookies.
Political correctness doesn’t matter when I assess a park or a situation or an owner. My dogs aren’t allowed to play with certain dogs. Loyalty to my pack outweighs any lame thoughtless outrage about my decision. Given my emotional, financial investment and love for my pack, I don’t take risks with dogs designed to do a lot of damage or uber aggressive dogs regardless of breed. 
Aside from hackles, the unwavering stare should send up red flags for some intervening action to take place before blood bubbles.
Finally, your furry best friend depends on you everyday to set him up for a positive safe experience. Don’t fail him by taking unnecessary risks.

And on a final note, if a leashed small dog lunges at big guard dogs, the owner has put his dog in grave danger  - the big dogs may well perceive the little dog as a threat.

To those park-goers, families and pedestrians who think about the welfare of all dogs and dog owners who responsibly share the same space by picking up poo, training and restraining their pets, I owe you my profound gratitude.  

To the aware owners/trainers of prey-driven or aggressive dogs who remain mindful of the concerns of other owners and act accordingly to keep the peace for all, I can’t applaud you loudly or often enough.

Happy Tails and Happy Trails in 2017!!


04 November 2016

Plenty of Surprises

When I wrote my second award-winning novel – Plenty, I never guessed that I would move to three states during the course of thirteen months.  Somewhere along the road from a ranch in Texas to the California central coast to Nevada, my perspective changed.  In 2016, searching for and finding my laptop in the kitchen sink best summarizes the year.

Perhaps, living for months with only the contents of my purse and a small suitcase, stocked with four shirts, four pants and important documents, made me realize that finding joy amongst the disorganized chaos – easier than I would’ve imagined. A favorite blue shirt and pair of cushy strappy rainbow colored high-heels that I wore two months ago – still exist somewhere in Texas, California or Nevada.  My birth certificate and passport will be at my fingertips once again. I’ll find the car titles and fragile family crystal collectibles somewhere, undamaged, within the fencing of sixty boxes that surrounds me like the can’t be breeched fortress walls.  And it’s all ok.

Perhaps, living with a Danube blue ocean view isn’t all that I hoped it would be.  Perhaps, living with July heat in Nevada – easier than I would imagine. As someone once said, “Home is where the heart is.” Having downsized from a 45 acre working horse ranch to a suitcase, I have to add –“ Home is where the heart is which is anywhere with a healthy happy family.” Despite the upheaval and a hard landing in Vegas, as long as my family and furry friends thrive, I can… relax and easily find comfort and joy.

Oh and along the way, I gathered a lot of material for my third book. But returning to Plenty. Plenty reflects my love for riveting suspense and what-the-hell twists and turns. Like Beautiful Evil Winter, Plenty has emerged an award winner, and so did I despite the bureaucratic headaches, the mistakes made – a horrible unethical stable, near San Luis Obispo Airport, the lack of air conditioning, the inability to enjoy a backyard with my dogs, having to share a much smaller bed with a snoring husband for a year, a strong sense of displacement from my home state, friends and neighbors.

In ways I hadn't envisioned, Plenty serves as a reminder that even with the thundering chilling avalanche of change that gratitude for the simple moments can lead to a mind-bending adventure and a unyielding galvanized sense of poise and peace. Never would’ve guessed, only hoped that I would pen two award-winning novels, learn to be more meditative, more reflective and more calm as a result of layers of migraine-inducing experiences.  Here’s wishing you calm and vision in the wake of life’s stormy challenges. Oh, and that laptop – someone stashed it in the linen closet under a stack of sheets.

08 May 2016

Mothers' Day Poetry and Quotes

To honor mothers everywhere - happy to share a favorite poem and quotes on this special day. 


"M" is for the million things she gave me,
"O" means only that she's growing old,
"T" is for the tears she shed to save me,
"H" is for her heart of purest gold;
"E" is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
"R" means right, and right she'll always be,
Put them all together, they spell "MOTHER,"
A word that means the world to me.

by Howard Johnson

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother - Abraham Lincoln

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.  - Mark Twain

"You know every story, every wound, every memory. Their whole life's happiness is wrapped up in you. ..every single second." - Movie: StepMom

An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy - Rudyard Kipling

24 April 2016

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month - Meaningful Plenty Offers a Perspective


Maybe your mother, your little sister or grandmother – whispered about in hushed tones at family gatherings. More than a quarter of a million people are sexually assaulted each year in the US according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, RAINN.  This statistic undoubtedly low in light of the fact that most sexual assaults aren’t reported. No one wants sexual assault to be part of a life path. When Dr. Phil discussed the subject with a survivor on his show, he asked two questions – “Did you want it? Was it okay? If the answer to these questions is no, then we’re talking about rape.” As a mother of a son and as the support system for a family member who endured a rape, this subject takes on special significance in our home.  So startled to hear, from my son, that a college campus-based club devoted an hours long meeting to the subject.  The shocking fact that 90% of rape cases aren’t reported bothered him, enough to discuss it with me. Without a doubt, a conversation starter for us to revisit the value of speaking out whether fondled or sexually assaulted or attempts made - regardless of gender.  And all of us should listen, without judgments or condemnation, otherwise we add to the already weighty burden of the survivor.  

 The family and extended family feel the weight of anger and outrage as they process the event and see the twinkle dim from their loved one’s eyes, the lethargy or the scorching flames of sudden dark irrepressible moments. The fearless, calm, carefree, exuberant person once known now replaced by an anxious, insecure, angry, unhappy look-alike. As with an-almost-fatal-road-rage fueled car crash, people change in the aftermath. The traumatic event  - a tsunami of epic magnitude, decimates days, decades and lifetimes. Rape - so heinous that even prison inmates target the convicted offenders, along with pedophiles, as one of the select groups to receive “special extra ” punishment inside penitentiary walls.  

The assault survivor, by the way, lives with the attack everyday: questions if he/she could’ve or should’ve done something differently, questions his/her decision-making in general, feels shame, wrestles with all-consuming fury and struggles with trust.  The survivor… who may live with the shadow of the perpetrator well into married life notices that some forms of frolicking unlock the door of a hellish recurring nightmare. 

Grateful to use my writing skills to pen meaningful Plenty – an unflinching unforgettable look at young woman’s journey from ashes, as a prostitute-in-the-making, to a full life filled with Sunday drives in an heirloom Corvette to admire bluebonnets and the verdant countryside, a life fortified by family-strong friendships, unshakeable self-confidence and titanium self-respect. Initially, written in scathing response to Fifty Shades of Grey, Plenty casts an unflinching stare on female objectification whether inflicted by pimps on trafficked teens or by a handsome male in a sex kitten for a sadist romance novel. Do I consider it important to discuss the femme managing the egocentric alpha male dynamic behind closed doors? Why yes, yes I do. Do I think an embattled woman can prevail, find love and joy with a man who deifies stereotypes?  Yes, and when people sympathize, understand and respect survivors’ challenges and choices and reserve judgment about atypical relationships won’t we, as a society, more fully evolve?   Yes, yes indeed.