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Archive for February, 2008


What does the trio above have in common?  They’re all very smart and they’re getting an education.  Humans have been up to their scientific studies and The National Geographic –that fine publication that has long been a favorite of Yours Truly– has produced an article about just how smart animals really are (here’s the link to the article: and they have a number of terrific video and text features that can be found on this page 

Betsy, the Border Collie pictured above and the covergirl for the March issue, is a particular standout for me (If I travel to Austria, I would very much like to meet her).  She is clearly a bit of a risk taker, though, to let humans know that she “gets it” (Yours Truly has studiously avoided displaying his intelligence for fear of having electrodes stuck all over his grey matter by over-zealous scientists –this blog is my only risk-taking activity, the rest of the time I play amiable but dumb).  This is what they write about Betsy:

Name:      “Betsy”
Species:  Border Collie
Home:     Vienna, Austria
Smarts:   Retains an ever growing vocabulary that rivals a toddlers.
How much thought goes on behind those eyes? A lot, in this case. Six-year-old “Betsy” can put names to objects faster than a great ape, and her vocabulary is at 340 words and counting. Her smarts showed up early: At ten weeks she would sit on command and was soon picking up on names of items and rushing to retrieve them—ball, rope, paper, box, keys, and dozens more. She now knows at least 15 people by name, and in scientific tests she’s proved skilled at linking photographs with the objects they represent. Says her owner, “She’s a dog in a human [pack]. We’re learning her language, and she’s learning ours.”  

February 29th, 2008
8:46 am

 Vermont folk artist Stephen Huneck, sits in his dog chapel in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Huneck, who started out whittling wooden sculptures of dogs and now specializes in dog-themed furniture, woodcut paintings and children's books, has carved out a unique niche with his whimsical reproductions of dogs.

Today, we move to python-free Vermont to make a pilgrimage to the newly christened Doggy Disneyland, which from what I can gather is some nice man with an ample supply of doggy treats in a cabin plastered with dog photos and stuffed with memorabilia.  Here’s the link and the beginning of the article’s below.  Also, for those of you –like Yours Truly— who are interested in towns where great inroads are being made to include dogs in daily public life (someday I dream of waltzing into the Met or every bookstore), I’d suggest reading this on Los Gatos in California:

Doggy Disneyland draws animals, owners by the pack 

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vermont (AP) – Degas had his ballerinas, Monet his water lilies. For Stephen Huneck, inspiration comes on four legs — its teeth dug into a stick, or tugging on a piece of rope, or playing on a beach. The eclectic Vermont folk artist, who started out whittling wooden sculptures of dogs and now specializes in dog-themed furniture, woodcut paintings and children’s books, has carved out a unique niche with his whimsical reproductions of Labrador retrievers and other dogs. And his Dog Mountain studio and dog chapel — on a picturesque 175-acre hillside farm in rural northern Vermont — have evolved into a kind of doggy Disneyland, drawing animal lovers and their pets from all over, with some coming to mourn.  To Huneck, dogs are more than man’s best friend. “I really believe they’re the great spirit’s special gift to mankind,” said Huneck, 59. “Dogs teach us more than we teach them.” But his first lessons were tough ones. He was bitten by a German shepherd as a toddler, terrorized by a St. Bernard on his newspaper route as a teenager and left heartbroken once when his father bought a puppy for the family — but took it back to the pound the next day. 

“Through it all, I just loved dogs,” he said.  




February 28th, 2008
8:22 am


I never like to hear of the misfortunes of my canine brothers and sisters and this story from Down Under made me both sad for the dog’s fate and happy that we do not have 15 foot pythons in Manhattan (though I’ve heard they might be living in the homes of a handful of rockstars and tatoo artists).  Apparently the family in the story had also lost a cat and a guinea pig to snakes in recent weeks.  The photo above shows the bulge where the unfortunate dog is currently being digested in the snake’s belly.  The story below is from a newsite in Australia:

Monster python eats pet

Sophia Browne

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

VIDEO AND PHOTO GALLERY: A Kuranda couple fears for their children’s safety after a 5m python devoured their dog in front of them, just weeks after other snakes killed their cat and guinea pig. 

Daniel Peric said he now would not leave his two children, aged five and seven, alone in any part of the house, after the “enormous” python ate his silky terrier-cross chihuahua about 9pm on Monday.

“Actually watching it unfold before your eyes was pretty gut wrenching,” he said.

“We’d had the dog about five years, so it was part of the family.”

Mr Peric said in the weeks before, the family had found their cat’s body, which looked like something had attempted to swallow it and on Sunday a smaller python had eaten their pet guinea pig.

“When it happens once, you think it’s a one-off, but last night I thought “this is serious,” he said.

“We have ducted air-conditioning. Call it paranoia, but my big fear is that a snake will get in there.”

Australian Venom Zoo owner Stuart Douglas took the call from the distressed Peric family on Monday night and arrived to remove the scrub python within 20 minutes.

“They were very upset but they still had the decency to call us to come and get it,” Mr Douglas said.

“It was at the bottom of the veranda, they’d thrown chairs at it (the python) to try to stop it, but it had already eaten the animal.”

Mr Douglas said by the time he arrived, all that could be seen of the dog was its back legs and tail.

“It only took about 30 minutes to eat the dog, but it will be digesting it for two days,” he said.

Mr Douglas said pythons were amazing animals that belonged in the Far North but people needed to be aware that pets were potential prey.

“These pythons used to feed on wallabies but now they feed on cats and dogs in suburbia,” he said.

“This python actively stalked their dog.”

He said if anyone saw a large snake near their home they should call someone to remove it as soon as possible.

“There’s someone in every area of Queensland who will come around for a donation and basically volunteer to collect it.”

Mr Douglas said he would wait until the python had fully digested its prey before releasing it.



February 27th, 2008
8:21 am

A police officer puts on shoes for his dog in this undated photo ...

The fellow above might be tough but now he’s being forced to wear little booties. I can’t imagine needing these for the streets of New York –though sometimes in the winter the ice and snow works its way into your paws and can stop you dead mid-intersection. Here’s the story from SpiegelOnline (,1518,537659,00.html):

German Police Dogs Issued Boots

Good news for police dogs in the German city of Düsseldorf: They are getting US-made boots with thick rubber soles so that they don’t cut their paws while chasing criminals around the city.

Police dogs in the German city of Düsseldorf have been issued with smart blue boots to protect their paws.

The dogs will wear the boots while policing demonstrations and patrolling the city’s old town. “When they’re on assignment in the Düsseldorf old town we often get problems with discarded bottles and other rubbish which could injure the animals,” a police spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The boots, which have thick rubber soles, were bought in the US and the dogs will start using them on assignment in March, once they have got used to them, police said. Since the new uniform policy was reported in the local media the police have been inundated with enquiries from dog owners who want to know where they can get the boots in order to provide protection for their own pets.

February 26th, 2008
8:26 am

It is no secret that Yours Truly is a bibliophile.  It has been called “a gentle madness.”  I love books and can never be surrounded by enough of them.  In this spirit I want to share with you two sites that are especially valuable for all who value books: and –both use the wonderful data collecting capacity of the web to connect readers with books and help the compulsives among us keep track of things lest our gentle madness lead us to live like the Collyer brothers (more of them here:   And, finally, I thought you might enjoy this book-related piece of journalistic strangeness from the AFP (

Voting opens for world’s oddest book title 2008
Fri Feb 22, 4:55 AM ET
British industry magazine The Bookseller has announced this year’s shortlist for the oddest book title of the year, with a typical mix of the quirky and eclectic.
Visitors to the magazine’s website,, can make their choice from six mostly non-fiction titles unearthed by publishers, bookstore workers and librarians from around the world.
The winner will be announced on March 28.
The nominees for The Diagram Prize are:
– “I Was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen” by Jasper McCutcheon;
– “How to Write a How to Write Book” by Brian Paddock;
– “Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues” by Catharine A. MacKinnon;
– “Cheese Problems Solved” by P.L.H McSweeney;
– “If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs” by Big Boom;
– “People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Doctor Feelgood” by Dee Gordon.
Horace Bent, The Bookseller’s diarist, said on the magazine’s website: “I confess: I have been anxious that as publishing becomes ever more corporate, the trade’s quirky charms are being squeezed out.
“Lists are pruned, targets are set, authors are culled. But happily my fears have been proved unfounded: oddity lives on.”
Last year’s winner was “The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification”, by Julian Montague.
The Diagram Prize has been running since 1978, when the winner was “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice”.

February 25th, 2008
1:20 am

Yesterday, J.F. informed me that while he enjoyed the skateboarding dog video and the snow excursions very much, he suggested that since so many readers of the book have expressed such delight in my canine observations that I should share some of them here with the wider world.  This material, he said, should be taken from what publishing wonks like to call the “sacred innards” of a book even if my publisher, or my publisher’s lawyer, tells me not to (J.F. has instructed me to take the phone off the hook and run away from process servers).   So please accept the following free excerpt from A Dog About Town.  In this scene, I visit a Manhattan dog run with Harry, my owner.  In keeping with my philosophical temperament, I reflect upon dogs, their owners and a dog’s nose before my ranging meditations are once again interrupted by the plot of this book that is both a mystery and a comedy (here’s two recent blog reviews and; and Luvmutt is running a contest:  Enjoy:
The purpose for most canine outings in New York City is bodily necessity.  You can tell a lot about a dog by the way he or she approaches a Number 1 and a Number 2.  There are, for example, the Zigzag Dumpers for whom a Number 2 is impossible if not preceded by a pell-mell dash through the undergrowth with their owners either leashed in tow or shouting from a quarter of a mile away.  Then there are the Squat-and-Drops.  Squat-and-Drops never stand on ceremony.  They couldn’t care less who was in the immediate vicinity.  When they need to do their business, there is no stopping them.  A New York dog run has all kinds.  Plenty of Zigzag Dumpers and Squat-and-Drops, of course, but also the more demure Foliage-Finders, who refuse to be seen in process; the picky Asphalt-Onlys (real city dogs), who never go on grass or dirt; and their opposites, the Earth-Onlys, who never go on the asphalt.  It is tempting to be breedist, assume a bulldog will be a Squat-and-Drop and a poodle a Foliage-Finder, but this would be a mistake.  
The Squat-and-Drops were out in full force when Harry and I arrived at the dog run.  A hyperactive greyhound raced between legs in an attempt to harass an Alsatian; an anorexic toy poodle fresh from the dog show circuit shivered in the chill night air beneath a custom-made cashmere sweater.
Owners fall into categories just as easily as their pets.  There seem to be two major pet-owning characters: the Apologizers and the Apologists.  The Apologizers take the blame for everything their dog does or does not do.  They do so vocally and with body language, usually sweeping gestures of surprise and shrinking postures of shame. The Apologizer seems shocked that his or her dog would push through the legs of a crowd at the intersection or do a Number 2 right in the middle of the street.  The Apologist is the exact opposite.  He –it’s usually a he— seems to take pride when his hundred-pound junkyard dog mounts someone’s long-haired Chihuahua or gobbles down a child’s ice cream.  The Apologist’s animal is like a surrogate free spirit that keeps the owner safely removed from the bad behavior while permitting him to strut the streets of Manhattan with caveman bravado. 
Harry let me off my leash and I snuffled around an oak tree, drawing the layers of smell deep in my olfactories.  Ah, a dog’s nose in the dirt.  If I begin to wax about this wonder, I might not stop and there is a story to tell.  I was about to push my snout beneath another root in search of a smell trail richer and more beguiling than the bouquet of a fine burgundy wine when Harry began to shout.
Randolph, we’ve got trouble.”

February 23rd, 2008
9:27 am

It’s snowing in Manhattan –the first notable accumulation of the year and my Labrador sensibilities are on full alert.  Somewhere deep within my genetic marrow memories are being awoken of tundras, ice floes and snow drifts and I long for Harry to wake up so that I can frolic and roll in the currently pristine white of Central Park (rain and sullying New York foot traffic predicted for later in the day).  

In this spirit, I thought it made sense to feature the upcoming Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race –that legendary joining of dog and man in the wilds of Alaska.  Trolling the wires I found a nice feature from the Alaska Daily News about Curious, a nine-year old still running the race despite his owner’s attempts to relegate him to the status of “family” dog (a portion follows this post) and another nice overview of the race and dog sledding by the Boston Globe

The history of the great race can be found here and here  There is even a sled dog blogger, Zuma, responsible for blogging the play-by-plays of the race at   

I hear Harry stirring in the bedroom and will apply coercive, but subtle, measures to insure that we are soon on our way out the door.  As George Santayana once said and I adapt, “Gentlemen (and Gentlewomen), I am late for my appointment for winter.”

From the Curious article from the Alaska Daily News (with Melissa DeVaughn):

From the back of the sled runners this week, I watched Curious carefully. Because he has been overcoming a leg injury, I wanted to make sure his gait was smooth and that the speed of the younger dogs was not too much for him.

But Curious is the biggest of my 10 sled dogs and the most hardheaded. He refuses, at age 9, to slow down one bit. When I tried to relegate him to the status of “kid dog” — meaning he would pull my children on their sled around a 400-yard trail instead of the longer, 20-plus-mile trails he grew up running — he flat-out refused. The kids would say “Hike!” or “All right!” to get him going. He’d start and run about 5 feet before simply turning around and coming back to me with a look in his eyes that seemed to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, right?”

February 22nd, 2008
8:50 am


I’m not one for blindly deluging my friends with “funny” videos but this one is well worth watching and sharing: 

Apparently the dog on the board is Tyson, who identifies himself first as a skater and second as a dog, but is fully commercialized as both at –though after a brief search of the web it seems that Tyson isn’t the only one and skateboarding is something bulldogs might just do naturally.

February 21st, 2008
9:04 am


It’s a bright, cold morning here in NY and I’ve awoken early and with a renewed vigor.  Central Park had the usual canine and human characters tramping about on the brown winter grass and bridle paths and I avoided as many humiliating hindquarter sniffs as possible.

I will be doing an unprecedented two posts today if my stamina holds out.  The first to share with you is this link from the NY Times:  

As a committed reader and “shadow” author, I find Egan’s convictions inspiring and dearly hope his argument is correct, that the book –paper, electronic or otherwise— is not dead.  The article begins:  “Every now and then, someone who is brilliant says something stupid — often the result of spending too much time riding a jet stream of high praise. Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple Inc., did such a thing last month when he all but declared the death of reading…” and goes on to these excellent observations: “Reading is something else, an engagement of the imagination with life experience. It’s fad-resistant, precisely because human beings are hard-wired for story, and intrinsically curious. Reading is not about product.  For most of my lifetime, I’ve heard that reading is dead. In that time, disco has died, drive-in movies have nearly died, and something called The Clapper has come and gone through bedrooms across the nation.  But reading? This year, about 400 million books will be sold in the United States. Overall, business is up 1 percent — not bad, in a rough economy, for a $15 billion industry still populated by people whose idea of how to sell books dates to Bartleby the Scrivener.” Yes, well worth a read.

February 21st, 2008
8:52 am

I have to apologize for my late rising this morning, my Labrador thyroid has conspired with a chilly and gusty New York to keep me curled up in my sunny corner adding an hour or two extra sleep to my 12-hour Labrador quota.  With sleep still in my eyes, I trolled the Internet for some useful kernel for my readers upon which I could shed some light or particular canine insight.  Alas, all I could find was more evidence of canine exploitation (the photo above).  Not only does this fellow look ridiculous, he also looks terribly uncomfortable.  I’ve been twice forced to wear clothes when posing for the covers of A Dog About Town and A Dog Among Diplomats.  Fortunately, they were custom fit to my generous frame.  For anyone who might impetuously decide to “dress the dog,” please take a brief look at the skeletal diagram below and draw the sensible conclusion.  The “hock” an anatamocial feature not shared with humans is especially jean-unfriendly. 

Image:Anatomy and physiology of animals Common dog joints.jpg

Also, here’s a followup link to yesterday’s post about Huckleberry, the dog-napped Labrador from Canada.  Two suspects in custody: 

February 20th, 2008
10:34 am