Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scent of the Missing

Puzzle, the search and rescue dog, sat out of the way between two pieces of furniture, under a large window in the far corner of the room. I rushed through the busy, chatty throng of book fans and dog lovers to meet her.

Susannah, Puzzle’s human and author of "Scent of the Missing", told me her girl is trained to stay out of the way. On a busy rescue site it would be too easy for a fireman or paramedic to trip over her. It's Puzzle’s job to save lives not to be a nuisance.

I was thrilled to meet the author and her smart and gorgeous dog. I descended upon them with a barrage of excited questions. I found out:
  • A SAR dog like Puzzle can take one whiff of an uncontaminated article of clothing and hold it in her mind for days as she searches through a crowded campsite for one missing child.
  • She can distinguish one drop of human blood in a thousand gallons of water.
  • In a matter of moments she can tell you if there is a single living person in a deserted building or a track of wilderness.
  • That she can show you the exact location of one (or a dozen) living persons in a collapsed building full of corpses. 
Puzzle complied politely with my request to pet her. She came out from between the chair and coffee table like a good girl but she was basically uninterested. She didn’t give a squirrel’s behind that I had painted my toenails and ironed my linen jacket in honor of meeting her. Hobnobbing with fans was low on her priority list. Puzzle would rather do what she was trained for - save lives.

My human intuition told me that was true of Susannah as well, though she gave no outward clue. She was eloquent, entertaining and friendly as she answered the dozens of questions I fired off. But I could tell, the book and the book tour is not about fame and fortune. It is about the human lives that will be saved by promoting the heroic canine contribution to search and rescue. And about the lives of homeless goldens that can be saved by Susannah’s telling, and Puzzle’s showing, of the lovely temperament and incredible talents of this breed.

Thank you ladies! You are the best kind of heroes.

Readers... buy the book! Read it and tell your friends about it. Contribute to Susannah’s and Puzzle’s efforts to save lives. You will be fascinated, entertained and inspired. And if you or anyone you love is ever lost in the woods, helpless in a collapsed building or trapped in a disaster area you’ll be so glad you did.

Thank you Golden Retriever Rescue of Houston for hosting Susannah Charleson and Puzzle on their book tour promoting their bestseller “Scent of the Missing.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dog Party 2010 - Raleigh's Story

Somebody counted 1,200 dogs! Raleigh was barked at only once by a white standard poodle. They were sniffing and I guess she didn’t like his attitude. She gave one sharp warning bark and Raleigh backed up, chagrined. The four of us owners laughed about it. Other than that everyone was calm and easy to get along with. Including Raleigh! It was a shock. Raleigh is good in crowds of people but near-uncontrollable around other dogs. In the car as we made our way to the parking garage Raleigh spotted a Jack Russell Terrier. He jumped around and whined like he had seen a squirrel coated in peanut butter.

“This is going to be a disaster,” I said to my husband.

I imagined Raleigh and I walking back to the car with our tails between our legs, banished for being the worst socialized participants at the party.

But it wasn’t like that. Raleigh saw in one glance a hundred well-behaved dogs on leashes. I think they conveyed the standard for how one acts at dog parties and, in typical poodle fashion, Raleigh caught on pretty quick.

It’s possible his experience the day before during a walk in the park left a mark on him. He had spied a four month old “golden doodle” puppy and began jumping around like he had to have it or he would die. I put him into a sit/stay time out until the puppy was out of range and Raleigh was calm again. I always do this but maybe Friday’s lesson tipped the balance. He remembered the consequences and didn’t want to end up in an embarrassing time out in front of 1,200 of his peers!

Acting on hope alone, I walked him right into the fray pretending I had a well-behaved dog at the end of my leash. He crouched a little as we merged with the crowd. I could feel his doggy tension climb up the leash and into my arm. His body language said, “What’s going on here?” But within seconds he relaxed. “This is fun,” I felt him say. Soon I was confident enough to let him do some sniffy greetings with other dogs. Everyone was fine.

We didn’t arrive at Town Centre until a little after one pm. The party was in full swing. The costume contest was about to begin. It was a bright, sunny, May day and consequently - hot! I was glad to have my red umbrella. Waiting for the contest was a big black Rottweiler. I’m sure his owner appreciated how hot black fur gets in direct sunlight but she was working against the clock dressing him for the contest. Raleigh and I shared our umbrella-shade with the barrel-chested rotty while his owner finished his transformation into a construction worker. His costume included a low slung tool belt, hard-hat and goggles. If anybody reading this has photos let me know, I want to link to them!

Soon after the costume contest was a “trick” contest. At the very last minute, on a whim, I signed us up. I figured even if we came in last it would be a valuable learning experience. It would give Raleigh a chance to perform in public. Lucky for us there were only six entries but there were some darling tricks including a face-in-your-paws prayer and rolling in a blanket (we captured Wilson’s blanket trick on video). Raleigh and I were the last to perform and I was worried our standard fare of sit, stay, shake hands, down, relax and stand was a little lame. But Raleigh came off confident and poised and we ended up with a fifty pound bag of second place prize bootie!

After that we were psyched. We visited many booths and collected a good assortment of free samples. We greeted dogs and little kids and checked out all the water bowls. Raleigh laid claimed to the one on the northwest corner. For some reason none of the dozens of other bowls graciously set around the place met his fussy poodle standards.

After an hour and a half we were hot and a little tired. It was a good time to buy our “pup”arazzi an order of spring rolls and a beer. The Yard House Restaurant had a lovely patio area but didn’t allow dogs. How totally un-dog friendly was that! They get a “tails down” on the Raleigh Rating Meter. But next door at the Straits Restaurant the four-leggers were not only welcomed but were supplied with bowls of cold water. “Tails-up” for them!

And a big “tails-up” for the two-leggers at Pet Talk magazine. Thank you for providing Houston’s excellent dogs with a great party. We had a wonderful time! If Raleigh and I can ever do anything for you let us know.

Friday, May 21, 2010


On the streets of Houston, people walk up to Raleigh. They simply want to touch him. Most of them ask my permission, as that is the polite standard in greeting a dog you’ve never met. Permission granted, the sweet person burrows their fingers blissfully into the soft hair on Raleigh’s head. They feel compelled to talk politely to me, after all, I am this dog’s human.

If they know anything about poodles the first thing they talk about is smarts. The comments go like this:

“We had a poodle when I was growing up. She was so smart.”

“I know someone who has a poodle. He is really smart.”

“Is it true poodles are smart?”

Yes poodles are smart, especially standard poodles. They are master problems solvers. But don’t confuse “smart” with “biddable”. Biddable dogs do whatever you want because they believe their job in life is to make you happy. This is a wonderful trait in a dog. If you have a dog like this you have been blessed by the Goddess of Canine Love. Don’t ever take this gift for granted. But don't confuse the fine doggy art of people-pleasing with intelligence.

Many books proclaim that poodles are, hands down, the smartest dogs ever. Others rate them second to border collies. To hear some people tell it, if God had created a standard poodle to keep Adam and Eve company, they never would have never been thrown out of the Garden. I find some plausibility in that theory, not because the poodle would have protected Eve from the snake but because the furry beast would have kept her so busy grooming and training she wouldn’t have had the time or energy to get into trouble.

But don’t worry I won’t digress into a tirade about grooming and training here. Both are such a huge part of life with a standard poodle that entire sections of this blog will be devoted to them.

Back to smart. Dogs are like teenagers. The smarter they are the more trouble they tend to get into. Why? Because smart dogs get bored. One of the main reasons I am a poodle blogger is because I had to make Raleigh into my full time job just to keep him out of trouble.

Smart divides Raleigh into two different dogs. The bored, depressed Raleigh and the lively, engaged Raleigh.

When he is bored there is no question about it. He mopes around the house. His head hung down, he moves slowly like it is an effort to pick his furry paws up and place one in front of the other. He drops himself to the ground at my feet with a sigh and a thud like a puppet whose strings can no longer support the huge weight of his boredom. He stares into the distance, eyes dull, eyebrows furrowed. I can practically hear the wind blowing through the void of his unengaged poodle brain.

But give him some one or some thing to interact with and he comes to life. He is electric energy animating a weightless poodle body. His eyes sharpen like the zoom lens on an expensive camera. His mouth splits into a big doggy grin. The fine muscles around his nostrils ripple like the keys on a piano.

In the house his favorite pastimes are “go”, “find”, and “get”. He is thrilled to translate the bazaar, human sounds I make into an action that earns him something he wants, usually a pea sized morsel of meat. He loves to “go” to the target or “get” the specified toy. He will work (or play) as long as I am willing. He never tires.

A real favorite of his is “find” the kitty. He moves from room to room whining while he searches. He knows full well where the kitty is but the “find” part of his job is just too sweet. He has to drag it out, milk it for all the pleasure he can get. When he does finally find the poor kitty, usually sound asleep in her bed, he dances and barks like he just scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. That sends the kitty scrambling under the nearest piece of furniture.

If we go too long without “go”, “find”, or “get” he falls back on “chew.” If I have failed to provide him something to “chew” he is left to find something on his own. Knowing this is forbidden, he is careful not to step too far over the line. Left to his own devises he delicately lifts something out of my office trash can, a torn envelope or a tissue. He tears it into a hundred soggy pieces then lies next to the mess, a bored and pathetic heap of poodle suffering in tortured silence until the next time his services are needed.

Socialization! 2010 Art Car Parade

Socialization is the cornerstone of disaster free communal living amongst humans and canines. Experts say, “Pick the right breed, the right dog and apply copious amounts of love, training and socialization. The earlier you start the better.”

As I have mentioned before, Raleigh’s early socialization left a lot to be desired. We have been playing catch up ever since.

Socialization is like vaccination, you expose the dog to a little bit of what he may encounter in his life so he doesn’t react badly when he stumbles across these things in his daily human/canine interactions.

Raleigh received what amounts to a PhD in socialization at the 2010 Art Car Parade. The list of things that should no longer cause Raleigh to sit back with a confused look on his face and exclaim, “oh s—t, what is that!” now includes:

The Ghost Busters

A tie-dyed Bentley,

Baccus, the God of Wine,

And a VW bug disguised as a German Shepherd.

Raleigh's education may not be complete, as canine brains always maintain a little room for intellectual growth, but he’s getting better!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hands On at the Art Car Parade

Downtown Houston abuzz with parade goers, all out to cheer on the Art Cars of 2010!


Raleigh brought up-close and personal joy to hundreds of already happy parade goers. Unlike the parade entries, Raleigh was a hands-on attraction, lots of hands.

Some politely asked questions, intent on knowing all about him, some stopped to share their own dog stories.

One smitten little guy glued himself to our side after seeing Raleigh dance Salsa.

But mostly people approached him overcome with a desire to run their fingers through his thick, poodle fur.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sneak Peek of Houston's Art Car 2010

The "Cat"aillic – a 1975 Cadillac Hearse. All we can say is “Woof!”

Raleigh attended the Sneak Peek Party for Art Car 2010. The party was at Discovery Green, a dog-friendly park in the middle of downtown Houston.

Art Cars comprise a time honored Houston tradition. The party started at 6pm but like all art events it didn’t really get rocking until an hour later. It grew steadily in attendance and sheer bacchanalian pleasure until Raleigh and I left at about 8:30. We don’t know what happened after that but I’m sure it was fun!

Among our highlights for the evening was the Blue Boob Lady. She graciously posed with us outside her Gypsy Caravan.

Austin has nothing on us!
Check back for photos and details of the 2010 Art Car Parade!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Under the chair

Eating - one of Raleigh's favorite pastimes. Scroll down and enjoy the movie! If you love it let us know with a comment.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Poodle Fur to Clean-up Oil Spill

We have learned organizations worldwide are sending pet fur to help with the oil spill clean-up.

For years, the nonprofit group Matter of Trust has turned recycled hair and pet fur into oil spill clean-up mats and containment booms to use for Gulf Coast beach clean-up. These booms are easy to make. They are just recycled nylons stuffed with hair and fur. You can see a video of how to make them on Matter of Trust's Facebook Page.

Raleigh discards enough fur in a month to easily fill a pair of pantyhose. There are thousands of dogs groomed in Houston daily. We are looking into Houston's participation in this program. We'll keep you updated!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why Raleigh can’t go to the Dog Park - The Scandalous Truth

“Raleigh is, as of yet, unreliable off lead.” Those are the trainer’s words. But believe me, there’s so much more to tell.
Taking a dog to a dog park is like going with a date to a college soiree. It’s a great way to bore to the meaty center of your dog’s character, to see what lies beneath the training and good grooming.
Dogs at a dog park, like dates at a party, can be divided into three categories:

Category one: The gold standard.
This date is marriage material. He is polite and attentive. He doesn’t really care where he is, he is just glad to be with you. He listens politely to everything you say and attends to your every wish. Marry him before he gets away.

Category two: The roamer.
This guy loves a party. Don’t get me wrong, he is glad you are there with him. But he finds the pull of others irresistible and simply must have a word with everyone in attendance.
The date on the high end of category two will make the rounds from one end of the party to the other dragging you along by the hand. The date on the low end of this category will sit you on the couch and leave on the auspices of getting you both a beer. The rest of the night you will receive short obligatory visits as he moves from group to interesting group.

Category three: this date is what I call the “free radical”.
As soon as he gets to the party he forgets he ever had a date. Or that you exist at all. He enters the room with a Tarzan yell like a second grader on a field trip whose Mom forgot to give him his Ritalin. This date spends the rest of the night swinging from chandeliers, dancing on tables, groping members of the opposite sex and drinking beer straight from the nozzle of the keg.
You can always tell the date of the free radical. She is the one you heard crying in the bathroom just before she laid a quarter mile of rubber squealing her own, or her date’s, tires out of the parking lot.
Unfortunately, Raleigh falls into the third category. I am the owner, empty leash in hand, who runs through the park yelling her dog’s name as he rips through the grass. He body slams people, runs through the mud and tries to hump every dog that takes the time to say hello to him.
This puts strain on a relationship. This is why Raleigh and I socialize in smaller, more controlled groups.
Dears, if you simply must keep this one? I recommend a choke chain and a very short lead.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Raleigh loves the park and the park loves Raleigh

Raleigh and I had a great time at the park. We passed out dozens of business cards and took lots of pictures. I promise to post the details within the next couple of days.
To see the rest of the photos, go to Raleigh Dog on Facebook.