Thursday, December 26, 2013

Every Time a Bell Rings, A Horse Earns a Few Bucks

Wheelzebub lives up to its name at every opportunity!

They say no good deed goes unpunished.  At least, that's how it seemed when I tried to get the van and Wheelzebub out of the driveway following the worst ice storm of the decade.  Clifford was slated to appear at the Howell Wal-Mart -- an hour away -- to ring the bell for the Salvation Army.  Their Red Kettle program was limping through the season without meeting its goal.

This faction of the SA had helped me by donating a half tank of propane the winter before my home foreclosed.  I had never fotgotten it.  It was time to give back -- at least a little -- and Clifford was just the horse to do it.

It took a lot of salt, and finally some chains and a hefty diesel pickup, but we finally broke loose and were up and running.
Beth and her trained pooch, Charlie Darwin.  Her husband Bob poses in the background with Magic Genie, a Belgian Tervuren.
 Once again, we had my friend Beth Duman to thank, who had helped us arrange Clifford's appearance. After many years of bell-ringing, Beth is practically a Christmas fixture at Wal-Mart with her wonderful dogs, who take cash offered by passing customers and drop it into a bucket.

Clifford was more than happy to ring the bell, especially after it was attached to his halter and all he had to do was shake his head.  Pretty soon I noticed that, every time I hopped up and down to keep warm, he would start shaking and ringing those bells.  I think I was subliminally cueing him, but he did seem to enjoy the cheery jingling sounds he was making.

Clifford stood on his mat for the better part of two hours, happily greeting the public, and earning candy canes for his efforts.  We even made a front page article in the Livingston County Press!  But he really just wanted to go into Wal-Mart.  Every time my back was turned (while I bent to get more candy canes or was distracted by some other menial task), I would look up just in time to see his rear end disappearing through the sliding doors, amid the hysterical laughter of surprised customers.  Each time, I was able to catch him before he walked through the inner doors to enter the store.  Once I had to run, and when he saw me coming, he ran too.  I was having mental images of him pillaging the produce section.  Fortunately, a shopping cart happened to be blocking him, and he stopped.

It was a cold, but unique and gratifying way to celebrate Christmas Eve.  Clifford's generosity and sense of fun illustrates the true spirit of the season!  Happy Holidays to all!

Cliffy's Aunt Claire showed up to snap some photos.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Still Have One Wish to Make; A Special One For You

It's my understanding that most people who train horses for therapy work use minis.  It makes perfect sense -- it has to be so much more convenient to haul a mini around.  But I have long been interested in having my horse Clifford work with people with special needs.

In this regard, I'm lucky to have a friend like Beth Duman.  A biologist and behaviorist who specializes in the study of wolves (Could it be any more ironic that she lives in Howell, Michigan?), she has now been instrumental in helping two of my dreams to come true.

1)  To meet a live wolf up close and personal.  (Which happened several years ago when she was lecturing at Wolf Park in Battleground, IN)

and 2)  To have my  horse, Clifford, do therapy for people with disabilities, specifically people with autism.

Beth has been volunteering with her dog Lacey for about 7 years at Pathway School in Howell.  All I had to do was mention to her in passing that I was trying to get Clifford into a facility for the disabled, and she said, "I might be able to help you with  that."

"Just one moment!  I have to pose for my paparazzi!"

A week later, Clifford was walking through the door of the school, where we were greeted by an excited bevy of staff with cameras.  Clifford, as is his wont, stopped and posed right inside the door as soon as he saw all the cell phones aimed at him.  A bigger equine ham, there never was.

Then we marched down the hallway into the classroom, where we greeted group after group of kids from a variety of different classes.  Clifford was in his element.  We began each brief session by allowing him to walk up to each student, just like he does in the library.  It was the same type of greeting.  If the child shied away, he simply moved along to the next one.  These kids, however, were different and he seemed to immediately pick up on this.  Many of them were in wheelchairs.  Every time I have ever seen him around a wheelchair, he goes right for the person's legs.

He did that again today -- nuzzling and touching them gently.  He blew softly in one little boy's hair.  He touched another's fingers.  Some of the kids were non-responsive, and with those, he paused a little longer until he got some kind of reaction.  If they seemed fearful, he moved away.  His manner was completely gentle and kind.

One of the teachers asked me, "Did you teach him to do this?"

I shook my head.  "This is all him."

All I did was stand back and let the lead rope play out.  As Clifford approached each child, the staff members would say the child's name, enthusiastically, in unison, excited and laughing.

Clifford painted a couple of pictures and did some tricks for the kids, but the heart of the visit really seemed to be the close contact.  One girl ran through the door and grabbed him in a big hug.  He took it all in stride. He crunched candy canes and made cordial nose touches with Lacey.

It became obvious to me that the teachers were very emotionally invested in these kids.  They laughed.  They cried.  They took pictures.  Beth told me that there were things happening, remarkable things, with some of the children, but of course I had no way of knowing what they were.  I was just letting Clifford work his magic.  I hope to find out more later, about our impact on the school.

After about an hour and a half, Clifford had made contact with some fifty or sixty kids.  We were ready to wrap it up.  We loaded him back into the trailer and headed home, driving through the slush and sleet.  We stopped at his favorite store, Tractor Supply, and went in to get him a bag of grain.  He came into the store with us.  I walked him back to the service desk, to meet with the manager about a potential book signing there.  While we discussed it, Clifford revealed TSC as his virtual "home" by falling asleep standing next to me!

It was a good day.  Merry Christmas Clifford.  Thanks for all you do.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Clifford Signing Books at Novi Equestrian Expo, 2013

Clifford's Expos, Eh?

We were excited to learn that the Novi Equestrian Expo and Novi Pet Expo, both traditionally held in November, were under new management this year.  The new promoters were enthusiastic and happy to add Clifford to their entertainment list for both events.

After a summer hiatus, Til was happy to climb back in his suitcase to perform his freestyle frisbee routine for the amazing Rock N Roll K9s Performance Team.

Este got leathered up for the event and auditioned for the Rock N Roll K9s.  She made a good effort, especially climbing the A-frame, which she had never done before.  She ended up outrunning me on the course and passed her audition with flying colors! 

Monday, September 9, 2013


On the evening of August 22, I looked out the kitchen window and noticed Clifford in the pasture, lying down and getting up.  I dropped what I was doing and called out to Cindy, "I've got to go.  I've got a sick horse."

I ran outside while the clouds piled up overhead and thunder grumbled in the distance.  Clifford was on his side in the pasture, but he got up when I called to him.  He came over and put his head in his halter obligingly.  I bent and listened, and heard a corresponding grumble from his innards.  So far so good.

We walked up and down the driveway until his tail lifted and he deposited a load of manure.  At that point I was relieved, thinking it was over.  But to my dismay, he sidled away from me, kicking at his belly, and offered to lie down.

"No!"  I said.  "Keep moving!" 

We reached the end of the driveway and his legs folded neatly beneath him, and he collapsed, sprawling by my side while I held tight to the lead rope and yanked on him.  Trudy watched us intently from her station near the lean-to.  "Get up, Clifford!"  I yelled.  "You can't be doing this!"

I took the longe and swatted him, once, twice on the rump, and he lurched to his feet.  I offered him a peppermint, and he took it, crunching it reluctantly.  He was walking crooked, his back feet weaving back and forth along the drive, ataxic in his movements.  I urged him along.  "Come, on, come on, you're doing great."

At that point, Cindy came out of the house and I said, "Call a vet!  He's really sick!"

She ran back inside.

Clifford collapsed again and rolled on his side.  His eyes were half-closed, clouded in pain.  "GET UP!" I yelled, pulling on him.  I swatted him again, snapping him hard with the nylon cord so it would sting.  He struggled to his feet, and I said, "Good!"

We walked.  By now he was breaking a sweat and he seemed determined to try to stay up because it was what I was asking, but I could tell he really wanted to lie down.  His head sagged.  It was heartbreaking to see him suffer.  He had colicked only two or three other times in his life, that I could remember, but it was never this severe.  I had always been able to walk him through it, and the first time he dropped manure he immediately showed signs of recovery.  I took out my cell and called Stayner, my neighbor with his eventing Morgan.  He would know a close local vet.  I was having trouble handling the cell and Clifford, too.  He was staggering and needing all my attention.

Finally, Clifford went down again, and that was it.  No amount of yelling or coaxing could convince him to rise.  He flipped his head up and I tugged on the halter, "No!  Just lie there for a minute.  Don't roll.  Just lie there and rest."

He lifted his hind leg, exposing the white frothy lather on his belly.  "Clifford," I said.  I was determined not to get upset, because he would certainly know it.  "Don't do this to me, man.  We still have a lot of work to do."

Cindy came out of the house then, still on the phone.  She unwrapped a peppermint.  "Get up Clifford," she said, holding it out.  "I'm not coming to you.  You know I don't play that game."

Clifford lay there.  I leaned down and stroked his cheek and neck.  He was soaked in sweat.  He suddenly flipped his head and rolled, once, over on his other side.  He was covered in dust and gravel now, lying on the driveway.  I was beginning to think about getting a back hoe to bury him on Hank's property.  I had fleeting thoughts of Dad, gone five months now, calling Clifford home.  Maybe two years away from Drummond Island was killing him.  Despite myself, I was starting to cry.  "Clifford, you have to get up."

He lay there.

Thanks to our desperate calls, help came.  First was Ron Perkins in his white van, who had hauled Trudy from the UP just several days prior.  Ron was Clifford's special friend, having cared for him while I was away and giving him carrots and scratches.  When he arrived, Clifford rolled up on his sternum and lay there.  Ron came and took the lead rope and pulled on it.  "Come on, boy," he said softly.

Like a petulant child who has been defying his parent, but cooperates with the friendly neighbor, Clifford stood up.  I took the lead rope and started walking.  Clifford shook himself, and I could immediately sense that he was improving.  I loosened the lead and he walked behind me, bumping me gently in the back with his head.  We made several more passes.  Stayner arrived and said, "Oh I am glad he's up."

"Yes, I was really scared!"  I said.

Clifford started showing some interest in the grass and Stayner said, "Go ahead and let him eat."

So I did, letting the longe play out, and he wandered off and was soon ripping away at the lawn as if nothing had happened, completely covered in the layer of sweat and filth.

The veterinarian arrived then, Rachel from Kern Road Vet Clinic.  A tall and tomboyish sort, she said, "Oh I'm glad to see him like this.  It was not what I expected."

She gave him a shot of tranquilizer, and he almost immediately dozed.  She snapped on some rubber gloves and reached up under his tail, pulling out some manure.  "He feels okay in there.  I can feel more manure, farther down, a little firmer.  I'm going to tube him just be sure there's no blockage.  What did he eat?"

"He ate a bunch of green apples from under the tree yesterday," I said.

The tube went through his nostril, and she blew into it lovingly, forcing the water into him as the gases burst out from him on the other end.  His head sagged, eyes half-closed.  He tolerated everything.

"He's doing okay," she said.  "We will keep an eye out for other episodes of pain.  But for now let's just hope it was the apples."

I sighed and nodded.  She handed me a bill and drove off.  Ron and I continued walking Clifford up and down the driveway until he was alert again and interested in the lawn.  As the sun lowered in the west, I counted my blessings.

Since that day, Clifford has transformed back into his old self, performing tricks, fetching his cone and painting pictures.  But it gives me yet another reminder of how very fragile life is.  Clifford is 22 years old.  We've been together 20 years and I know each day is a gift.  Since that day in August, our bond has magnified.  I realize even more how subtle our communication is.  Every look, every gesture is significant.  The trust between us is implicit.  The love from a horse is different from any other kind, and when you spend years with one, it can reach depths I had never guessed.  A horse's abilities are limited by only two things:  His physical capabilities, and your own imagination.

Photo of Clifford following his colic episode.  It looks like a nice photo, but I can see in his expression that he's been stressed.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Best Cat

The naughty and hilarious murder mystery, "My Best Cat" is finally getting some attention now that it's available on Kindle.  I've been asked if the characters are based on real people, and if people in the cat fancy are really that crazy.  In a word, yes!

I would say the characters are generalizations of people that I have known.  Roxanne Moore, the belligerent and promiscuous redhead who gets murdered in the restroom, is based on several people I know.  Tracy Pringle is a character that several Ohio cat fanciers might recognize.  Her pasty and tepid husband might not show up as recognizable, but that may be because those types tend to fade in real life.  I had so much fun writing this book!  What a great catharsis it was.

If I get ambitious, my hero Kim Norwich may appear in another future mystery.

I have to say my favorite character was probably Ginny.  Her vapid obsession with her Persians, and characters from, "The Sound of Music" was so sad and poignant that I found myself wishing her well.

The cats themselves were fun too:  The spunky Japanese Bobtail, the sweet Devon Rex, and of course my inimitable Somali.

Even though I fled the cat showing world a number of years ago, I have maintained some good friends who still reside on that planet.   Those are the individuals walk on the saner edge of the lunatic fringe.

I had some complaints about the formatting of the book, wherein people had trouble following the characters as the point of view switches with each chapter.  I agree it was an unusual way to present the story, and it gave me a good exercise in narrative voice. 

"My Best Cat" is an extreme departure from my Clifford stories, as it is adult fiction.  I am glad there are some cat lovers who are having fun reading it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tricks are for Kids


Clifford the Wild Morgan!
After the longest, hardest winter of our life, I decided to haul Cliffy downstate and get him back in shape for our tour.  He needs muscle tone and in fact, hasn't even shed all his winter hair yet.  Maybe he was afraid it would never end.

After two days' rest, I took him out on the longe for a light workout.  He was slogging along a bit.  He didn't want to longe normally, instead preferring to turn toward me and rear, do his fancy footwork and trying some other tricks.   He doesn't like doing normal horse stuff.

Despite this, I persisted and he finally did some reluctant trotting.  I thought at 22, perhaps he was feeling his age.  I thought some muscle tone and supplements might help.  Pretty soon he stopped and had that "look of eagles".  I snapped a couple of quick photos before I realized that he was watching a lady and little girl walk down the road.

"Trot!"  I said, urging him to get back to work.  He shook his head and sprang into motion.  When he did, it was like slow motion.  He had that beautiful lift, his long neck arched, his legs moving in suspended elegance, and I watched the years fall away.  He was tipping one ear toward the little girl.  He made one circle around me, and then he kept on going, pulling the line out farther and farther as he made a beeline for the road where she was walking.

"He likes kids," I explained to the pair, as I pulled him back.

"We were watching his tricks!" the lady called.  "We think that's neat!"

I almost called them into the yard.  Clifford was so focused on the girl that we both watched them wistfully as they kept going, farther and farther away from us.

I realized again, that this is his calling.  His interest is not in working and perfecting his training.  His interest is in connecting with people, particularly children.  He is an ambassador, a playmate, a performer and a clown.

We need to get some weight and muscle on him.  He wants to go back to work.  He is ready.

Age 22 and still going strong!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Indentured Service Dogs

While in Tractor Supply the other day, a girl stood behind me in the checkout line with a very nice Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.  The dog was on a leash and gave me a sort of pleading look, standing right by my waist, so I naturally reached to give her a pat.

"No!" her owner snipped, and jerked the lead.  I noticed then that the dog was wearing a pinch collar and had a little vest on that said, "Service Dog in Training."  She was reprimanded (as was I) for this bit of interaction.

I realize it is the standard policy for service dogs to not be allowed to socialize, as they have to "not be distracted from their job".

I think this is a horrendous mistake for a number of reasons.

1)  A dog is a social animal and to suppress the natural greeting behavior will cause frustration.  The impulse to greet WILL eke out in other ways, or transfer to other (less desirable) behaviors.

2)  There is no way to restrain the impulses of people you meet.  Therefore, the handler while in public has to be constantly correcting the dog every time a person approaches it.  This means that a dog's work day is peppered with corrections over things that he can never "unlearn".

3)  Socialization in public places is a fundamental importance in the emotional stability of  the dog.

4)  A good working dog will do the job no matter what distracts him.

5)  A good trainer should be able to train the type of focus it takes to get the job done in a public arena.  Trainers unable to cope with this are either lazy or incompetent.

What the griffon's owner demonstrated seems to be a blanket rule for service dogs.  So many of them have very little quality of life, with an existence of humdrum, joyless days in constant restraint.  As the training world evolves away from suppression and correction, and into more positive and joyful methods, I hope to see a big life change for service dogs.

Terrible Til in action: One example of a joyful working dog!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hay, Chewed

Got a nice email from Standlee Hay Company offering some samples of their timothy hay, alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets.  Here is a pic of Cliffy from yesterday enjoying some of their alfalfa mix from Tractor Supply Company.  The horses just LOVE this stuff!  And their timing was impeccable because, as anyone in Michigan can tell you, we have had a beast of a season.  The hay shortage due to drought last year was immediately followed by the longest, coldest winter on record in recent years.  Standlee is pulling us through to first cutting -- for which we are truly grateful.

You could say they "take a sad song, and make it better."  Here's to better days ahead!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Horse in the Farm Store - Outtake from "Clifford Goes Shopping"

Here's a fun short outtake from our YouTube promotion. In this one Clifford is “shopping” and supposed to examine certain things on the shelves. He starts out in work mode, offering up “yes” and “no”, but then he sees the camera! He loves cameras and forgets that an actor is never supposed to look at one! I have to give him a little bump to remind him to “look”.

Want to see more of Cliffy in action? Help us with our 2013 tour by sharing our campaign link.

Monday, April 22, 2013

How Does a Horse Celebrate His Birthday? At the Library!

It all started something like this!

 Then, 20 years later, Clifford did an appearance at Roscommon MI County Library.

We were swarmed at the door!
 It was a Birthday Bash to remember!

Clifford got a horse-sized birthday card!
What horse could resist this plate of home made peppermint treats?

Not this one!
And a good time was had by all!
"It's not every day you have a real horse IN the library, but Clifford was a perfect guest!  We had over 70 children enjoy the program, and they have asked for him to come back again and again! Clifford even autographs his books! I would strongly recommend having Clifford the horse come to your library!"
~ Lisa Sutton, Roscommon Area District Library

Clifford turns 22 today, and going strong!  We are still working on his 2013 tour.  Please share our campaign site and spread the word!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Isn't It Rich....

Clifford was invited back to Cedarville Library to co-host a clown's appearance on June 18, 2012. These ladies had a lot of fun with him, being kindred spirits and all.  They even let him keep the glasses!

We had a good crowd there and Clifford signed books on this little table.  The signing was interrupted when he realized the table had wheels.  He just wanted to keep pushing it around.

Terrible Til, Cliffy's border collie buddy, had a good time performing tricks for the 50+ kids that showed up.  This girl took kind of a shine to him.  They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Til shows how to best balance on clown feet.

After our library visit, we stopped over at Cedar Cove Assisted Living Center.  There was a lady there who wanted to see Clifford so badly that she postponed a doctor's appointment to wait for us.  She was sitting on the porch when we arrived.  Note how she is shrinking away.  I guess nobody warned her that when you meet Clifford, you MEET him.

After that, we went inside to meet the residents and sign books.  They took turns posing with him by the fireplace.

He was ready to nod off there in the air conditioning.  No bugs...  Ahhhh...

Thanks, Til!

Thanks for visiting us!  Help support Clifford's 2013 tour by visiting our campaign site.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Your Nephew is a Horse?

Amanda loves her "nephew", Clifford!
Here's a snap of my sister Amanda with her "nephew", Clifford, taken during his Christmas visit to Lakeview Lutheran Manor assisted living center in Cadillac, Michigan. Clifford put on a little show for the residents and even got on the news!

 Amanda has been one of our biggest supporters and serves as sound technician for our tour. She has helped me select some great music, such as Michael Jackson's, "A Better Place". Amanda helps me keep a cool head, also. One day when I was getting frustrated because we were running late, we stopped for gas. She whipped out a five dollar bill and said, "Here. Go get a coke, and calm yourself."

I am hoping Amanda will be available to join us for at least part of our 2013 Tour.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Our Big Intro


Clifford introduced hundreds of kids to the Morgan Horse when we announced our summer reading program on Monday June 5, 2011 in Grayling Michigan. We appeared at the Grayling Library the following Saturday with our program, "Horse Tales Around the World".

Clifford walked right in to both assemblies, the first in the school cafeteria and the second in a gymnasium. The kids screamed and cheered like he was a rock star. They were sitting on the floor in the gym and he had to stop and say hello to each child in the first row on our way in. We were Laurel and Hardy that day as he happily "supported" my speech by nudging me and grabbing the microphone cord.

Kids might not remember the message but I'm sure they'll never forget the day a horse came in their school!

We are accepting invitations from libraries around Michigan, with the intent to head through Ohio and Indiana through June. We are still mapping our route. Go Morgans!

See our campaign to raise funds for our summer 2013 tour and documentary film!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A (Kind of) Old Horse, a (Kind of) New Idea

Clifford greeting kids at West Branch Library, summer 2011.  Tape on the floor is a boundary for kids so nobody gets accidentally stepped on! Clifford goes to every child in the front row. Those who shrink away he will pass by.

Imagine a full-sized horse coming into your library or assisted living center, and the impact that makes on the children and residents therein.  Imagine the good you can do when you can make an impact like that.

Further, imagine having a horse with the intuition to know who needs him most, with the cool-headedness to accept all kinds of situations, and the brains to stay focused and perform when asked, and the sense of humor to add his own little twist into each program.

We have a wonderful opportunity.

I did have to put Clifford's talents aside last year in order to take care of my Dad as he grappled with what turned out to be lung cancer.  Dad beat the cancer but it was at a tremendous cost -- pneumonia finally took him on March 30.

So, we will tour in 2013 in Dad's honor.  Our touring vehicle has been rendered non-usable, and our horse trailer, Wheelzebub, is old and no longer adequate for long trips.  It is time to start anew, in many ways.

Clifford will be 22 on April 22.  Our time is now!  Since this is totally unique and possibly unprecedented, I want to take a videographer on tour and make a feature documentary.

You can be a part of this new adventure.  Check out our fundraising program.  And we already have our first contribution!

Look back here for updates as we proceed.  Clifford is finally shedding his winter coat.  He is getting ready.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Today's Project - A Loon for My Dad

"Display on Dark Water", acrylic on canvas, 9x12"
After 87 years on the planet, my dear Dad has left for higher ground.  I am so very sad.  He was a great man, my best buddy and the source of so many good thoughts and conversations.  I will miss him horribly, forever.  It is still so early, and I haven't thought about how I am going to come to terms with this tremendous loss, but I feel every day pulling me farther away from his time here.

This is my firat painting since he's been gone, a fitting one as we often sat out on the deck at camp in the evenings, listening to the loons yodel and howl as they flew over to settle into Bailey's Lake.  It was my favorite part of the days on Drummond.

Dad gave me a great gift in sharing his love for the natural world.  He taught me respect for the earth and for all living things.  When I am walking through the woods I usually see something that I can't wait to tell him about.  I know I will always think of him when I am in the woods.  I hope that, because of this, I will somehow be able to keep him close by.

Native Americans considered the loon the totem of dreams.  To see a loon signifies that you are drawing closer to your dearest hopes and wishes.  Of course, to the mainstream, a loon is a term for crazy -- which at this point in time, is totally accurate.  With the current mess
of characters crawling out of the woodwork, it would have to be loons.

It's either that or vultures.

"Loon Light" acrylic on canvas 9x12", 2012

Monday, March 25, 2013

Talking With Dogs

As I am moving back into my role as teacher, not only through the upcoming Tricks class at Borderhauss Kennels but as a certified CATCH trainer mentor, I'm realizing how much nonverbal actions and consequences go into my daily routines.  My thoughts are constantly on reinforcing behaviors that I like, eliminating ones I don't like.  There are very few random treats I give my dogs.  I am in the mode of thinking that no cookie goes wasted.  I am, in essence, a training machine.

Til and Ms. Rip hanging out at Cindy's house.
While this might seem kind of sad, it puts communication on a whole new level.  I have had to reassess this, too, because now that I have my first border collie, I realize that I haven't made full use of the wonderful cognitive skills in dogs.  I no longer use the grunts and broken English reminiscent of an old Tarzan movie.  I use full sentences.  "Til, Nikita stole your toy and hid it in her cage.  You can find it in there.  Go get it out and bring it to me."

And he does.

I am talking to the border collie much more than I have to others, and the overflow extends to other dogs around him.

A few weeks ago, in house sitting for my friend Cindy while she was away, and caring for her two dogs, I was back to Square One.  The dogs, a Labrador named Nikita and a spaniel mix named Maggie, are both "amateurs" when it comes to the ever evolving "Bailey Method".  Nikita especially is completely clueless.  She is a big, tan, smiling, good-natured oaf, awkward and pushy in her affections.

I hold up a cookie.  "Sit," I tell her.  I KNOW she knows this cue.  She just stands there grinning, ears flattened, whipping her tail back and forth.

At this point, I have another revelation that with rescue dogs, and dogs who have been randomly reinforced, it is better not to talk.  Their lives are filled with meaningless noise.  They tune it out.  So I revert back to my old nonverbal ways and simply hold the cookie back over her head.  She sits. I toss the cookie and she clumsily snaps at it.

With Nikita I would be back to Tarzan Talk for a little while, using the barest of verbiage, while she begins to grasp all over again that language really does have meaning, and to listen intently for more complex instructions.  As she got to know me, she would eventually start to pay more attention.

Perhaps even more importantly, I would have to learn how to listen to her.

Dogs have a more difficult time, I think, when they are trying to tell us what's going on.  They are usually limited to body language and it comes out in something akin to a game of charades.  "Timmy fell down the well?" is a joke -- sort of.

I just finished a stint at the Reading Pet Expo in Pennsylvania, where Til and I performed our freestyle frisbee routine.  Luckily for me, Til is very adept at catching, which compensates for my lame throwing abilities. Add to this the fact that our routine is usually performed amidst the agility course, with the equipment providing a number of obstacles. During one of our shows yesterday, the frisbee fell down inside one of the hollow jump columns, which is about waist high and barrel shaped.  The audience erupted into laughter, but because I had pitched it from behind the high jump, I couldn't see where it had landed.  When I looked around the high jump, I saw Til running tight circles around the column -- clearly indicating where it was.

I don't think I could do that again if I tried!

Yesterday morning, while I was sitting on the hotel bed putting my shoes on, little Estephar the Chihuahua decided to attack me.  We were running late for the show, but I started wrestling with her anyway.  Til came over, picked up one of my shoes, and plopped it into my lap.

That time, again, the message was unmistakable.

As my friend Susan said, "At least there is one mature and responsible member in this family."