Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Dog Whisperer" Cesar Milan says dogs live completely in the present moment. They don't care about what happened before, he says. They only care about now.
I disagree.
Dogs probably aren't all that different from people in this respect. We all live in the present moment, sometimes; but we also think about the past, and anticipate (or worry about) the future. Most people look forward to the some things and dread others.
The dogs I've known do the same.
Actually, I suspect there's not much qualitative difference between how Bao feels when we drive into the vet's parking lot, and how I feel when the dentist calls to remind me of my appointment.
So of course when I got the suitcase down from the top shelf this morning, Bao knew right away what was going to happen. He watched me pack for a while (Why am I packing on Wednesday if I'm not leaving until Friday? Because if I take my time, I don't forget as many things) and then he went and got one of his toys, and placed it carefully in the suitcase with my clothes.
Living in the present moment?
I don't think so.
I think this morning, Bao was living in the future. I think his mind was full of happy visions of new places, new smells and long snoozes in the car. He loves to travel . So why shouldn't he look forward to hitting the road?
After all, checking into a Sheraton is a lot more fun than a visit to the vet.
Or for that matter, to the dentist.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Today we'll talk about sex.
Bao has got all his bits. He's what they call "intact". (Intact female Shih Tzus of child-bearing age, please form a line to the right. Maltese are also welcome)
I didn't have Bao "neutered" (what a ghastly word. I mean, think about it) because the breeder refused to sell him to me unless I promised to bring him back so that he could make some puppies. And after we did that, it seemed cruel. Bao enjoyed making puppies. He clearly knew what the equipment was for, and he also knew what to do with it. And did it with real enjoyment. Besides, I could tell he he was fond of his little balls, in a doggy sort of way.
We were living in Australia at the time, and, given the relationship between the sexes in Australia, Australian women neuter their male dogs with a fervent, bright-eyed avidity that sort of makes you wonder about unconscious transference processes. There was this one woman at the park who never failed to remind me that when (not if) Bao contracted testicular cancer, I would have only myself to blame. Cut them off! she kept saying. Cut them off!
Actually, I've been told that the incidence of testicular cancer is about the same in human beings as it is in dogs. But I don't see many men lined up at Castration Clinics for prophylactic surgery.
I know there are zillions of unwanted puppies and kittens.
It's awful, I agree. But what's it got to do with Bao?
He doesn't wander. He's never off his leash. He's not aggressive. He's never raped anyone's arm, or leg, much less their dog. He pleads guilty to having been instrumental in the creation of a litter of gorgeous puppies, but reminds us that was by mutual arrangement. And they all went to very good homes.
Dogs who live on farms and roam, well maybe that's different.
But urban, indoor dogs?
What puzzles me is the fact that all of us responsible, upper middle class dog owners (except me)assiduously spay and neuter our dogs, and yet there continue to be all these zillions of unwanted puppies and kittens. So this is obviously not the solution.
What is?
I don't know.
But what I do know is that Bao's family jewels are not part of the problem.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I became a member of a couple of national pet charities a few years ago, and the floodgates opened.
An endless barrage of pleading letters, address labels and offers of "free" gifts filled my letter-box to overflowing, and continues to do so. There are hundreds of non-profit organisations that offer succor to pets and wildlife in the United States, and every one of them seems to have my name and address. How did that happen? Do these charities sell their mailing lists to other charities? Hmm.
Moreover, every few months I'm being urged to "renew" my annual membership. Funny, but I always thought annual meant yearly.
I receive unsolicited merchandise (piggy banks, coffee mugs, calculators) and if I don't send a donation I get a follow-up letter asking if I've received my "gift."
I now have enough address labels to last 100 years.
All of this is calculated to make me feel guilty, but the result has been the opposite.
When I give time or money to a good cause, I want to feel as if I've done something worthwhile. I don't want to continually be told that no matter how much I've given it still isn't enough. And I certainly don't want to be bombarded with horror stories about animals that died in agony because I didn't contribute enough money in time to save them.
Currrently, my favorite animal charity is a sanctuary in Utah called Best Friends Animal Society. They rescue animals and give them a home for life. Once a year, they ask me to renew my annual membership. Every six months, they send me a newsletter full of happy, heartwarming photographs and stories about animals they've rescued.
This approach doesn't clog up my letter-box or make me feel guilty. But it does encourage me to continue to give, for the simple reason that instead of making me feel guilty and inadequate, they make me feel good.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Returning to the United States after having lived in Australia for 32 years, I am overwhelmed by the number of advertisements for prescription medicines that I see in newspapers and magazines, and on television.
It seems as if everybody in America is taking something. Every man and his dog.
I already knew Bao would need a rabies innoculation. (They don't have rabies in Australia. Or in Ireland. Bet you didn't know that, did you?) But is all this other stuff really necessary?
When I was a girl (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) you took your dog for shots when it was a puppy, and for a rabies shot every few years, and -- unless it got bit by a snake or run over by a car -- that was it.
Now there's heart worm, hepatitis, parainfluenxa, bordatella, giardia and the list just keeps growing.
Where have all these diseases come from?
I remember the Eisenhower years. The dogs were healthier back then, and so were the people. The only pills we took were vitamins. Asthma was unusual, and nobody had even heard of attention deficit disorder. Most people weren't overweight. Half of America wasn't depressed, and the other half didn't suffer from erectile dysfunction. And for some reason, we all stayed hydrated without having to carry plastic bottles of water everywhere we went.
I hate watching them inject all those chemicals into Bao.
They're protecting him, I know. But what else are they doing to him?
And what are we doing to ourselves?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Moving to a new city? Thinking of buying a house and wondering what the neighbors are like? What I do when I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to live in a particular area is take a walk up and down the streets. I walk slowly. I take my time. I am observant. I carefully examine the sidewalk, the nature-strip and the grass. Sometimes I even look under the shrubs.
What am I looking for?
Life has taught me the following lesson: There are two kinds of people in this world -- people who pick up after their dogs, and people who don't.
The people who pick up tend to be considerate, well-mannered, generous, responsible and friendly. They make good nighbors.
People who don't pick up are often arrogant, rude, contemptuous, nasty and ill-mannered. They let their dogs run loose day and night. They throw lots of loud parties, and their friends park in your driveway and get drunk and vomit on your lawn.
Interestingly, this has got nothing to do with education, or even affluence. I've lived in modest neighborhoods where everyone looks out for everyone else, and I've lived in wealthy neighborhoods full of rich pigs.
For instance. Bao and I spent three days in San Diego last week. We stayed at a lovely hotel on Shelter Island, an idyllic spot with the marina on one side and the bay on the other. I like Shelter Island because it's a pretty place to walk in the morning, and because you don't hear the airplanes as much as you do in other parts of San Diego.
This was an up market holiday. Shelter Island is expensive. Million dollar yachts (and their owners) everywhere. Classy foreign cars. Designer clothes. Nice restaurants.
And dog poop.
Wealthy they may be. But these people don't pick up.
Shelter Island Drive is disgusting.
So go figure.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Planning to fly with your small dog?
It's not all that difficult. Many airlines accept pets, provided you give them advance notification and agree to keep your pet in a pet carrier that's small enough to fit underneath the seat.
But what some airlines won't do is advise you whether or not the flight you've booked is appropriate for someone travelling with a pet, or a Service Animal.
Bao and I flew from Tucson to Fort Lauderdale and back recently. Full fare, First Class ticket. Major airline. Expensive.
The journey involved two flights each way. When I booked the ticket (on the airline's website) I did notice that the segment from Houston to Tucson they'd nominated was being operated by what looked like an affiliated company. So I called the airline and told them that I was travelling with a Service Animal. No problem, they said. The flight is a regional jet.
A jet is a jet, right?
Bao and I found ourselves crammed into an itsy, bitsy, teensy, weensy little airplane with tiny little seats (two on one side of the aircraft, one on the other) and a center aisle that couldn't have been more than twelve inches wide.
And when I say teensy weensy, I mean it. If I weighed 300 pounds or was over six feet tall I wouldn't have even fit into the seat. And there was no way you'd get a pet carrier under the seat, unless the pet was a cricket. What if my Service Dog was a German Shepherd? I asked. Where would you have put him?
In the aisle, was the reply.
In the aisle? There were 49 other passengers on this flight. What if there was an emergency? Can you imagine 50 people trying to escape along a 12'' aisle that's got a German Shepherd parked in the middle of it? Yikes.
Talk about sardines in a tin!
I was not a happy camper, so I wrote to the airline and told them so.
My letter was answered by an Executive Specialist on behalf of the airline's CEO. Among other things, she said she respected my perception that the service I'd received was not satisfactory, and would include my "observations" in a report that would be distributed to senior management within their Reservations and Marketing Division. She also gave me 5000 bonus Frequent Flyer miles, and a voucher or a free drink or a headset next time I'm on board. So I guess it pays to complain.
The moral of the story? All jets are not created equal. If you're travelling with a pet, make sure they haven't booked you on one of these "toy airplanes" -- and be especially suspicious if the flight is being operated by a subsidiary company!
Better yet, don't fly. Drive, instead.