Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lessons from an Old Dog

I live in a town that runs on adrenalin. Road biking, mountain biking, trail running, skate skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding--everybody is going fast, fast, and faster! Everyone in Park City is in training for something, whether it really is the next Olympics or some long-held dream they've had. The results of this is that people here are very fit, keep many orthopedic surgeons hopping, and don't have time to just stop and "visit."

Now as you may or may not know, I was born and raised in the part of the country that perfected the art of "visiting." Folks in the South love to just sit around on the porch or chat on the sidewalk and catch up. We'll talk about anything--the weather, the kids, the parents, the garden, the dogs, local politics--but never money or religion. Sure we may be in a hurry to get somewhere, but never too busy to stop and talk, even if for just a few minutes. So adjusting to this fast town has been a challenge for me.

There's a little walk I do every couple of days with my dogs along a beautiful stream near our house. The last couple of years, I've referred to this particular walk as our "Teddy walk." Teddy is my almost 13-year-old sheltie. He's too old now for long or fast hikes, let alone trail running. But this little amble along the stream suits him just fine. There are soooo many new smells each time we go out, so many things to pee on, and oh, the sun feels good on his back! The other two (younger) dogs chase each other up and down the trail or hunt mice over in the field. I amble along with Teddy, letting his nose do for him what his eyes and ears, and hips can no longer do. What he can do is enough.

For the last several years, I've seen a couple running on this trail along the creek almost every time I've been out on it. No matter what the weather (and we get some pretty horrible weather here at 7,000 feet) they were out running what I suspected was about a 5-mile loop. A quick flip of one hand or a gasping "hello" was about all they slowed down for when they'd see me and the dogs. Although once, the woman said to me as she ran past, "You need to run with those dogs!" Of course, she didn't stop so that I could explain about Teddy. About a week ago, I saw someone walking towards us on the trail. When the person got closer, I realized it was the woman from the running couple--and she was not running! She actually stopped to say hello. She told me she'd had knee surgery six weeks before and was unable to run. She whined and whined about how awful life is without running, and how she just hates getting old.

At one point, she reached down to pet Teddy who was nuzzling her knee. "Why he's really a nice dog, isn't he?" she said. "He is indeed," said I. "He's almost thirteen and can't hear a thing. He can't run and chase the other dogs anymore but he doesn't care. He just loves to be out smelling everything and being with me." We all strolled along the stream for quite a while--the two younger dogs chasing and hunting, Teddy, the woman and I talking and taking in small things. When we got to my house, I said to the woman, "I'm sad for you that you can't run, but I've really enjoyed getting to know you!" She agreed. She reached down again and petted Teddy. "I need to learn from this old boy," she said. "I need to learn to not look back at what I used to be able to do, and just enjoy what I can do."

Amazing how an old dog can teach us new tricks!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanks and Giving

Madison, Brian, Shay
There are so many, many blessings in my life--things I am forever thankful for. I am so lucky to have a wonderful husband and his children who have added a richness to my life I could never have imagined. I am so thankful for my dogs. They have inspired me in so many ways, and have gotten me through many a dark night of the soul. They have also brought people into my life who would otherwise not have crossed my path.

Kate Morgan & Dixie
Cynthia Lord & Milo
I am so very thankful to all the authors and their dogs over the past six months who have taken time out of their busy lives to visit my funny little blog and share their stories. Each and every spotlight has made me laugh, made me nod my head in understanding, and deepened my understanding of what dogs give to us. I hope, in return, answering The Five Fido and Friends questions has given these authors a moment to think of what their dogs mean to them.

Patty MacLachlan & BFFs
Ann Cannon & Zoe
I wish everyone--two footed and four footed--a peaceful holiday filled with thanks and giving.
Me and The Pack

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fido and Friend in Five: Cat Urbigkit and Rena!

Cat Urbigkit
In a book I read and loved this year, A Dog's Purpose, a young dog goes through several life times wondering just what his purpose is in life. Now, I personally believe every dog's purpose is to show us what unconditional love is. But there are dogs who are born knowing exactly what their purpose in life is. Cat Urbigkit's dog, Rena, is one of those. She is an Akbash--one of several breeds of dog who's purpose in life is to protect livestock. Cat's latest children's book, The Guardian Team: On the Job with Rena and Roo, follows two very different creatures--a dog and a burro. Roo is an orphaned wild burro taken in by Cat and her husband; Rena is the runt of the recent litter. Through Cat's heartwarming text and gorgeous photographs, we witness the two overcome their differences through their mutual passion to protect Urbigkit's  sheep out on the vast Wyoming plains.

Cat has written six award-winning children's books about life out on the plains. These books are beautifully illustrated by her photos and clear, engaging text. Some of her previous books include Path of the Pronghorn, Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs, and The Shepherd's Trail. Cat lives what she writes about on her ranch in Wyoming. Cat is also the author of a Wolf Watch news blog, and is a contributing writer to Stephen Bodio's Querencia nature blog. You can also view a gallery of her photos on her website.

I caught up with Cat and Rena during rare break in their sheep-tending, ranch duties to talk about their relationship on this week's Fido and Friend in Five:

Rena on the job
1. How did you and Rena find each other?  We raise livestock protection dogs here on our western Wyoming sheep ranch, so I usually have a litter of puppies every year. A few years ago, with the success of my first children's book, Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs: How They Guard Sheep, I decided I wanted a dog I could take to schools and libraries--and ambassador dog, so people could actually meet a livestock protection dog. I had a litter of seven puppies that year, and there was the sweetest little female pup that I knew people would love. But no, my husband talked me into picking the runt of the litter, Rena, who was always in fights with her siblings. She's sweet with her sheep, but the rest of her family members must face her wrath if she's not happy. For example, if I've done something she doesn't like, Rena will come up behind me and gently bite me on the butt, reminding me that she needed to get even!

A little lamb love
2.  What makes Rena's tail wag?  Rena loves babies of all kinds, but especially baby lambs. Livestock protection dogs have been bred for thousands of years to guard livestock from predators. Rena is no exception when it comes to her adoration and loyal protectiveness for those in need of a guardian. She'll lay down with a ewe that's going into labor, or watch over an orphan lamb I've brought into the house to warm up.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  Is it horrible that my favorites make me cry, every single time I read them? For novels it's Wilson Rawl's Where the Red Fern Grows. For stories, it's Corey Ford's 1964 The Road to Tinkhamtown. Ford's piece can be read on line at

4. If Rena could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  Rena would like me to not screech so loudly and run away when she tries to share her treasures with me. She would like my reaction to be a bit more enthusiastic when she brings me things like dead prairie dogs, or when she tries to rub against me to share the dead-skunk smell she's worked so hard to perfect.

5. In five words, tell us what Rena means to you:  Working partner, mischievous family member.

Thanks so much to Cat and Rena for visiting Fido and Friend in Five! Be sure to visit Cat's website to see more of her photos, find out about her other books, and learn more about the wolves of Yellowstone.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Life With A Sheltie Means..." Contest and Giveaway!

Skylos writing his essay
Okay all you sheltie lovers out there, this is your chance to tell us what makes life with a sheltie so special, and to enter a chance to win a signed copy of A Dog's Way Home, and to help homeless shelties! Tell us in 300 words or less what life with a sheltie means, along with a photo of your sheltie. Three winners will receive a signed copy of my book! And because I adopted two shelties from Sheltie Rescue of Utah, I'll donate two dollars to them for every entry I receive! Make me regret this decision, folks!

To enter, email me your story and photo at  I'll also be randomly posting essays and photos on my blog, so if you'd rather I not post your story, please let me know. The winning essays will be posted. Contest closes midnight December 10th!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fido and Friend in Five: Leda Schubert and Pippa!

Leda Schubert
Every now and then, I toy with the idea of quitting my day job as a librarian and write full time. There are several reasons I haven't done this--one being I really appreciate a regular pay check! Another being if I didn't have a regular job to go to, I have a feeling I'd not only be the Crazy Dog Lady but also a hermit. But a really good reason I haven't quit my day job is I get to see all the wonderful new books (and even order them for our library) that come in. It's like Christmas every day! Leda Schubert's latest picture book, Reading to Peanut, is a perfect example of why I love my job. To see that fun cover and read her wonderful story of a preschooler discovering the joys of reading and writing with (and for) her dog, Peanut, is priceless.

Ballet of the Elephants
Leda Schubert  has written eight picture books for kids, both fiction and nonfiction. More than one has been inspired by her love of animals, particularly dogs. Although she now writes full time and teaches writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, like me, she once had a day job as a librarian. She's probably the first author I've had on my blog who attended Harvard! Leda lives in Vermont with her husband and two dogs, Pippa and Pogo. Let's find out a little bit more about them in this week's Fido and Friend in Five:

Leda and Pippa
1. How did you and Pippa find each other?  She called me on the phone. Okay, no. I saw an ad in the local paper. I believe in mutts, and Pippa is one, though she's supposedly a "designer" dog. You can't fool me though. She's half golden retriever and half poodle, as is her big brother, Pogo. But here's the thing: my dog of a lifetime, Winnie, had died eight months earlier, and I had decided I could never get another dog because losing them is the hardest thing. So, like many others, we went "just to look" at puppies because Pogo was lonely. It turns out when you are a dog person, as you and I are, you need a dog, and then you fall in love all over again.

Too Cold for Frogs?
2. What makes Pippa's tail wag?  Other dogs. Not me. She's extremely independent--almost feral. Her tail wags hardest when she's doing pond maintenance, as we call it. We have a small, muddy, leech-ridden pond, and she spends hours every day, from the time the ice starts to go out in spring (and the water must be about 33 degrees), until it freezes again. Her job seems to be keeping frogs busy jumping and making sure she herself smells foul and is constantly moist. It's actually difficult to tell what she thinks her job is. She's a quiet dog. Other tail wagging? She's not crazy about food. She does have this little piece of fluff she carries around, which we call Little Yellow.  She wags her tail whenever she digs it up from under some cushion somewhere. She thinks she's Little Yellow's mother.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  Oh that's tough. I can no longer read books where the dog dies, which eliminates all the classics, but I did read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle recently (even though the dog does die) and it made me appreciate even more deeply the wonder of dogs. They are the best. I like them more than most people, to be honest. Because I write picture books, here are some favorites: The Stray Dog (Simont), Henry and Mudge (Rylant), Boodil, My Dog (Lindenbaum), Martha Speaks (Meddaugh), Bark George (Feiffer), and of course my own book about Winnie, Winnie All Day Long.

Chillin' with Pogo
4. If Pippa could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  She would change me in to a dog. Really, she would. Or maybe a nine-year-old boy who would run with her and investigate frogs with her all day long.

5. In five words, tell us what Pippa means to you:  Almost more than life itself.

I couldn't agree more, Leda! Thank you and Pippa for visiting my little blog. Be sure to check out the latest on Leda's website and blog. She has another new picture book due out this month! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Museum of the Dog

Original of sheltie at museum
Okay, I just had to share this: I just found out there is a very special place for all us dog people in St. Louis, Missouri called The Museum of the Dog. And here's the really, really cool part--dogs are allowed in the museum. Seriously! Here's a little bit about it from their website:

The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, located at 1721 S. Mason Rd., in beautiful Queeny Park, West St. Louis County, Missouri, is home to the world's finest collection of art devoted to the dog. The 14,000 sq. ft. facility, which includes historic Jarville House (1853), displays over 700 original paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, sculptures, bronzes, and porcelain figurines, and a variety of decorative arts objects depicting man's best friend throughout the ages.

Is that not cool?! And it even has a gift shop (oh, I would spend so much money there), a library (oh, I'd spend so much time there), and dog classes there. I must admit, I've never been to St. Louis, but I think I've found a very good reason to go! So if you and your four-legged pal are in need of some culture, check it out. I plan to!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Visiting the South Jordan Library Book Club!

Chloe and Fans
Chloe & Tam
In October, I got to visit with South Jordan Library's Great Reads for Girls book club. They'd just read A Dog's Way Home and were eager to meet the author. And I was eager to meet them! As with the other book clubs I am visiting, my good friend Susan Hamada and her therapy sheltie, Chloe, joined in on the fun. As you can see from the photos, Chloe was (as always) quite a hit!

The girls and their moms asked great questions: Why did you set the book in North Carolina when you live in Utah? Who is your favorite character in the book? Have you ever lost a dog? Are any of the characters based on me? And at the end, we took lots of pictures together and the girls and their families donated treats and toys to Sheltie Rescue of Utah .

Many thanks to South Jordan Library's Paula Burgon for arranging such a splendid visit, and to the Salt Lake County Library System for supporting A Dog's Way Home. And of course, paws up to Susan and Chloe for being such an inspiring team.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fido and Friend in Five: Susan Wilson and Bonnie!

Okay, it's no big secret I'm a sucker for dog stories. When I walk through a bookstore or library, and I see a book with a dog on the cover--well, it's in my hands faster than a New York minute! Add to that if the dog on the cover is a sheltie and I'm all over it. There's no way you're getting that book out of my hands! That's how I felt when I saw the cover of Susan Wilson's newest book (and I mean new), The Dog Who Danced. I was at the main library one day for a meeting, and one of my friends and fellow sheltie mom's waved an advance reading copy of Susan's book in my face and said, "Look what I have." I grabbed the book from her and said, "A sheltie!" My friend (who's name also happens to be Susan) took the book from me and said, "Nope. You can have it after I'm done reading it." If she hadn't been a sheltie lover I would have broken her knees. But it was worth the wait.

Susan is no stranger to writing so convincingly and beautifully about the magical bond between dogs and their people. Her highly acclaimed novel, One Good Dog, set her firmly in the pack of novelist who really know how to celebrate dogs. One Good Dog tells the story of Adam March--a man who lost everything he had--and a dog who's never had anything. Together they learn to love and trust. In her new book (due out in March of 2012), The Dog Who Danced, a down-on-her luck woman is parted from her most beloved sheltie. As they try to find their way to each other, they each touch many lives. Sound a little familiar? If you've read and enjoyed my book, A Dog's Way Home, you must look for Susan's book when it comes out in the spring!

Susan lives and writes in Martha's Vineyard with her dog Bonnie (who, alas, is not a sheltie but is adorable anyway). Let's find out all about Bonnie and her Girl in this week's Fido and Friend in Five:

1. How did you and Bonnie find each other?  Bonnie and I were matched in a kind of animal shelter speed dating. When i knew I wanted to get a dog, I also knew I wanted to get a puppy for the first time in many years. Our beloved collie, Callie, had been a former show dog, but proven to be a poor breeder, so she was sold to us as a mature dog. The only other puppy I'd ever had was Angus, and he was the dog all newlyweds should be warned not to get. When my husband's new job required us to move hastily and into a no pets apartment, Angus had to be re-homed, breaking my heart (although I have always hoped that his new family, complete with children, was a better fit than two working parents). But, to Bonnie. I was, as we have all done, perusing the web for puppies. The Sterling Animal Shelter in Sterling, Mass had been recommended to me, and I was on their website when I spotted a litter of Brittany crosses. Now, you have to understand, I live on an island, and spontaneity is not possible. However, I was on the first boat the next morning, ready to barrel my way north to Sterling to claim my Brittany!

Despite my 7:00 departure, I wasn't the first in line at the shelter, which didn't open for another 45 minutes. Like some kind of A&W Root Beer stand, the staff came out to our cars and handed us a number. One by one, the hopeful adopters were brought to the kennel and given the opportunity to mingle with the adoptees. Needless to say, the Brittany crosses were gone by the time I got in. If I had been able to jump in my car the afternoon before, I might have been one of the lucky ones who got a puppy. As it turned out, I really did become the lucky one. I got Bonnie.

She was described as a terrier cross. Four puppies crawled around the floor of that large cage. Two were smooth, one was wire-haired. And then there was Bonnie, white and tan with the cutest white eyelashes ever. It was those white eyelashes that grabbed my heart.

Fast forward eight years. The little puppy I imagined maturing into something like the size of a Cairn Terrier (about nine or ten pounds) looks more like a giant Jack Russell Terrier!

2. What makes Bonnie's tail wag?  Greeting the people she loves.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog book?  My all time favorite dog books have to be those of Albert Payson Terhune who wrote the Lad books and Gray Wolf. Hence the collies in my past. Terhune was one of the best in describing a dog's inner life, although, as I have come to realize, his viewpoint tended toward domination and obedience. His dogs loved their "master" and "mistress" slavishly. I have fallen into the camp that wants cooperation and inter-species respect.

4. If Bonnie could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  My insistence that she be bathed immediately after she rolls in something I think is nasty (dead crow anyone?).

5. In five words, tell us what Bonnie means to you:  Bonnie is the best thing I've ever done for myself (other than my kids and career). She is my true companion.

Truest of friends

             Thanks so much to Susan and Bonnie!