The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 3, 2013 10:27 PM

Episode 3: Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles

In the ongoing saga that is the proper training of our pre-owned puppy, Cooper Michel, I thought it prudent to report the following: Trainer Danielle came yesterday morning, was here for another hour and a half, we learned even more and we have homework.

She called just before the appointed time of 9:30, said she was about a mile away and that she was going to drive by the house, honk her horn, and then park down the street a bit. We were to get Cooper suited up and then exit the house to walk. In essence she wanted to see how we were progressing after our first training session two and a half weeks ago. We stood anxiously in the kitchen, watching out the window. Cooper, oblivious as always, was crashed on the floor with best good friend Wubba. We’d already gone for a walk earlier in the morning so that he could have some regular time, and to get in what we call Pee Ops. Part of our training is to control him at all times, including when he gets to pull up at a tree and squirt. Hence, the Pee Ops.

Danielle drove by, honked twice, we got Cooper up, attached his pinch collar and leash (again) and prepared to exit stage left. He was jazzed. Two walks! And it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! Woohoo! Saturday’s are the best day in the world! I really like it here! You guys are the best parents ever!

We left the house with Kevin on leash duty, or as we call it, the Chain Gang. We stopped in the driveway and looked to see where Trainer Danielle was standing. I finally spotted her behind several cars just down the street. She motioned with her hand for us to walk. We started moving, with Cooper merrily trotting next to us. Then she emerged from behind the cars, with a dog.

Now regular readers will remember “the incident,” that horrid Saturday three weeks ago when our little Cujo attacked a poor, unsuspecting Golden Retriever after managing to unhook his leash. “The incident” was the catalyst for Trainer Danielle. “The incident” made us terrified of ever seeing another dog on the street again, ever. Did I mention ever?

Two and a half weeks ago, in our first session, Danielle had brought two of her own dogs, a big American Bandogge Mastiff and a German shepherd, the most well behaved dogs we have ever seen. Which they should be, of course, because she’s a dog trainer and her own dogs are her best references. And Cooper learned to be just fine with them. Maybe he would be with this new dog, too.

The new dog was a jet black labradoodle who looked a bit like a big throw rug or afghan.  She stopped in the street, gave him a hand signal and he collapsed into a pile, with a front paw tucked underneath. She indicated that we should keep going, then turn around and come back. She got her dog to get up, walked a bit more, then collapsed him again. Up down, up down, down up, down up. He just kept lying on the asphalt on command. At least it was still early. There was no traffic and the heat wasn’t yet horrible (it got to about 85º yesterday).

Trainer Danielle with Cooper

Finally, she told us to stop, in the shade, and she brought black rag-dog closer and closer, telling us what to do with Cooper, watching how we were with him and how he was reacting to the new dog. Once on the sidewalk, she had her dog turn around and lay down with his back and butt facing Cooper.

“Kevin,” she said from beneath her huge sunglasses. “Bring him over here so he can get a whiff.”

Kevin edged closer; Cooper took a smell.

“Ok, let him closer and relax the leash.”

Kevin: “No.”

“It’s fine. Let him get closer. Let him smell and sniff and lick if he wants.”

Kevin. “No.”

Remember. “The incident.” We’re going to have commemorative t-shirts made.

After several more back and forths with Danielle saying let him go and Kevin stubbornly refusing, Kevin relented and Cooper got good and close, and proceeded to perform the equivalent of a somewhat pornographic act on the black rag-dog, who just laid there and did absolutely nothing.

Danielle kept referring to the dog as Crew. I asked if he was one of hers. Nope. He was a client’s dog and she was taking him for the weekend because the clients were having a huge party and they didn’t want the poor dog relegated to the dog run for the entire day/night. Plus he’s kind of a wimp. Just a year and a half old, Danielle has been training him since he was 8 weeks old and he is afraid of his own shadow. I asked what his name was. It’s Crouton. So Crew is actually Crou, and his complete name is Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles. Or as Danielle called him yesterday, “bait.”

It was funny. Sort of. You know, given “the incident.”

After Cooper got a few more licks in, we wanted to ask if Crouton tasted like a garlic or an herb, and if it was like having a Caesar salad.

But we didn’t.

Because that would have been rude.

An hour and a half and much training later, we began to move into the reward part of the training. As in see-a-dog, get-a-treat. We’re reconditioning and rewiring Cooper’s brain to believe that seeing a dog is a really good thing and it leads to treats. We have two weeks to practice this theory. We’re calling it Pavlov’s Cooper.

In the mean time, the misadventures of Cooper Michel, pre-owned puppy, continue. At least he has a real name.

Living it out loud in the OP with Coopertino, Cooperlicious, Cooper Dooper, Coop de Ville, the Cadillac of rescue puppies. 

C-dawg, Street Thug

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 27, 2013 6:40 PM

Our Coopertino has been with us for three months now. It was official yesterday, and I thought I’d entertain everyone with an update on him and his training. First, he’s cute as can be. He’s just a big love bug in the house. He loves to be with us, he listens. He sits on cue and shakes when asked. He’s gentle when he takes a cookie as long as we preface said taking with the word “easy” spoken in a stearn, non-easy way.

He has become a real toy dog. Wherever he is, he must have at least one if not three toys with him. In the mornings, after we walk and he chomps through breakfast while I slurp through coffee, and we head up to work – that’s code for my office – he grabs Wubba and I grab my computer, any paperwork I’ve brought downstairs to keep me occupied the night before, my glasses and my iPhone and we climb the stairs together. Wubba is his best good friend and the only one, thus far, who has not met the wrath of the teeth.

At night, when it’s time to come downstairs and pretend to have a life (which is just me transferring my computer to the living room), he again picks up Wubba and trots down the stairs, Wubba swinging from side to side. Wubba sleeps with him as well. All we need to do at night, after he has gone out back for the last break before morning, is say: “Get Wubba and get in your house.” He picks up that straggly brown tennis ball dressed like a bear with five octopus legs, trots into the bedroom and directly into his kennel. He lays Wubba down on the side, and then lays down next to him to sleep. It’s adorable.

As I said, he’s so good in the house that I just want to hug and kiss and squeeze on him all the time.

But then comes the dreaded outside and his two walks a day. Perhaps dreaded is too strong a word. Perhaps I should say the slightly scary outside, or the uh-oh-it’s-time-to-go outside. Cooper, as I think I’ve mentioned, is a bit dog aggressive and quite the leash puller. Even though we’ve been using a pinch collar, it has not worked as well as we’d like to curb his bad habits. We had basically decided we had the only dog on the planet that didn’t respond to the pinch. We had the devil in red fur, Cujo in a smaller outfit, Dr. Jekel and Mr. Wild; C-Dawg, Street Thug.

C-Dawg and the ever-present Wubba

We had resigned ourselves to the idea that walking him was never going to be fun. That we were going to grow to truly despise the twice-daily walks around the hood with our little bully. Because you see, as lovable as my boy is in the house, he has been a canine monster outside. Every dog we see is an opportunity to tug and pull and lunge, to huff and puff and threaten, to talk smack, to bully. Hence his new street name C-Dawg. We figured we’d get him some additional bling, put a sideways baseball cap on him and get him to wear his pants really low. He can strut around the ‘hood causing other dogs to quiver and quake in his presence.

And then we remembered that as humans, we are supposed to possess the superior intellect. We have bigger brains. He is the dog. He has been here three months. We have been here for a whole lot longer. We needed to be smarter. So we went to the intertubes to see what we could find and wouldn’t you know, we’ve been doing the collar wrong.

Tonight when we took C-Dawg for a walk, we adjusted the collar so that we were using it correctly. He was nearly a different dawg. Oh, he pulled a bit but he seemed to learn quickly that pulling is not advantageous to enjoyment. We saw some other dogs and he huffed and puffed but it wasn’t nearly the terror filled exchange we have come to expect. Yes, one walk does not a changed dog make, but we’re hopeful that the big brains have prevailed, that the tubes have once again come to our rescue and that C-Dawg Street Thug will soon be just c-dog street hug.

Hey, a mom can dream, can’t she? 

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live out loud

The zen of sit: Observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 5, 2013 8:31 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here and I’m a little dizzy. It seems that things are moving very fast around here lately and it’s enough to make a squirrel’s head spin. First there was all that celebrating that went on, with too many cars and an awful lot of people. I stayed hidden for days; it was just too scary to be out there where I could go splat and you all know how Mrs. Squirrel feels about splat. I don’t feel much better about it to tell you the truth.

There were lots of lights everywhere, too. Little lights and bigger lights and some lights that were in the shape of big animals. Those scared me at first because I didn’t quite know what to make of them. It was like there was suddenly a big twinkling deer in the neighbor’s yard only it didn’t smell like what I think a deer probably smells like. Also, it never moved.

Then there were these really big shapes that swayed in the night air. During the day they were just collapsed on the grass in a mostly white heap. It looked kind of like snow only it wasn’t. Of course, a couple of nights it was cold enough to snow. Me and Mrs. Squirrel had to huddle up real close in order to keep warm. I like huddling. Not sure the missus likes it quite as much but she was a good sport.

I sat on the grass one morning, in front of one of these collapsed things and tried to talk to it. It had been so big and sort of scary the night before, but then it looked like it got attacked or something. I wanted to know what had happened so I could be on the lookout for whatever or whoever it was. I figured if it could get to something that big, it could for sure get to something small like me. But I couldn’t get that blobby white thing to talk to me so after a few barks I gave up and started back toward the house.

That’s when the red blur came by. He spotted me and immediately he lunged and growled and barked at me, too. I went half way up the tree in the front yard since he kind of startled me and then I hung there, upside down, just looking at him. He pranced and danced and then he stopped and he stood frozen, his ears forward, his body tense. He has good form, this red knight-to-be, and he’s handsome, too. Not as handsome as the first knight, my best knight. No one will ever been that handsome, but this red furred one is a good-looking dude. He’s a little wild still. As if to prove that, Hey Kevin who was with the red furred one said “Cooper, zen.” I think he followed it up with a dammit and I chuckled. It’s hard to train a new knight. I know that better than just about any squirrel.

“Hey Kevin?” I asked, safely on the tree.

“Oh, Hey Squire,” he said followed by “Sit!”

I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean me.

“What’s up with the zen?” I asked.

“Well, he’s a nut and I thought that if we could get him to understand the idea of zen then our walks wouldn’t be quite so, well, crazy.”

I thought about that for a couple of seconds, then I turned my eye toward the one they call Cooper. He was eyeing me, too. But he was sitting. He was calm even though all of his fur seemed to be electrified. If I so much as moved a whisker, I knew he’d spring forward. So zen must mean sit. Good to know.

Cause I’ve got some work to do with this one.

Grapes on the floor and other delicacies

by Lorin Michel Monday, November 12, 2012 8:04 PM

As regular readers may recall, the husband unit and I have embarked on a new hobby of late. We’re making wine. About a month ago, we got our first 110 pounds of Syrah grapes from a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, an area that produces simply extraordinary Syrah. Some of our favorite Syrah wines are from that county, and specifically from Santa Ynez where wineries like Zaca Mesa, known for their Syrahs, are located. A week ago yesterday, we got our second delivery of grapes, this time in the guise of 115 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon. They came from the Central Coast region and specifically from a vineyard in Paso Robles.

For seven days this batch sat fermenting in the garage, munching on yeast, the skins sharing their color with the grape juice. Each morning, Kevin would punch down – pushing the skins that had risen because of the fermentation process to cluster in a thick patch atop the juice back down into it. Each afternoon, he would punch down again. Ditto, evening. Some days he punched down four or five times. This allows for the deep red color as well as additional flavor and the natural preservatives of the skins to settle into the eventual wine. That’s what is known as tannins. When you drink a wine that’s tannic, your lower jaw muscles twitch and clench involuntarily.

Each day we also watched the sugar level so that we would know when to remove the skins permanently from the juice, press them to get as much more juice as possible and then begin the aging process. We wanted the sugar level to be about 4 or 5 percent, down from 24.5. Yesterday it was time to press. We strained the skins through the juice and dumped them into a smaller fermenter tub. Then we siphoned the juice out of the primary fermenter into a glass carboy so that it can finish its fermentation and begin aging. Eventually it, like the Syrah, will go into French oak barrels to age and for flavor.

A little wine-making trivia for you: the siphoned juice is called free run. We got about five gallons of free run Cabernet Sauvignon. Once we pressed the skins, which took another 2 hours or so, we had an additional three gallons and one quart. We got everything cleaned up, washing the equipment we no longer needed in order to preserve it for the next time we do, putting away the fermenting tubs, and storing the wine-filled carboys on top of the work bench in the garage. Until we eventually get a bigger house, our “winery” is the two-car garage which, even while the wine is making, contains two cars and a motorcycle in addition to all of the other crap we have stored there.

Michel Cellars*

A note: once the wine is aging in oak barrels, those barrels will be moved into our temperature controlled wine room which is really not much bigger than a small walk-in closet. It holds about 300 or so bottles, and in the back, there is space for our barrels. Once we have the aforementioned bigger house, our official wine making will be split between the third car garage and the huge laundry room sporting massive countertops and a stainless steel sink. Sinks and running water are essential when one is making red wine. We’ll also have a much bigger wine room for storing wine as well as for aging in our barrels.

Everything was clean and put away save for several pieces of newspaper that had been spread on the floor to catch any errant drops and the occasional flattened, juiceless grape skin. We were standing in the garage, admiring our handy work, comparing the color of the Syrah which is dark to be black and the Cab which is more purple and red. We were checking the temperature. We want it cool but not cold; another reason to keep the cars inside, especially after they’ve been run and the heat pours off of a now-resting engine. Cooper was whining at the door so we opened it and let him come out into the garage with us. He sniffed, he pawed the newspaper, he turned an inquisitive eye – just one – to us as if to say: “ You guys are kind of messy. These papers are supposed to be on the counter in the kitchen.”

Kevin assured him that everything was just fine and he and I went back to discussing our wine. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cooper pawing the paper again, then trying to chew on something. It was a grape skin. He scarfed it up and liked it. Hey, Mikey. Liked it so much, in fact, that he went in search of more and found at least three other emaciated grape skins to nibble on.

We always wanted a winery dog. Looks like we got one.

Cooper: Winery dog

Cooper Michel of Michel Cellars. Seeker of raisin-like grape skins and other delicacies on the garage floor and all floors. If it’s edible, he will find it. Even if it’s not edible, or particularly delectable, he will eat it. He is our winery dog, and he seems to prefer deep, rich reds – or at least the skins – just like us. He’s fitting right in. And living it out loud. 

*Art by Barbara Barry, of Spoiled Dog Winery.



Oh what a knight: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 10, 2012 8:30 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here and can I just say that I’m pretty worn out? Trying to get this new knight-wanna-be in any kind of shape to even begin his extensive training is tiring. I can’t even get the guy to look at me. He’s so obsessed with what’s down that he has yet to look up. It’s frustrating. I don’t remember this with the actual knight, the real knight, the big dog.

Let me tell you what’s happening. It shouldn’t take long, because it’s essentially nothing. Oh, he’s cute and all. I actually kind of like his red fur cause it’s a little like mine and I’ve always been proud of the reddishness of my fur coat. My mother, Madam Squirrel, use to tell me that she thought we must be descended from the great Irish squirrels of the 16th century. Back then, when the Celts ruled on the isle so green, squirrels were their constant companions. Sometimes they were also dinner. I never liked that part. But that’s why we squires immigrated to this country. According to legend, or at least my mom, it happened quite by accident when Old Squire Squirrel the first and his soon-to-be missus Old Squire Squirrel were squirreling around near the water. Some horses rode up and Old Squire decided they needed to take cover “lest they get et.”

That’s old-time Squire speak for somebody was going to be on the menu.

So Old Squire and his soon-to-be missus jumped onto some big wooden thing to hide. It was a boat. Next thing they knew they were someplace else where they decided to stay. Eventually there was Old Squire the 82nd and he and his Mrs. Old Squire caught a ride to the Americas, their kids traveled west in somebody’s wagon and that’s how we got here.

The Squire ancestors were all assigned to a knight. It’s in our blood. That’s how I got to be the knight’s squire. He was a good knight, too. Very stoic, very powerful. Toward the end, all he had to do was use his eyes and whoever he was looking at started to quiver. Of course, that’s really all he could use, his eyes. He was kind of old but still strong and he was still a great knight. I did good by him, I think. I was always there to tell him when some other element was flying in, like birds or that big red hawk that sometimes drops by. When he comes, I high-tail it for my den in a big time hurry. I don’t have any desire to be his dinner – to be ‘et’ – any more than the original Old Squire wanted to be. I always told the Knight “in coming!” before I scurried though.

Some knights might have said I was cowardly, but the knight, my knight, he understood. I mean, I’m not that big and I’d fit pretty easily into that hawk’s beak.

Now there is the knight-to-be. He is still a little wet behind the ears. A nutbag, whatever that is. I hear Hey Lorin calling him that all the time, like “Hey, nutbag, what are you doing out there?” She says it really nice and sweet, too, like she thinks he’s cute. I think he’s a little bit crazy, running around outside. He even chases that never-will-be-a-knight-no-way-no-how Kobe along the side of the house. They can’t even see each other but they run back and forth and bark up a storm, raising such a ruckus, it’s like to bring Old Squire back from squirrel heaven.

Me, this morning. See my red fur?

Hey Kevin was out on the patio this morning, huddled up in his bathrobe while the red knight-to-be ran around the yard looking for a tree. Never looked up once. Hey Kevin did though.

“Hey Squire,” he said. I could see his breath. It was really cold this morning. I like it when it’s cold. I like how my fur gets thicker. It makes me look bigger and tougher.

“Hey Kevin. How’s he doing?”

“He’s good. But he’s definitely a nutbag.”

I asked what a nutbag was since I’d heard them say that and it didn’t sound like they were actually talking about nuts in a bag. Personally, I like nuts. So I was thinking that I might like a nutbag.

After Kevin described what he meant – that he was just fun and crazy and had a lot of energy – I nodded.  Those are all good traits in a knight-to-be. Then they went inside and I watched the red knight swoosh his tail and trot in to see Hey Lorin. I nodded again. I do that a lot when I’m thinking. I think I’m going to like this nutbag.

OK. Gotta squirrel. The missus is calling. I think she’s making something with nuts for breakfast. Like I said, I like nuts. I like nutbags.

So we got a dog

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 28, 2012 7:06 PM

I have been missing having a dog for months, specifically missing having Maguire. After we lost him in March, our lives were less hectic. There was no more dog fur everywhere or on everything, or dog slobber on the floor. There were no trips to Petco for food and “hip cookies,” chewable treats packed with glucosamine and chondroitin for his stiff and arthritic hips. Suddenly there were no chew toys in the hospital, otherwise known as the top of the refrigerator, where all toys that had been ceremoniously pulled apart with their stuffing placed haphazardly on the floor around the now unstuffed and flat carcass went for surgical repair.

After we lost him, our lives were less full.

I have long been of the mind set that when you have something wonderful in your life, and you lose that something, you ultimately want it again. People who have long happy marriages and are completely in love with their spouse, and then lose that spouse to death, often have a strong desire to remarry again quickly. Some people dismiss those marriages and think that it’s disrespectful to the person who died. But I’ve always thought the opposite. If you are lucky enough to know the joy of a good, rewarding relationship, it’s actually a testament to the person who was lost to remarry again. Or so I’ve convinced myself.

It’s how I felt about having a dog. We had the world’s greatest dog and for 15 plus years he brought joy into our lives. When he was gone, the grief was overwhelming. It took me months before I could talk about him; longer still before I didn’t cry. Even now, as I think of that big beautiful bear, I am tearing up. I loved him so very much.

And it’s because of that love that I missed the presence of a dog in our home. Specifically, I missed Maguire’s presence, but he was never coming back. And I wanted, and yes needed, a dog in our lives. So a few weeks ago, I decided that it was getting close to time. I was feeling ready. I knew Kevin wouldn’t be quite there though, so we had to talk about it. Maguire was the love of his life and in his mind, no dog would ever be able to take his place. We talked and talked and ultimately he too came to realize that it would be OK. There will never be another Maguire, but there can be another dog who is wonderful and who brings us constant joy.

We went to the local shelter several times. We even went to another nearby shelter. We weren’t entirely sure what we wanted in terms of type but we figured we’d know when we found him or her. We did know that we wanted to adopt an adult dog, one that was at least 3. We wanted to give a dog who had been given up on a happy life. We wanted a mutt, again the type of dog a lot people don’t want. We didn’t want a puppy; everybody wants a puppy. We wanted a dog who needed to be rescued.

The shelters, sadly are filled with pit bulls and Chihuahuas, and some German shepherds. It’s fascinating and sad to think how many people had these dogs and essentially threw them away. We don’t particularly like small dogs, and pit bulls and German shepherds are a little too big. Then I started looking at some of the local rescue groups; I went on Petfinder. And there he was. A five-year old golden retriever mixed with some type of herding dog (we’re pretty sure it’s border collie). Red fur, floppy ears, and an eye infection. His name was Andy. Other than that, he was perfect. Or so we hoped.

I emailed the woman whose group (Labs and Buddies) had him. She’s an attorney in Westlake Village and we spent at least a week trying to arrange a time that would work for everyone. Finally, on Thursday late afternoon, we drove to Westlake and met this 50-pound furball self. He was nutty and unfocused, unsettled and completely oblivious to our presence. All we could do was laugh as he raced around the little grassy knoll.

We left that night, went to the Wineyard and talked about what to do. We were nervous, scared, excited, terrified. I sent a note to the rescue group that night: we wanted to be “Andy’s” forever home. On Friday late afternoon, that’s exactly what we became.

Andy became Cooper and Cooper became a Michel. For the first 24 hours, he remained unsettled and unsure; his stomach upset. He was afraid to sleep even though he was obviously exhausted. We went for a long walk on Saturday morning and a shorter one last night. Another short one this morning and then tonight, we’ll go for a longer one. Today he is markedly more calm, more comfortable in his new surroundings. As I write this, he’s sleeping on the floor here in the kitchen. I know he’s sleeping, not just because his eyes are closed (a dead giveaway I know) but because he’s dreaming. His front and back feet are racing, he’s growling. His hedgehog toy is beside him. He seems content.

We expect it to be several weeks before he knows that he’s home, before he finally understands that he’s not going anywhere. We know that it will take us a few weeks, too, to get re-acclimated to having four feet prancing on the floors. Already there is fur everywhere, and slobber; toys where for eight months there were none.

We will never forget our beloved Maguire. He will always live in our hearts. I think, and I hope, he would be pleased to know that it was because of him that we could adopt another. And so… we got another dog. Named Cooper.

A dog is a seal is a mermaid

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 2, 2012 9:38 PM

I spend a lot of time online as most people do. In the morning, I fire up the Mac, wait the 20 to 30 seconds for it to load all of its goodies, and then open a browser. I open my primary email program, check my other email programs before closing them down, peruse the news and Facebook and then settle in for the day. I open a new browser, I’m guessing, a hundred times a day, give or take a dozen. In my research and with my surfing prowess, I often come across things interesting and funny, heartbreaking and sad, even infuriating.

The internet is a strange and wonderful – a strangely wonderful – place to travel. The world and all of its treasures, weirdness, and creepiness are literally at the stroke of a few keys on the QWERTY. I have journeyed to Germany and France, to Africa in search of color and India in search of ayurvedic oils. I have purchased items from Hong Kong and New Jersey, Alabama and Mexico. I have studied the cultures of Europe and Asia. I monitor-shop (as opposed to window shop) and know I can literally find anything I’m looking for and if I can’t, it quite possibly may not exist.

Today I came upon this meme: Seals are just dog mermaids.

And it got me to thinking. Are seals really just dog mermaids? So armed with a newly opened browser, an open Word document to take notes, my fast-typing fingers and my little brain, I went surfing for the information that might prove or disprove the theory, which incidentally I thought had some possibility. Seals are cute, dogs are cute. Seals have whiskers, dogs have whiskers. Seals have fur, so do dogs. Ergo seals are dogs except that dogs are on land and seals are (mostly) at sea, though seals are sometimes on land and dogs like to swim.

Seals are actually called pinnipeds, from the Latin pinna meaning wing and ped meaning foot; winged foot. They have expressive eyes, a furry appearance and a natural curiosity. If they were in your back yard, they would explore all of the trees and especially the pool, or the puddles. The seals seen in harbors and hanging around coastal towns are earless and called Phocidae. Seals with ears are sometimes called sea lions as well as Otariidae. There are actually 32 different kinds of seals with the biggest being an elephant seal that’s 13 feet long and weighs about two tons. The smallest is the Galapagos fur seal that’s just 4 feet long and weighs only about 65 pounds.

They used to be land animals, probably related to bears or otters, they can be under water for up to two hours because of the hemoglobin in their blood and they are hunted by sharks, whales, polar bears and, unfortunately, people.

Seals are also evidently involved in the Navy and they were part of a 1970s’ singing group with someone named Crofts. Seal without the plural is also quite the singer.

As for dogs, they’re actually canis lupus familiaris, and have been hanging with us for at least 15,000 years though the remains of domesticated dogs have been found in Siberia and Belgium dating to some 33,000 years ago. They can be as smart as a two-year-old child with Border Collies being the smartest followed by poodles, German shepherds, golden retrievers and Dobermans. Some dogs can understand up to 200 words; no word if they can speak that many but no matter. Docile dogs live longer than more aggressive dogs.

Most dogs have fur, either double layered with a coarse coat underneath or single with a topcoat only. Many domestic dogs actually sport natural camouflage or countershading with dark fur on top and lighter fur underneath. Many have a star of white fur on their chest (like my Maguire did). Most have tails.

The biggest dog is usually an English Mastiff, weighing between 300 and 350 pounds. A Great Dane is the tallest, standing as tall as 42 inches at the shoulder. The smallest is usually the Yorkshire Terrier and can weigh as little as four ounces. 

The word dog comes from the Middle English dogge and from the Old English docga. They are often possessed of soulful eyes and a wiggly butt especially because they are usually damned glad to see you. Dog is my co-pilot, dogs rule. Etc.

As for mermaids, well, the US National Ocean Service stated unequivocally in 2012 that no evidence of one has ever been found. The Little Mermaid and Splash notwithstanding.

Evidently they simply weren’t looking in the right place.

This is Sirius

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 11, 2012 8:20 PM

He was born in January 1997, wriggly and pale, not nearly as bright as the name he would be given. He grew quickly, went through extensive training at the Port Newark K-9 Center and when he graduated on July 15, 2000, he went to work as an Explosive Detection Dog, partnered with Sergeant David Lim of the Port Authority of New York and the New Jersey Police K-9 Unit. His name was Sirius. His badge number was 17. He would not live to see his fifth birthday.

Lim and Sirius were assigned to the Port Authority Police Station in the basement of the World Trade Center, Tower Two. The South Tower. Together they checked trucks and other vehicles entering the building for explosives, a job that had become even more important after the failed February 26, 1993 attack when a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower. Sirius and Sim worked tirelessly each day and would return at night to Sim’s home where Sirius would sleep on the floor next to his master and handler’s bed. Sim described his nearly 100 pound dog, a big Yellow Labrador Retriever, as a “big mush” who thought he was a lap dog but who was completely dedicated and methodical when he was working.

Lim and Sirius were on duty on that bright Tuesday morning in September when madmen flew airplanes into both towers. Lim, not wanting Sirius to get lost in the chaos, put him in his kennel in their basement office, assuring the undoubtedly frantic dog that he would be back for him. Lim ran to help but never made it back for Sirius. When the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 am, less than an hour after United flight 175 hit between the 77th and 85th floors, Sirius was killed, crushed instantly while still inside his kennel. He was the only dog to die in the line of duty during the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Sirius is the dog star, so named by ancient Greeks. It is the brightest star in the sky, the anchor of the constellation Canis Major. The big dog. He is the watchdog of the heavens, fixed in one place at the bridge of the Milky Way, there to keep a watchful eye on the great abyss. He has burned brightly since time began.

It is said that Sirius the dog star contains the essence of souls. Perhaps it now contains that of the dog that lived up to that legend, the legend of his name.

More than 350 trained search and rescue dogs worked at Ground Zero following the attacks, using their senses of smell and better agility to direct workers to those who were injured or deceased. An additional 350 therapy dogs were also deployed to help comfort people. Among them German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds, Rat Terriers, Portuguese Waterdogs, Border Collies, Belgian Malinois, Golden Retrievers, and Chocolate, Black and Yellow Labradors like Sirius. Most worked in shifts of 7 to 14 days in order to limit their risk for respiratory illness; no others died during the rescue and then recovery efforts.

Many have since passed on, some from old age, some from neurological conditions, some from cancers. Only twelve of the dogs that searched through the debris are still alive. They walked through twisted metal and across broken glass, crawling into small spaces, in the dark, working to find survivors. Ultimately only 20 people were pulled from the World Trade Center. Of the thousands who perished, many of their remains were discovered by these dogs, perhaps allowing for some sense of despondent closure for the families. The dogs also did something else: they helped alleviate anxiety. They provided hope for the hundreds of workers who strained under inhuman conditions in the hope of finding someone, anyone alive.

Officer Sim himself had been trapped for five hours on what was left of the fourth floor of Tower One when it collapsed at 10:28 that morning. Once freed, he tried to make his way to his dog, and was stopped by other rescue workers.

Sirius, as painted by artist Debbie Stonebraker

Sirius’ body was recovered on January 22, 2002, the month of what would have been his fifth birthday. His body was draped with an American flag. All of the machines digging through the debris were silenced and all workers lined up to salute as he was carried from the wreckage by his friend, Officer Sim.

A memorial service was held on April 24, 2002 at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. One hundred police dogs wearing badges covered by black ribbon attended along with hundreds of human officers. An FBI agent who had found Sirius’ metal water bowl in Lim’s car amidst the debris presented it to Lim, inscribed with these words: “I gave my life so that you may save others.”

Sirius didn’t have the opportunity to help on that day, but he was – and is –  a star of legend and mythology. Today, like so many others, his star continues to burn brightly, to show the way for other heroic dogs; to make sure that each of us knows the power, the wonder and the joy of living it out loud. 

Dogs, politics and wine

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 3, 2012 8:29 PM

It occurred to me recently that one of the most interesting ways to tell what is important in your world, other than your family, friends and career, your hopes and dreams, your infinite possibilities, is to take a look at your Facebook page. I’ve discovered that mine is nearly equal parts of “likes” for dog-related information, Democratic-related politics and fun wine pages. This doesn’t take into account my friends. These are strictly the pages that I have liked and that seem to post quite a bit.

Some will undoubtedly begin to taper off in about two months. Once the presidential election is over, I expect many of the political pages to not be as lively, and by that time I won’t much care. Depending on the outcome (full disclosure: I am a proud Democrat and have been for my entire adult life), I may need to ramp up the wine pages. And the dog pages.

I don’t use Facebook a lot. I post things occasionally. This blog has a page, and I have a personal page. I don’t have hundreds of friends. I look at my page in the morning to see what everyone has been up to; I look again in the afternoon and usually before I got to bed. When I post on my Live it out loud page, it’s usually a link to my actual blog. When I post to my personal page, it tends to be photos, usually of dogs. Sometimes I share photos of dogs that other people have posted. Once in a while I find a video on one of the political sites I visit and I share that, and it’s almost always a video of dogs.

Sensing a pattern?

Ever since we lost Maguire, my need to see dogs online has increased. I can’t give it a percentage because I only deal in anecdotal evidence, largely because math has never been my strong suit. Still, I’d say that I now have at least 10 more pages than I had before. I had long been a fan of Dog Bless You but then I also added Warrior Canine Connection (who trains service dogs for returning veterans and who, together with Dog Bless You, runs the puppy cam showing Holly’s Half Dozen), and one of the puppies – Abby – now has her own page as well because she is now with foster parents as she starts training. I’m anxiously awaiting the page for Lucy – who has also left to live with foster parents to start training. I just love Lucy.

I have A dog’s purpose and Tuesday; I have Tucker Hirsch, a therapy dog in Honolulu, and Old Dog Haven. I like Forever Friends Golden Retriever Rescue in Ventura County, The Animal Rescue Site and others.

They all make me smile. They also make me miss my boy. But seeing dogs daily, even if it’s just online, makes me feel a little less lonely. The adoption sites make me want to adopt them all, especially the dogs that are on Old Dog Haven. I see those wise, grizzled and gray faces and I’m ready to load up the Rover and bring them here. (Even my car has a dog name: “Rover,” albeit a really unimaginative dog name.) We’re not ready to adopt another dog yet – the grief is still too pitched – so when I’m feeling down, I look at puppies to feel better.

I look at puppies a lot.

I also look at wine pages of which there is no shortage. They keep me distracted when I’m missing my Maguire, and they make me happy in a different kind of way. Political pages do not make me happy but they do feed my addiction. I admit to loving politics, to Being Liberal and to wanting to Re-Elect Obama.

Wine pages also make me wish for a deep red wine, swirling in a glass, the bouquet wafting up and filling me with impending joy. There’s Wino Barbie, and The California Wine Club. There’s Magnavino and Baldacci and Lido Bay and Zaca Mesa and Niner and LaBelle in New Hampshire. The Frugal Wine Snob points me in the direction of a good red under $20.

Then there is the Wandering Dog Wine Bar that neatly combines both my love of dogs and my love of wine. If there was a way to get politics in there, it would be the trifecta. Might I suggest Wandering Dogs Against Romney Wine Bar? I think it has a nice ring to it. It swirls nicely in the glass. When the light hits it just right, I think I can see my boy’s wise, grizzled, gray mug, proudly wearing his Obama bandana.

Dogs are coyotes two

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 26, 2012 7:35 PM

As you know, dear reader, I am an unabashed dog lover. I’m actually an animal lover in general though I do have a special place in my heart for the canine species. I’m a sucker for stories about dogs; I’m a bigger sucker for actual dogs, walking by, in a park, waiting patiently in a car. My Facebook page is littered with other dog pages. I look at the happy pictures and I rejoice; I see sad pictures, or hear sad tales and I cry.

I have several non-profit organizations that I support with monthly donations automatically deducted from my debit account. One such organization is the Humane Society. Each month I get a magazine called All Animals, with all types of animal stories, many telling horrible tales of abuse that eventually lead to rescue. Some of the stories are happier. Others are just fascinating. My magazine came the other day, and it being Sunday I decided to relax a bit and do some reading. One of the stories was a profile of a place in the high desert outside of San Diego, in Ramona, called The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, where they rescue wild animals that have been unwisely placed in domestic situations. They also rescue wild animals that have been hurt, often by people, hit by cars or worse.

The Wildlife Center doesn’t deal with common domesticated animals like dogs and cats. They work with bobcats, skunks, birds of prey like hawks, mountain lions, an actual lion named Samson, a pygmy hippo and coyotes. For most of the animals, the goal is to care for it in order to return it to health so that it can be released back into the wild. Those that can’t be released are given permanent shelter.

Samson, the lion, was confiscated when he was 3 months old, suffering from a form of dwarfism – his back legs are too small for the front of him. He’s now 11 and still lives in Ramona. Sheba is a mountain lion who was found during a routine traffic stop. Evidently her “owners” were training her to ride a horse. She’d been declawed so it’s now impossible for her to live in the wild; she can’t defend herself.

Then there’s Chewy, short for Chewbacca, a 7-year-old coyote who chases lizards and plays with stuffed animals. He was found when he was a pup by a caring stranger who thought he was, literally, a puppy and bottle-fed him. He wanted nothing to do with other coyote pups after that and became too comfortable with humans to return to the wild. Ditto a beautiful duo named Amber and Rusty.

Amber and Rusty, two blonde coyotes abandoned as pups, were raised at the Wildlife Center, too. They’re half dog and half coyote, described like this by Ali Crumpacker, the Wildlife Center’s director: “One minute they act like dogs, wagging their tails and whining to play. The next, they stare you down with barred teeth or are digging five-foot tunnels underground like coyotes.” In other words, they suffer from a bit of an identity crisis. The speculation is that the two are part yellow Labrador retriever which would account for their blonde coloring. Their official designation is coydog, and while wild animals aren’t usually given names at the Center, these two received names because they’ll be living their lives in a sanctuary rather than in the wilderness.

Cleveland Armory was a writer, probably most known as the TV Guide television critic and for his book The Cat Who Came for Christmas, a memoir about his cat Polar Star whom he found in Manhattan on Christmas Eve 1977. Armory died in 1998. But during his life, he was a passionate animals rights advocate who campaigned against people wearing fur and who founded the Fund for Animals in 1967. Since that time, the Fund has been at the forefront of animal protection by implementing hard-hitting advocacy campaigns, protecting animals in the courts, even winning lawsuits to protect animals from hunting and trapping. In addition to the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center here in Southern California, there is also the Cape Wildlife Center on Cape Cod, the Duchess Sanctuary in Eugene, Oregon, a Rabbit Sanctuary in Simpsonville, South Carolina and the Black Beauty Ranch, their flagship sanctuary, a permanent place for more than 1,300 animals on 1,300 acres in the rolling hills of east Texas.

The Cleveland Armory Black Beauty Ranch is where Rusty and Amber will live the remainder of their days, in a place where they can run and dig and act like coyotes and dogs all they want. In fact, while they were originally fed rodents and the like, they currently eat dog food out of a dog bowl, never done when coyotes are going to be returned to the wild. They also get dog bones and squeaky toys.

So they never need to decide if they’re dogs or coyotes. They can be both, two of a kind, a pair of aces. Not many of us get the opportunity to be two, and if we do, we’re usually locked up.  Not Amber and Rusty. They’ll be living it out loud any way they feel on a particular day, any way they decide. Definitely worth celebrating.  

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