The mask of Don Justino

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 31, 2017 5:03 PM

One of our favorite fun movies is The Mask of Zorro with Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Sir (!) Anthony Hopkins. It’s one of those films we never grow tired of, and stop to watch anytime we come across it. It’s beautifully photographed, the story is great, the action fun, and the acting decent. It’s a little tongue in cheek, and everyone is just gorgeous, especially Antonio Banderas. Part of it was filmed in San Carlos, Mexico, a place I had the pleasure of visiting with my friend Susan earlier this summer. It was a perfect stand in for California. 

The film was released in the summer of 1998 when Justin was 7. It was rated PG-13 but we took him anyway. We had seen the trailer several times, figured it would be fun, and we weren’t disappointed. There’s a bit of violence, no language and no sex. It didn’t seem to us any more harmful than the Pokemon animation and other Japanese anime he was consumed with at the time. He loved the movie, as did we. No sooner did we get home than he found himself something he could make a mask from and armed with his Star Wars light saber, he proceeded to play the role of Zorro.

In the film, which takes place mostly in 1841, noblemen fight for the republic of Las Californias (California wouldn’t become a state until 1850), railing against the Spanish in the Mexican War of Independence. They are “dons,” established and respected men, men of social standing. The moniker of Don appears before their first names. Don Raphael is the bad guy; Don Diego is the older good guy and Don Alejandro is the younger good guy. Both good guys, naturally, also inhabit the Mask of Zorro.

For months, we were entertained by our own Zorro. And as Halloween got closer, and it came time to choose a costume, there was nothing to discuss. Zorro would once again come to the rescue of … Oak Park. Hey, it was California.

We found a costume, and with his pajamas underneath, and sporting his black cowboy books, Justin transformed before our eyes into Don Justino.

Every year, on Halloween we remember that costume. He wore it for weeks prior and weeks after. Sometimes he’d just wear the top part and shorts. But always the mask and the hat; always with plastic sword in hand as he singlehandedly saved the house from … whoever and usually Maguire. 

To this day, nearly 20 years later, he remains Don Justino. I doubt that the costume fits anymore, but the cuteness and goodness – the desire to save the world – definitely remains.

Oh the carnage (again)

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 26, 2016 7:04 PM

It is everywhere. Piles of nothing and everything. Discarded remnants of dignity, places where stuffing seems to have been literally beaten out of even the most unsuspecting. It’s a horror show, a disgrace, an embarrassment. I speak, of course, of the disaster that greeted us this morning as we exited the bedroom. 

Riley, as in Mr. Boo, Hey Boo Boo, Riley Boo, and Honey Boo Bear (sensing a boo pattern? And it’s not even yet Halloween), had left us a path of toy destruction that stretched across the walkway, down the steps and into the great room. Tufts of white stuffing, pieces of piping ripped from the edges, an eyeball, shredded pieces of plastic. It all awaited our arrival. We stood there, surveying the littered landscape. And started to laugh. 

Last night, Kevin had dutifully sewn up two of Riley’s toys, his beloved Yellow, he of the stuffed Crayola crayon variety (and who recently went on a camping trip) and a toy that has been in the hospital so long we couldn’t even remember its name. 

The hospital is what we created years ago when Maguire would attempt total toy destruction by mercilessly working on a string until he managed to unravel a seam just enough to open a hole out of which he would proceed to pull more stuffing than the toy looked capable of holding. I guess in some ways that’s similar to blood being spilled, and how it always looks like there’s more blood than there should be, even with a small cut. After distracting Mr. Maguire Michel, Esq., one of us would pick up the limp rag of a toy along with the stuffing and attempt to re-stuff the poor creature. Then, because we’re horrible procrastinators, the re-stuffed but not re-sewn toy would be ceremoniously placed on top of the refrigerator, in the critical care unit, awaiting surgery. Eventually they’d get patched up and returned to play time. Sometimes the toy would go on to live a nice, long life. 

This is not the case with Riley. He gets a new toy and proceeds to tear it apart. If we can get a toy to last more than 30 minutes, we consider it a success. And we try, really, we do. We give him a toy and then try to distract him. We’ve found that if he has two toys with him at once his attention gets split and both survive. 

You’re wondering: Why don’t you buy tougher toys? The answer is: we try to do that, too. But they just don’t make them because if dogs can’t destroy toys, you don’t have to buy as many. His Wubba toys last awhile; others not so much. So we tend to buy toys in the reduced price bin at the front of PetCo because if they’re going to get destroyed anyway they might as well be cheap. 

The hospital now is the top shelf in the back of the pantry which is where the toy whose name we couldn’t remember was resting comfortably. Kevin, the official toy surgeon, pulled him out, after sewing up Yellow (for about the sixth time), and proceeded to restore the toy to chewable condition. Riley, having abandoned Yellow for what he assumed was a new toy (like I said, this one has been out of commission for a while), squirmed impatiently on the floor, scrambling ever closer then pushing himself back. When Kevin was finally done, he presented Riley with – “what should we call this thing?” he asked me. I shrugged my shoulders. “Leo?” “It is kind of leopardy.” – Leo and off he trotted. 

Fast forward to this morning and the toy Armageddon that awaited us. Leo had been gutted; ditto Yellow. Cat, who we didn’t even know was in the mix, was in the middle of a sea of white fluffy stuffing, a twisted, mangled shell of her former self. She’s long been headless, having lost it during her last trip to the hospital, but this morning, well, suffice it to say that we had to call time of death.

I’ve read that toy destruction is actually a sign of a healthy dog and a healthy mind. If that’s the case, then I’m ready to pronounce our dog absolutely brilliant. 

Riley on Ice and Fresh blue Wubba

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 20, 2016 8:47 PM

Riley’s favorite toy is Wubba. His love affair with the octopus-like creature started the night he came to live with us. We welcomed him at the front door. He was skittish at first but seemed to take to us quickly, especially Kevin who remains his favorite dad ever. We took him around the house, introducing him to his new home, showing him where his water and food bowls were, where his bed was. Then we turned him loose to let him explore on his own. He disappeared into our room. He was gone for a few minutes, and then he came running down the hall with a Wubba in his mouth. That Wubba had been Cooper’s, but that night, Riley made it his own. He has been through approximately five Wubba’s in the year and a half since. 

It is a remarkably resilient and tough toy. There is a large ball, topped with a smaller ball, and four long tentacles. The one Cooper had was covered with faux fur and had a little face on it. It was cute Wubba. But Cooper was older and more refined when it came to his toys. While they all eventually got destroyed, it took a while. Not so with Riley. 

Riley can destroy just about anything within a half hour. Except Wubba. Wubba tends to last a couple of months, perhaps because of the tough canvas-covered Wubba’s we now buy. During those months, there are still hints of impending death. The tentacles begins to fray, the fabric covering Wubba’s other body parts becomes thin. Threads appear. 

But Wubba soldiers on.

I always keep a spare Wubba in the pantry, for when the current Wubba dies valiantly. Such was the case over the past few days when blue Wubba was unleashed into the house. Blue Wubba is so-called for obvious reasons. For less obvious reasons, Kevin has taken to calling the toy Fresh-blue Wubba. I suspect this is because the water and food bowls we have are dark blue and when there’s water in the water bowl, it looks fresh and inviting. We’ve had these particular dog bowls since Maguire. And whenever we’d fill the water bowl with cool water, Kevin would always make a big deal of telling Maguire: “There’s fresh-blue water in your bowl, sweetie.” Maguire, for his part, would usually just stretch, roll over and go back to sleep.

Riley races around the house with Wubba. He grabs one or more of the tentacles and whips it around so that the rest of the toy bounces off of his back. We call this “opus dei puppy.” It’s a fun game, one that he plays by himself daily. 

Today, Fresh-blue Wubba was in the living room. Riley was racing around on the walkway that runs the entire length of the house, something we call the most expensive indoor dog run ever. He was spinning around, air snapping, wanting to play. This is usually cause for Kevin to say: “Get a guy!” 

Riley, like many young dogs and golden retrievers in particular, needs a job. He needs to be busy. Guys, which is what Kevin calls his toys, keep him busy. Here was the conversation:

Kevin: Get. A. Guy. 

Riley: (air snap) 

Kevin: Where’s Wubba? Get Fresh-blue Wubba.

Riley: (air snap; spin) 

Kevin: Get Wubba!!!! 

Riley: (air snap; spin; air snap) 

Then he bounded down the two steps, racing toward Fresh-blue Wubba, ready to pounce and grab and engage in some opus dei puppy. He hit the brakes as he grabbed his toy but lost his footing – feeting? – and wiped out, sliding across the tile like it was ice, Wubba nudged up and now flying through the air. The dog turned to look at us as Wubba crashed down on the couch table. 

Riley: (air snap) 

Kevin turned to me: And that is what we call Riley on ice.

Indeed.

Big wet nose

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 5, 2016 8:35 PM

Several days ago, Kevin took a selfie with Riley. Riley is very photogenic but hates getting his picture taken. The minute you get close to him with a camera or the iPhone, when he’s doing one of his best cutes, he drops his ears and turns away. Sometimes he peers back like he’s making sure that the evil evil camera is gone. Just as often, he gets up and walks away to ensure that there will be no photos. It’s like he’s in witness protection or something, which he could be since he’s a rescue. It’s amazing that I get as many photos as I do, and that’s largely because I manage to take them before he even knows what’s happening. The exception is when he doesn’t recognize a device. 

He’s onto my iPhone. He’s not onto the iPad, so I managed to get a good one the other day because I was holding the device and he was curious as to what it was. Before he knew what was going on, I’d captured his cute little face peering up at me. Mom?

He was also not onto Kevin’s iPhone so when Kevin sat down behind him and held out the phone to snap a selfie, Riley was curious. Hmmm. What does this smell like, dad? Can I eat it? Does it taste like chicken? 

Whenever I need a smile, I now just look at Kevin’s phone. He has it as his wallpaper for his home screen. That big wet nose, pushed up nearly onto the screen of the phone, and the curious eyes, questioning what he was looking at, are just precious, innocent. Cute.

It’s the nose. There’s nothing like the feel of a wet nose on your arm in the morning, nosing you awake. Mom? Or pressed up against the glass, creating nose art. Or shining brightly during the day. 

Evidently there’s a legend that says a dog’s cold, wet nose is a gift from the heavens. When the world was flooded, the legend goes, all life on the planet was inside of Noah’s ark. The two dogs Noah had chosen constantly patrolled the boat, checking on the other animals, and generally just poking around as dogs do. One day, the dogs were taking their daily stroll when they noticed a coin-sized leak and water was rushing in. One dog quickly ran for help, while the other dog gallantly stuck his nose in the hole to plug it. By the time Noah and his sons arrived to repair the hole, the poor dog was in great pain and gasping for breath, but a major disaster had been averted. So a dog’s cold, wet noses is simply a badge of honor, conferred upon him in memory of that heroic act. 

Amen.

According to those in the know, like veterinarians, the real reason a dog’s nose is wet is because dogs lick their noses a lot, sometimes to help keep them cool. It can also make them pick up scents better. It’s perfectly natural for their noses to pick up moisture from the ground, grasses, plants and other areas. Making a cold, wet nose.

The bigger the dog, the bigger the nose. The cuter the nose. Our dogs have all been fairly big with equally big noses. Wet noses that nudge and nudged, that sniffed and smelled, that created nose art, and brought unlimited joy into our lives. Joy that we were able to capture easily because Maguire and Cooper loved to get their pictures taken. Maguire was a total ham, looking directly into the camera, ears forward, nose glistening. Take my picture because I am gooooooodddd lookin’. Cooper was more shy, but he at least looked at the camera, albeit with a little bit of what we called the side-eye, nose wet. I am a good boy, I am a good boy and the picture will prove it. 

Riley and his big nose are sporadically captured digitally but they’re forever captured in my memory, my imagination. Cold, wet, beautiful. Proud. Nosing it out loud.

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Maggie the Kelpie

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 20, 2016 10:09 PM

In 1972, my grandmother decided that our family needed a dog. When we drove to Eldred, Pennsylvania for Christmas that year, we got one. A little black ball of fur that my sister got to name. She picked Chaudee. We think she meant Charlie but since she was probably all of three, it came out Chaudee. Regardless, Chaudee stuck. He was supposed to be for the kids but he ultimately became my mother’s dog. He loved her completely, loved me and I’m sure my sister. He wanted nothing to do with my brother and I don’t think cared much for my dad. He was more of a ladies’ pup, Chaudee was. He was a puppy when we got him. He died after I had graduated from college and moved west. I think he was 15 or 16. Maybe even older. I remember when my mom called to say that she had to put him to sleep. She was obviously upset; I remember being sad. But he hadn’t been my dog for a long time. And I was still in that too-young-to-get-it stage of life.

Kevin and I got Maguire in 1997 when he was a puppy. He was with us until March 6, 2012. He was just over 15 years old, old for a big dog. I look at pictures of him now and I see how old he looked at the end, his beautiful face white, his eyes only slightly clouded, his once proud back scooped. He was an amazing animal, the love of my puppy life. He brought so much to our lives including a true appreciation for older dogs, so much so that when we finally decided it was time to get another dog, we wanted an adult dog, not a puppy. There’s grace and dignity in an older dog. Wisdom. 

Chaudee was very sick when my mother finally put him down. By her own admission, she probably waited too long but it’s an impossible decision to make. I understand. His quality of life wasn’t very good. He was deaf and blind, he couldn’t really eat, he had little control of his bladder or bowels. We didn’t have that with Maguire. Right up until that fateful night when he had his horrific and never-ending seizures, he had been fairly healthy. He had some trouble getting up sometimes so we helped him. His walks were shorter, but he was still playing with his toys, still eating as usual. 

At 15, he was old. We knew the inevitable was coming and dreaded the thought of life without our precious boy. I used to lay on the floor with him sometimes, just to hug on him and inhale his Maguire scent, because I knew I wouldn’t have him much longer. It always made me cry. It makes me cry as I type that sentence.

I thought of Maguire today and of Chaudee, and even of Cooper who was older but not old enough, when I read about Maggie.  

Maggie lived in Woolsthorpe, Australia. She was a kelpie, a herding dog. Her “dad,” Brian McLaren, got her as a puppy when his son was just 4 years old. The son is now 34.

Maggie died yesterday at the age of 30. She wasn’t sick; she was just old. She died in her bed. Just last week, she was walking, albeit slowly from “the dairy to the office and growling at the cats.” Feisty and ornery, but she earned it. You don’t get to be 164 years old, according the American Kennel Club, without having a little attitude. The American Veterinary Medical Association has said that the the one human year equals seven dogs years is a myth. Regardless of whether she was 164 or 210, she was old. And precious. And beautiful in that majestic, don’t give a f$^k kind of way. She was Maggie and she lived a good, long life. 

I feel badly for Mr. McLaren today. I know nothing of him except that he had an old dog named Maggie, perhaps the oldest dog on record. The official record-holder was a dog named Bluey, an Australian cattle dog who died at age 29 years and 5 months in 1939.

It makes no difference. She was old. She was beloved. She is missed. Her people are sad; devastated. She was Maggie and she’s who I’m celebrating tonight.

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69.5 and rising

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 1, 2016 10:42 PM

All of our dogs have been rescues. I have always been an advocate of dog rescue and since we got Maguire at the animal shelter, Kevin has been, too. I love that it is now considered the way to get a dog or a cat. Rescue and adopt and give a four-legged friend a chance at a wonderful life, regardless of how long you’re blessed with the little dude or dude-ette. 

When we got Maguire, he was a puppy. Ten pounds of squirmy, stinky fur. He grew quickly. The shelter had figured he’d be a medium sized dog. They also thought he was mostly German shepherd. He was neither medium sized, nor a German shepherd. He grew into a big dog and at his healthiest, weighed 85 pounds. So much for the medium dog thing. We wouldn’t have traded his big-dog self for anything. 

We rescued Cooper about 10 months after we lost Maguire. We went to all the local shelters and found no dogs that we bonded with. The sad thing about shelters, especially in the Southern California and Central Coast area where we lived and visited, is that they are teeming with pit bulls and Chihuahuas. We tend to like very furry, long haired dogs. Hippy, goofy dogs. Maguire had been diagnosed as being golden retriever and Australian shepherd, with some other breeds like Chow thrown in for good measure. He was rarely goofy but he was funny. We looked for Australian shepherd-golden mixes at shelters and online. Eventually I found a golden border collie mix that just grabbed me. His name was Andy. He became our Cooper. He actually was a medium size dog. He was about 50 pounds, though his paperwork said that he had been 67 pounds at one point. We couldn’t imagine another 27 pounds on him. By the time he got to 64 pounds, we could.

Riley is a golden retriever and something else and some other things. The people who surrendered him evidently had been told he was a golden-doodle, a mix of golden retriever and poodle. There is no doodle in this boy of ours.

When he arrived, on a Monday night at the end of April, he seemed … small. When Jenny, my friend, who drives transport for Southern Arizona Golden Retriever Rescue, drove into the motorcourt and got out, Kevin and I were nervous. We were standing inside, at the door. We’d only seen a picture and the dog didn’t look, well, great. His name at the time was Bernie, a horrible name for a dog. As Jenny walked around her car, “Bernie” stood up in the back seat and turned around

Kevin, hushed: “He’s beautiful.”

He was. And skinny. When we took him to the vet that following weekend, he weighed just 54 pounds. He was tall, with long legs, and could easily have been in the 60s for weight. 

Well, not to worry. He is now. After a year with us, he’s now clocking in at a healthy and happy 69.5 pounds. We went to the vet today, to follow up on his allergy issue, and they weighed him. He’s filled out; he’s thicker. He’s healthy (other than the allergies) and happy. His fur is soft and curly. He’s growing. 

In September, when we had the first homeowner’s association meeting here, one of the residents who attended, who had an older golden retriever named Sam, remarked: “He’s skinny. Do you think he’ll gain weight?” We need to have that guy back so he can see that our boy has definitely filled out. In the near year he’s been with us, he’s gain 15.5 pounds. 

Maybe it’s the food we feed our boys (Natural Balance Ultra). Maybe it’s just that each, when here, finally feels safe and happy, and so like people, they fill out a bit. I’m going with the latter, because I know that all three – Maguire, Cooper and now Riley – lived, and in the case of Riley, are living, the life they were meant to live. Safe from the world. Rescued. And loved. Living it out loud.

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The fine art of giving a dog a pill

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 24, 2016 8:22 PM

Riley has allergies. This is fairly par for the course since he’s a bit of a mess of a boy. He has terrible anxiety, is a whining disaster in the car, freaks out anytime he hears the garbage truck, chases lizards with wild abandon and doesn’t come when called. He is also the cutest little dude on the planet, and we love him to pieces. 

For the last two weeks, he’s been on prednisone so that we can make sure that his allergies are more seasonal than food related. We’re already sure of that; we were when we went to the vet. He’s been eating the same food for the past year and we’ve had no issues. Plus spring has sprung pretty quickly this year, the winds have been swirling, there’s all kind of stuff in the air. He’s not sneezing but he’s been itching like crazy. The prednisone has helped.

For the first week, his dose was two pills a day. The second week, one a day. This week, we’re doing half a day. All doses are plus cheese. 

When we had Maguire and had to give him pills we tried to do it the way the vet showed us which basically amounted to opening his mouth, and sticking our hands as far down his throat as possible, depositing the pill, removing our hand and then clamping his mouth shut while gently rubbing his throat to make him swallow. Sometimes we’d blow on his nose. He’d stand there, stoically. He’d blink his eyes. Eventually, he’d swallow and we’d think, perfect. Mission accomplished. I’d kiss his nose, Kevin would rub his head, we’d let go of him and get up from the floor, telling him what a good boy he was. 

Then he’d look at us, wagging his tail, and spit the pill out. The little bastard. 

He was a cheese fiend, so we started wrapping his pills in cheese. He would take the offering gently, as he always did – he was very polite – and swallow. Again, mission accomplished. Then he’d spit the pill out. 

The little bastard. 

It was virtually impossible for us to consistently get pills into him. Luckily, he was healthy for the most part and didn’t require a lot of medication during his fifteen plus years with us.

With Cooper we never tried sticking our hands down his throat. He would never have stood for such a thing. He probably would have bitten us – he was not very polite. When he was so sick last year, right before we lost him, he was on a number of medications including prednisone. He too got pretty good at eating around the cheese. Then I had a brain storm, or perhaps it was just light drizzle. Either way, it worked pretty well. Chicken pill pockets. 

I would boil chicken breasts and then, once cool, cut them into small squares. I would then put a small slice into the square, stuff the pill into it, and feed it to the dog. We never lost a pill after that.

Since Riley has been on prednisone, the first time we’ve had to give him pills, he’s been pretty good. I’ve been wrapping them in a bit of Havarti cheese and he’s been scoffing them down. Except for today. Today, I gave him the half pill, safely ensconced in some pretty decent cheese, and he took it as he’s been taking it. Mission accomplished. 

And then Kevin found the half pill in his food bowl. The little bastard.

I might have to resort to chicken breasts with this boy, too. Anything to continue the fine art of giving the dog a pill so that he can remain itch free as he lives it out loud. 

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live out loud

Waiting

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 11, 2016 7:39 PM

I am struck sometimes by how much time we spend waiting. Waiting in line, waiting for mail, waiting to be called. We wait for dinner reservations, wait to get married, wait to get old. We wait for the weather to change, wait for the storm to pass, for the sun to come out. Waiting is what we do best and sometimes I wonder why we wait for things to happen when we can just make them happen.

Naturally we can't change the fact that we have to wait in line at a grocery store to check out. There are some times when we need to wait but there are also times when we choose to wait because we're afraid. Afraid of what might happen if we don't wait. The problem then is that we become passive in our own lives; we wait to settle rather than being fearless, being brave. 

Someone said to me not long after we had moved that what we'd done was very brave. I hadn't thought of it that way though it struck me. I never thought of myself as brave. It was simply that we didn't want to wait anymore for our lives to change so we changed it ourselves. We built a house, we figured out how to populate it with fixtures and furnishings. We figured out how to pay for it. We just did it because to not do it was no longer an option. 

Waiting takes up so much of our lives, so much precious time. It's frustrating and normal. It's also easier. When you wait for life happen rather than helping it along, you're short-changing yourself. You're letting fear of the unknown win, because it's what we do. What we all do. 

We wait. To lose weight, to get in shape, to eat healthier. We wait. To be nicer, be better, be ready. We wait. We hope. We dream. 

Waiting for life to begin, waiting for the inevitable. There is here and there is there, now and what will be. We know what is now. We have no idea what is in an hour, a day, a week, next month, next year, next life. Waiting for a sign.

When we lost our precious Maguire I remember sitting on the floor with him, stroking his greasy fur. He had been in the veterinary hospital since Friday night and it was Tuesday morning. He had suffered horrendous, unending seizures, only stopped by the administering of drugs. We waited for it to stop the entire drive to the hospital. It didn't. We waited for him to get better because we weren't ready to say goodbye. He didn't. On that Tuesday morning, the vet had told us he wasn't getting better; that he wasn't going to get better. We had made the decision to let him go because he was waiting to leave. Kevin had left the room to tell the vet. I whispered in my boy's ear, inhaling his Maguire scent still present even in the sickness, asking him to give us a sign that we should wait a little longer. Instead, he had another seizure. It was time. We had perhaps waited too long. We vowed to not do that again. 

And yet we did with Cooper, waiting to take him to the hospital, waiting for him to get better. We'll wait again.

Because sometimes we have to wait to be sure. It's a dichotomy. The only constant is change. The only change that can't be undone is death. We wait. Because we live. 

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We have set our first goal

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 29, 2015 6:27 PM

Kevin and I are big supporters of dog rescue. All three of our dogs have been rescued. Maguire from the Agoura Animal Shelter, Cooper from Labs & Buddies, and Riley from Southern Arizona Golden Retriever Rescue. In the past, our support has been through contributions rather than volunteer work. When Maguire died, we donated his food, his bed and his toys to rescue. I’ve done some pro bono writing for several groups including Best Friends, and we’ve built several websites for groups in Washington State. We donated Justin’s car to an animal rescue group in New York (where his car was) and I’ve donated money. Each month, I give to several groups. It’s my chosen type of charity. 

We were so impressed with the Golden Retriever rescue group here in Tucson that we immediately wanted to get more involved. We went to their Gala Fundraiser and I tried to take Riley to one of the many Meet ‘n Greets they have at local PetSmarts. It didn’t go well. He nipped at a small child and we were asked, albeit nicely, to leave. We did, with our tails between our legs.

He may have had a good reason to nip at the little boy. He was surrendered by a family with a swarm of small boys and we suspect they tortured him in only the way small boys can. Pulling his tail, jumping on him, raising their hands over his head to hit him if he didn’t do what they wanted. We weren’t the only ones that suspected this; the rescue group agreed with us. The family that surrendered him said it was because he snapped at one of their boys when the boy either jumped or fell on him when Riley was sleeping. These were the kind of people that would get rid of the dog rather than teach their kid that what he did was wrong. Fine with us because we have him instead.

But he’s difficult to teach. He’s rambunctious, nutty, with too much energy. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that he’s not yet two. His birthday is January 1. Part of that can also be attributed to how he spent the first 15 months of his life. And part of if can be attributed to us. We’ve tried to train but we’ve had only moderate success and we’re not always consistent. We admit this and want to do better. 

This past Christmas season, we volunteered to do gift wrapping for the group at one of the local Barnes & Nobles. I ended up going four times. Kevin went with me once and Bobbi went with me once. It’s a great way to raise money because people can get their books wrapped and pet the dogs. Petting the dogs leads to big donations. The goal this year was to raise $12,000. I got an email this morning that we had actually raised $13,218. Much of that can be attributed to the dogs. They work hard, wearing donation vests and putting on their best holiday cute, complete with Santa hats or jingle bell collars. It’s hard to resist a golden retriever anyway, let alone one dressed up for the holidays and asking for donations.

Because of Riley’s temperament and because of the PetSmart incident, we weren’t able to take him. So Kevin and I have set a goal: be able to take him with us when we volunteer next year. This will entail a big commitment by all three of us. I need to get in touch with the trainer we use, Carey, and set up more regular appointments. We’ve been doing it just every now and again and then we tend to fall behind on homework. We need to be better at that part, too, the homework. He can be nutty but he can’t be dangerous. We can’t worry about people petting him and him getting so Rileyed up that we have another incident. We want to be incident-free. I think we can do it, if we all work at it.  

I think this because our dog is as cute as any of the other dogs who were good enough to participate. He could raise a bunch to help rescue more of his goofy kind and that would be worth celebrating out loud.

Giving back

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 11, 2015 7:50 PM

After my dad retired, he used to volunteer at one of the local soup kitchens, especially around the holidays. For years, my brother delivered Meals on Wheels and loved it. I’ve always loved the idea of volunteer work but I’m ashamed to admit have never done much of it. I just haven’t had the time, which I realize is a horrible excuse. I do some pro bono work for animal rescue every now and again, which is sort of like volunteering but not really. 

Today I actually volunteered.

Riley was a rescue. We got him from a group called Southern Arizona Golden Retriever Rescue, SAGRR. They’ve been around for a number of years and have rescued dozens, perhaps more, golden retrievers. Our Cooper was a golden, and Maguire was part golden. When we lost Cooper, Kevin wanted to get another so I found SAGRR online and filled out an application. I was contacted within the week and a home visit was scheduled.

This is what I love about these rescue groups. They truly care about where they’re placing the dogs they rescued, which is as it should be. Unfortunately it isn’t always. When we rescued Cooper from a local group in Westlake Village I could barely get the woman to respond to me. She didn’t seem to care where we lived or what our circumstances were. She just wanted to get rid of Cooper, largely because no one else seemed to want him. We took him gladly, but I never had a good feeling about the group. I felt like we rescued him from the rescue group. 

We’ve felt differently about SAGRR since the beginning. Two ladies came on a Sunday to see our home. They brought a dog with them so she, too, could inspect the premises and see if it was dog friendly. We don’t have a yard so I worried that we wouldn’t “pass.” But we keep all of the toilet seats down which is evidently a good thing (I just don’t like the look of them when they’re up) and the ladies – and the dog, Sugar – must have thought we were OK because several days later we were approved. Several weeks after that, we got our Riley.

I’ve been wanting to volunteer with them since. They do a lot of events around the city to raise money to support their efforts. They’re a non-profit and all of the people involved are volunteers. But there are veterinarian costs to take care of, licensing, and more. We tried to volunteer once before, Riley and I, and it didn’t go well. The group does Meet ‘n Greets at local PetSmarts and Riley nipped at a little boy. We were asked to leave. I was mortified by the whole situation.

We weren’t able to participate in the annual pool party or the Howloween costume party or the parade because of Riley’s anxiety issues. But I knew that Christmas was coming and that every year, SAGRR offers daily gift wrapping service at Barnes & Noble. Dogs and books? Sign me up.

Today was my first time, and it was great. There were dogs and other volunteers. My friend Jenny was there. I didn’t take Riley because he’s not ready for that kind of activity. Maybe next year. But I talked to people, I wrapped books, and we raised some money. Kevin and I are going to volunteer next Saturday afternoon and Bobbi and I are volunteering on Tuesday, the 22nd.

I’ve wanted to volunteer, wanted to give back. Supporting the organization that brought us our Riley Boo, helping raise money to keep rescuing dogs from bad situations, seemed the perfect way to do that. It’s what the season is all about.

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