Gimme shelter dogs

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 14, 2013 10:36 PM

October is a great month. It gives rise to falling temperatures. It also ushers in shorter days and longer nights, which is always disconcerting at first but is also a phenomenon that conveys the seasons that will soon set upon us. Halloween happens this month, albeit at the very end. It is also national adopt a shelter dog month and to this dog lover, that’s definitely worth celebrating.

Maguire was a shelter dog. Actually, he was a shelter puppy on his way to being a dog when Kevin and Justin found him one Saturday morning in February. Somewhere between eight and 10 weeks old, he was 10 pounds of fluff and fury. We adopted him from the Agoura Animal Shelter as soon as they would let us, which turned out to be Monday morning at 7:30 am. For the next 15 years he was our baby, our Honey Bear, and eventually our vintage puppy. After he passed away on March 6 of 2012, our hearts were broken and our lives were terribly empty. When there is a dog in the house, as dog lovers can attest, there is a fullness that almost can’t be explained. No matter how small the dog, they fill the space with love and fun and joy and fur. At the end of October, 2012, we adopted Cooper, our seven year old golden retriever mutt of puzzling origin and even more puzzling behavior. He’s a challenge, much more so than Maguire ever was, largely because of his alternatively aggressive and clingy personality. Many of his behavior patterns were formed long before we brought him into our home.

Still. He fills the house with fun and mayhem and mania and fur. He’s ours until the end which hopefully won’t happen for quite some time. When it does, we’ll eventually dry our tears and find another shelter or rescue dog to adopt and bring into our home because saving a dog is tantamount to saving ourselves.

In 1824, a group of 22 animal loving philanthropists in Great Britain organized the first official dog shelter to help rescue stray and unwanted dogs. They called their organization the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the SPCA. For years they struggled to get the people of England to understand their chosen mission but as there was already such class distinction in England, people chose to concentrate on people. But they persevered and eventually, the SPCA became more popular. In 1840, Queen Victoria granted permission for the society to be renamed the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the RSPCA. It seems Queen Victoria was a dog lover and at the time, her companion of choice was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Dash. After Dash passed away, she surrounded herself with Pomeranians and was purported to have as many as 35 at one time.

Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866. In 1869, one of the first animal shelters in this country opened its doors in Pennsylvania, and in 1877, the American Humane Society was formed. That was also the year the first anti-cruelty laws were enacted. New York city began offering shelters for dogs and cats in 1894.

There are now upwards of 5,000 – and perhaps as many as 6,000 – shelters across the country and even more rescue groups. More than 9 million dogs and cats enter shelters every year and up to about 4 million are euthanized because there simply isn’t the room. Many shelters have adopted no kill policies, and many animal groups push for spay/neuter awareness in order to help reduce the number of unwanted pets. Adopting from a shelter also helps. In fact, according to, 4 million pets are adopted from shelters each year.

It never occurred to us to not go to a shelter to find a dog, and ultimately we found the best dog (in our humble opinion) that has ever lived in the form of Maguire. When it was time to get another, we also went to a shelter and ultimately found Cooper at a local rescue group. We don’t know his story; we never will. But we adopted him and have given him his forever home.

Shelter dogs and cats just want a home. We’ve been blessed to offer ours to two wonderful dogs who both moved in and took over our lives and our hearts. National Adopt a Shelter Dog month is just another reason for me to love October. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the perfect reason. 

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Hauntings in the morning

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 20, 2013 10:05 PM

It is early on Saturday morning as I write this. The birds haven’t even begun their song. The sun is hiding in the cloud cover, and the air drifting in through the kitchen window is tinged cool. There are no cars zipping by, no children’s laughter floating up. I hear no dogs barking nor do I see any strolling by with their owners. It’s the quiet time of the day and as much as part of me would like to be sleeping next to my still slumbering husband, I have to admit that I love this hour. It allows me to simply be for just a bit before the day and all of its trappings begin.

The coffee pot beeps five times indicating that it’s done brewing. In a minute, I’ll get up from my place here at the table and pour myself a cup. I love coffee in the morning. I don’t think it has anything to do with the taste but rather the ritual. I love the steam that drifts lazily into the air, the roasted fragrance of the beans. I love to curl my fingers through the loop of the mug and let the rim linger at my mouth just for a second before I take a sip. The first sip sets the tone for the day. I like it to be a good one. As I said, a ritual.

In front of me is a bouquet of deep wine colored flowers along with dusty pink and some green. They too seem to be taking in the beginnings of the day. I know there are certain flowers that close at night and open again as the sun drifts over the horizon. I wonder if all flowers do that. I’m not very smart about flowers. I don’t know their names unless they’re roses or irises, but I do love the atmosphere they create. There is warmth in flowers, and humor. There is a lightness of being; they have a way of bringing a smile to the room. I appreciate that. You’d think I’d take the time to learn more but I suppose that’s enough.

Into the quiet drifts the drone of a small aircraft. We’re about 15 minutes away from Camarillo and they have a small airport there. Small Cessna’s and Bonanza’s haunt the morning skies often on Saturdays. Strangely it doesn’t bother me. Sometimes I am simply in awe of what we have accomplished as a species. The small planes remind me of the legend of Frank and Orville Wright which reminds me of Charles Lindberg which reminds me of my Aunt Beryl. She saw him with the Spirit of St. Louis at a small airfield in Pennsylvania in 1927. I’m writing a short story about it. This morning makes me want to spend the day doing nothing but that.

I hear my husband calling to me. I’ll bring him a cup of coffee. I hear the click click of Cooper’s nails on the hardwood floor as he pads out to see me. He’s been seeing ghosts in the house lately, not sure if he’s losing his mind or if the spirit of Maguire is torturing him for some reason. He’ll start out from the bedroom, often carrying a toy and as he gets toward the rug that leads into the kitchen, he’ll slow way down. His feet will get wider apart. It looks as if he’s walking through something heavy. His eyes dart to the left, he drops the toy. Sometimes he turns and races back to the bedroom. Other times he spins quickly into the kitchen so that whatever he’s seeing can’t get him. The only thing to the left is the pen and ink drawing of Maguire that hangs on the wall, the one Roy did of him the day he died. His ashes are still in the beautiful redwood box on the wine table. Maybe he is terrorizing Cooper, just because he can.

Cars are starting to wake up now, too. Three just went by. I hear voices, neighbors outside, tweaking sprinklers, getting ready to go wherever. As if on cue, our sprinklers pop up from the ground, spurting to life. Here comes haunted Cooper, wagging his tail. Looks like he made it. Life is good all around. 

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Look in their eyes to see heaven

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 20, 2013 1:37 AM

Regular readers know that I am not a religious woman, certainly not in the conventional sense. I am mostly distrustful of organized religion, certainly as it applies to me. I’ve been that way since I was 15, or at least that’s when I became acutely aware. Fifteen seems to be the age when many become acutely aware. I don’t believe in the traditional idea of heaven either. I believe when we die, we die. That our souls are released to travel the universe or to sit next to the ones we leave behind. But I don’t think anyone ascends to one convenient 5-star cloud reserved only for those most holy.

I do however believe in a different kind of heaven, the kind that can be seen here on earth when looking into the eyes of a dog, and especially an older dog.

I’ve written before about my admiration of older dogs. Having had a vintage puppy in our beloved Maguire, I came to almost prefer dogs with a few miles on them, whose legs maybe didn’t have as much pure muscle mass, whose gait had slowed; whose fur was more coarse and gray; whose eyes contained the wisdom of their years and the knowledge of a life lived well. When I would look into Maguire’s eyes and see that wisdom, accompanied by acceptance, I knew I was also seeing the only kind of heaven I believed in.

This heaven is one based solely on reality, on an animal’s truth and consent. Dogs never try to be anything they’re not. They don’t struggle with a will to continue. They are blessed by the comfort of recognition of the inevitable. We are the ones who hope and pray and wish that they’ll never leave us, who often keep them alive longer than they want to be in order to soothe our own souls when theirs are already gone. We did this with Maguire. He essentially left us on the Friday night of his horrific seizures but even though the light had gone out of his magnificent brown eyes, we couldn’t and didn’t make the decision to let him go until Tuesday morning.

Maguire taught me to love dogs. When he got to be an old dog, he taught me to love his majesty and truth.

Before he died, I began following a group on Facebook, based in Lake Stevens, Washington, called Old Dog Haven. They provide homes for the aging, white muzzled dogs that people have cast aside. Some just need a place to comfortably live out their remaining time, where they can bask in the warm sunshine of the day and sleep inside at night surrounded by love. Some need hospice care. Old Dog Haven tries to get people to adopt older dogs, too. For anyone who has had an older dog, the idea of having another can actually be pleasant. Again I’ll use the word comforting.

This weekend they’re having a Walk for Old Dogs, raising money for their care. Donations can be made at I just gave a donation, for Maguire, for our someday old dog Cooper, and for a dog named Schoep.

Last year, I wrote about a man named John who would take his then 19-year-old German shepherd mix, Schoep, into Lake Michigan, a lullaby that helped relieve the dog’s arthritis. He would fall asleep in John’s arms. Schoep recently celebrated his 20th birthday, and he passed away on Wednesday of this week. John announced it briefly on Facebook last night. “I breathe but I can’t catch my breath” was all he wrote, along with “Schoep passed yesterday.” As I type those words my eyes are swimming in tears. I never met John or Schoep but I know his pain. I know that he knows that all the times he looked into the beautiful eyes of his beautiful boy, he was seeing heaven on earth.

I hope that it’s enough though I know that it is not. I hope that one day he’ll be able to see the wonder and approval and ascension of his beloved dog as we came to see it with Maguire. It doesn’t lessen the loss but it does help to lessen the pain, as does time. As does the ability to see into the eyes of another needy dog. It’s life; it’s what we can do. It’s how we live it out loud.

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The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 9, 2013 12:20 AM

Episode 4: Cooper exercises his right to choose

Once upon a time there was an amazingly well-behaved dog and his name was Maguire Michel. He was blessed with an extraordinary amount of politeness, especially for a dog. He wouldn’t dream of taking anything that wasn’t his, except for the one time that Bobbi was here and she had this adorable faux fur purse. She put it down on top of some bags in the kitchen and Maguire proceeded to sit and stare at it for an hour. You could almost see him trying to decide if he was going to take it as he was sure it was a new toy for him, but since no one had given it to him, he couldn’t take it. It wouldn’t be polite.

We could put food on the coffee table and never worry that it wouldn’t be there if we had to leave the room. He might be sitting right next to it, again staring at it and drooling uncontrollably at the sheer thought of a piece of pizza, or a chicken breast, even seared ahi tuna from the grill. He would wait patiently until we returned, and then eat whatever we offered him, off of a fork. Very delicately, very politely.

When we put something special in his bowl, he would stand, ready to launch, but with his eyes on us, waiting for permission. If we didn’t give it, he didn’t eat. We always gave it.

We used to joke that we could put the turkey on the floor at Thanksgiving and he wouldn’t eat it unless we said it was OK. Granted, we might be flooded out because of the dog drool. But we’d still have turkey.

We don’t know where he got this trait as it wasn’t anything we ever taught him. He just seemed to be instinctively polite, incredibly well-behaved. The kind of dog who would never stick his nose into a bag on the floor and pull out food that belonged to someone else.

I’d like to introduce you again to the newest member of the family, one Master Cooper Michel. He is not at all cursed with the quaint idea of being polite. His motto is simple: “if it’s on the floor, it’s mine.”

Also, “if it’s on the coffee table, it’s probably mine. Especially if you’re not there to guard it.”

Witness the goings on of last night. We had a lovely dinner of pan-cooked salmon, steamed cauliflower with a garlic/mushroom/blue cheese/butter sauce, and sliced strawberries. Roy and Bobbi were here and we had spent the first hour or so of Fritini – which has become Cooper’s favorite holiday. It was also Maguire’s – sitting on the patio, sipping cocktails and having a healthy vegetable crudités. Also dried peas coated with wasabi. [Note: if you have not had these, run, quickly, to Trader Joe’s and stock up. They’re absolutely addictive. Also, too, they’re good for clearing the sinuses.]

Cooper, like Maguire, always sits as close to Roy as caninely possible. Roy, who bills himself as “Daddy” on Fritini, proceeds to feed Cooper cheese and crackers, carrots, and anything else the dog would like to munch. Roy did the same for Maguire. He was also Maguire’s Fritini dad. If Roy stops feeding Cooper for anything longer than a minute, the paw comes up to rest on Roy’s leg. As if to say: “Who’s my Daddy, now?”

Once we served dinner, Cooper calmed down. While he likes salmon, he was content to only have a little bit. He didn’t seem to care much for the cauliflower.

We were wrong.

Roy had a bit of both salmon and cauliflower left over and so he wrapped it up nicely in some aluminum foil and tucked it into one of their bags on the floor in the kitchen. Everyone, including Cooper, continued to savor the wine. Kevin went inside at one point to get a sweatshirt and Cooper decided to go with him. Kevin returned. Cooper did not.

About 30 seconds later, I noticed that the dog was nowhere to be found. I asked Kevin “where’s the dog?”

Kevin: “What dog?” He jokes. He’s a kidder, that one.

I went into the house and toward the kitchen, calling his name. Now, the one thing you need to know about Cooper is that he is nearly surgically attached to me. The fact that he was not next to me on the patio, nor was he coming when I called was concerning to say the least. I knew he was fine. I also knew he must be doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.

I was right. I walked into the kitchen to find the remnants of cauliflower and mushrooms and garlic and blue cheese spread across the kitchen floor, and my dog, my adorably not-polite dog, standing in the middle of the room, looking at me innocently, with a huge piece of aluminum foil sticking out of both sides of his mouth.

Hey, if it’s on the floor, even if it’s in a bag, even if it’s wrapped up in aluminum foil, it’s his. He was just exercising his right to choose. And he chose Roy’s – Daddy’s – doggie bag.

The end.

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live out loud

Joy in a growl

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 24, 2013 11:41 PM

I am in love. It has happened gradually and yes, a bit unexpectedly. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to love again but it snuck up on me and now I can hardly stop smiling. I whistle during the day. I find myself singing sometimes and I don’t sing. I laugh out loud for little to no reason at all. It is joyous, this love, for it is new and bubbly and fun, and growing.

The love of which I speak? My Cooper.

When we lost our Maguire last March, I could hardly imagine ever having another dog let alone loving one. And yet, within months of losing him, I was lost. I was lonely. I missed the jazz feet on the hard wood, the drool across the floor, the toys, in various states of disarray all over the house. The wonderfulness of fur. Everywhere. I missed my Maguire, and I still do, but by October of last year, I was ready to try again. To heal my broken heart. To fill the empty place with a beautiful new face.

I found Cooper on Pet Finder. He was a rescue and I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I looked at him for weeks before I even told Kevin that I was thinking I was ready. Kevin, of course, was not ready. He was prepared to never be ready again. He loved Maguire fiercely and the thought of another made him almost angry. No one could replace Maguire.

I explained that I didn’t want to replace Maguire, that no one dog could ever replace such an amazing animal, the love of our lives. But I needed to have a dog in the house. I had found one. Would he at least take a look? Begrudgingly he agreed. We met Cooper, then Andy, and made the decision to take him. It was not love at first sight. It wasn’t even love after a week. For a short time I worried that I’d been too hasty. That I shouldn’t have gotten another dog so soon. The memory of Maguire and his Maguireness was still too fresh. After all, I could still smell his fur if I tried hard enough, and truth be told I didn’t have to try very hard.

We had our fair share of issues with Cooper. I worried and stewed. I wasn’t feeling the rush, the heart palpitations, the sheer bliss of seeing his little face and hearing his feet as they danced across the floor.

But then something happened. Things changed. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was kiss his nose. And hug him close, and rub his belly. And play with him. And take care of him, to let him know that after years as a foster puppy, he had finally found his forever home.

Tonight, I met my friend Connie for a glass of wine. We laughed and talked and exchanged stories about family. We had a great time. While I was there I got a text message, from Cooper, relayed through Cooper’s dad, that he had gone for a walk, that he and dad were doing fine and that he’d even had dinner and it was good. I smiled.

When I got home and came in from the garage, a little red and white face was anxiously awaiting my arrival. His tail was thumping against the wall. We exchanged a pet and a hello, and then he took off like a shot, looking for a toy, any toy but most likely Wubba. He was excited! Mom was home! Life was as it should be! His family was complete! And he needed to share his joy via his toys.

Wubba was still in my office so he couldn’t quite find him, but he found two other toys that he proceeded to growl at as he tossed them round the room with great joy. I watched it all with amusement and, yes, love. As I watched him racing around the room, throwing his toys through the air with wild abandon, all because he was just so damned excited that I was home, I was suddenly overcome. I realized that I had fallen completely and totally, head over heels in love with my dog. I don’t know exactly when things changed but they did.

Maybe it’s the complete happiness he has in playing with his toys with both me and his dad in the room. His life is complete. And now, again, ours is too.

Somebody once said something along the lines of “once you have loved a dog, your heart will never truly be full again until you allow another in.” It’s a bad paraphrase but the sentiment is a good one.

I have allowed another in; we have. And my heart – our hearts – are all the better for it. Maguire would understand. And I think celebrate it with us.

Even though he was never much for other dogs. 

And the eyes are wise

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:47 PM

One of my loyal readers, Fred, commented on a recent blog post that he just needs “to look into an animal’s eyes … to gain clarity.” It got me thinking and thus writing. I, too, have spent much time looking into the eyes of my dogs, the late, great Maguire, our vintage puppy, and the new addition to the family, one Mr. Cooper, our pre-owned puppy. Interestingly both of them have similar eyes. Brown, alert, and clear. Looking into them was and is like looking into their souls.

Kevin used to hold Maguire’s head in his hands, one hand cupped on either side of his ears, and pull his face close so they could have a conversation. Maguire allowed it because he loved his dad so much. Kevin said that he had absolutely no doubt that Maguire understood everything Kevin was saying; that he could almost hear Maguire answering, with his eyes.

The eyes of an animal, especially one who is older or even just growing old, can tell us so much. They are wise with life and love. They look at you with such astonishing clarity they can almost make you self-conscious. It’s as if they can see if you’re being honest, if you’re a fraud. And they love you anyway. This is the power that comes through the gaze of an old dog.

Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave us a book to commemorate the anniversary of Maguire’s passing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year today that he left us. The passage of time – and the wonder of our dear Cooper – has made it easier to bear but we still miss him all the time. We miss his big furry self sprawled on the floor, his drool drying on the wood, his stretches and his noises. We miss his patented three-woof announcement for everything from “I see you” to “there’s someone at the door” to “yes, I would very much like that piece of chicken, thank you.” Woof, woof. Woof.

Our beloved Maguire a year ago, watching us from the sunshine of the backyard. 

The book is called Old Dogs are the Best Dogs and it’s by Gene Weingarten with photography by Michael Williamson. In it, Weingarten writes: “They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

“As they age, dogs change, always for the better. Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing – his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness, his unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these things are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But above all, they seem at peace. This last quality is almost indefinable; if you want to play it safe, you can call it serenity. I call it wisdom.”

So do I. And it is most visible in the way the eyes of an old dog follow your movements without the head following along. It is how they look at you, how they see you, how they express their love and knowledge of all that you are completely through their eyes. Old dogs don’t wag their tails anymore. The mechanism either doesn’t work or it takes too much effort. All of their expression comes through their eyes and even their ears; through a kiss on the nose.

Maguire used to watch us both at nearly the same time. He would be lying on the floor, with his head tucked between his two front paws and his eyes would move to Kevin on one couch, and then switch to me on the opposite couch. His eyebrows would arch as his eyes tracked first one way, then the other. After doing this six or seven times, the eyes would begin to close. He’d fight it a little but only half-heartedly. Soon, he’d be sleeping. He had secured his people. Life was good.

Cooper, just a few days ago, in the kitchen, gazing

Maguire was 15 years old when he died last March. We still feel his presence, we still speak of him all the time; sometimes I still hear his tags on the floor, the heavy sigh as he’d lie down, letting the world escape through his nose. I can still smell his fur. I can still see his beautiful brown eyes.

I see them now; I see them in Cooper’s brown eyes. The depth isn’t there yet, the wisdom hasn’t come to him – he’s still in that loopy middle age nutty stage, still doing the helicopter tail wag round and round and round – but it will. Just give him time. 

Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:16 PM

For a good part of my adult life, I have lived with only males. When Justin lived here and Maguire was still alive, I was surrounded completely by testosterone. I was also surrounded a bit by snoring. Justin snored very softly, it was more like heavy breathing. Kevin snored and still does but mostly when he’s just exhausted; otherwise he sleeps quietly. Maguire sighed heavily every once in a while.

Enter Cooper. He snores. A lot. He also talks in his sleep. He growls and semi-barks. When he lays down, he expels air loudly with a harrumph.

Last night when I wasn’t sleeping – an occasional malady that is quite frustrating especially when I’m so tired because of the holidays and the shopping and the dog and the work and the and the and the – I was listening to the sounds of my two men, the husband next to me and the dog in the kennel in the corner of the room. Kevin’s sounds were small and crisp; Cooper’s were low and guttural. Since it’s the holidays, naturally I couldn’t help but think of the Christmas song Let it Snow.

Oh the music inside at nightfall
Is noisy and not right for all
So since I’m waiting for sleep ‘n more
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

It doesn’t show signs of rebounding
And I’ve brought some sheep for counting
The lights are off which I adore
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

When we finally said goodnight
How I loved snuggling down to sleep
But if shuteye refuses, alright
Cause tonight I’ve got my sheep

The night is finally slowing
And my boys have sounds they’re sewing
But as long as I can I’ll implore
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore 

I’ve been told that I, myself, don’t snore. I puff. According to my husband. But I come from a long line of snorers on my father’s side. My grandmother used to fall asleep on her couch at night while watching the news. She’d be bundled up in her bathrobe, her face all slathered with Ponds cold cream, bobbi pins holding her sideburn curls in place, and her head will gradually drift back, her mouth would fall open and she would exhale the loudest snort. She rarely woke herself up. My father was much the same, though his snorts were enough to crack the drywall and peel the paint. My mother used to sleep on the couch in the living room when it got too bad. When my dad came to visit me right after the dissolution of my first marriage, I had a small townhouse with two bedrooms upstairs. I gave him my room and I took the smaller guest room. I, too, ended up downstairs on the couch. I could hear him through the two closed doors and down the hall. 

He used to tell my mother that it never kept him awake. He’d say it in jest as she would snarl at him. Interestingly, when I puff, it wakes me up almost every time. Kevin sometimes snorts and it wakes him up; mostly I just give a gentle nudge, he says “what?” and I say “you’re snoring, roll over.” I haven’t yet figured out how to get Cooper to shhuuush. He doesn’t tend to snore for long, which is good. I suspect I’ll just have to whisper his name. Dogs are notoriously light sleepers.

Until then I’ll just let him snore, let him snore, let him snore. And when I’m good and tired, and the sheep are all counted, I’ll finally drift off with a puff.

Life is good living it out loud with my guys, even when it’s supposed to be quiet. 

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.

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.

Of wondrous desktop images and savvy screensavers

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 27, 2012 8:28 PM

In May of 2009, we went to Napa Valley with Roy and Bobbi to celebrate Bobbi’s birthday. We had been there previously, and had stayed in the quaint town of Yountville, inside the valley itself. This time, we decided to do something different. We rented a house. It would be so much easier to rise, shower, meet for coffee and bagels in the kitchen before heading off to wineries, returning sometime after 4 to relax, maybe in front of a fire, while we cooked our own meal and ate it in a homey setting. The last thing any of us wanted to do after a day of tasting would be to go out to dinner.

Our criteria was simple: two bedrooms, two full baths, a nice kitchen, private and near the Silverado Trail. The Silverado Tray is where all of the high-end red wine producers are located. Wineries like Heitz Cellars, Chimney Rock, Silver Oak and so many more. We spent much time on the VRBO website and discovered an incredible house atop a hill just off the trail, surrounded by 25 acres of grapes. According to the pictures, it was spectacular, complete with a baby grand piano. And the price would be less than we paid to stay at the Yountville Inn. We decided to go for it.

My Mac desktop photo, from Napa Valley

The pictures did not truly do the place justice. It was beyond spectacular as to border on exquisite, incredible, earth-shatteringly fabulous. We couldn’t believe our luck. The house was so amazing we almost didn’t want to leave it to go wine tasting. I said “almost.” From the road, a long drive wound through some farmland, past a big gray cow who would stand near the road and simply stare as we drove by, and up the hill to where the house awaited. From the front of the house, vineyards stretched further than our eyes could see. From the back of the house, the farmland and valley would be seen. Inside, were two bedrooms, each with its own bath. There was a bar, a living room complete with aforementioned piano, a huge kitchen, attached great room with high ceilings and a fireplace. It was perfect, as was the entire trip. It will probably go down as one of my all time favorites.

I see the vineyards every day, the early morning sun drifting through the trees to alight the thick-with-grapes vines. It’s my desktop image on my Mac. It brings me peace; it makes me want to open a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, perhaps a syrah, and sit back, relax, listen to some music and transport myself back in time, up to that house on the hill.


On my PC, my desktop is a huge picture of my beloved Maguire, lying on his rug in his sphinx position, his front paws crossed – he was always such a gentleman – his beautiful brown eyes alert and looking directly at me, his nose wet. I can almost feel how cold it always was. The sign of a healthy boy.

I think the images we choose for our desktops as well as for our screensavers say a lot about us. They define us. Computers come with a number of photos and background colors from which to choose. Wet pebbles in a stream, a beach at sunset, deep space, a distant landscape. The flat colors are turquoise, orange, red, blue, purple, the colors of the rainbow and beyond. I’ve never been interested in just having a boring desktop with a pre-determined photo. I look at this computer screen all day and into the night. I want it to be an extension of me. It is; both are.

When my Mac has been sitting idle for more than 10 minutes, the screen simply goes black. A touch to the track pad and the sundrenched vineyard reappears. On the PC, the screensaver is a 3-D high-chrome apparition of Microsoft Windows. A touch to that track pad, and my beautiful boy is back.

Screensavers began in the late 1980s because the tubes used to light computer monitors were vulnerable to damage when the same pattern was displayed in the same position for extended periods of time. These monitors were called CRT screens for cathode ray tubes. Some thought the image on the screen, whether it was words or graphics, would be burned into the monitor; others said that portions of the screen would gray out. In actuality the whole process was caused by phosphor compounds illuminating when hit by high-speed electrons. Manufacturers originally developed screensavers that made the screen totally black but in 1989, the “Magic Screensaver” was created. Developed by Bill Stewart and Ian Macdonald, it showed images and patterns interchanging and overlapping, changing constantly in order to keep the screen healthy.

My beautiful, beautiful boy as he appears on my PC desktop

The screensavers of today are even more complex, with animations and multiple settings for control. They’re created by programmers who often design and build them for the sheer joy of the creativity. I say, bravo.

But I’m still partial to the black screen of the Mac that eventually returns me to Napa. It’s a bit like time travel, which could be the best screensaver ever. I’ll have to talk to someone about that. We could all go back to Napa, to our house on the hill, and this time, we’d take Maguire, and his healthy wet nose, with us. What’s a wine house without a dog, right?

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