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Thursday, August 8th, 2013, 10:33 AM | Updated: 08/08/2013, 10:33:55 AM | (Anonymous) [0 Comments]

One of the most gratifying things about spending time with animals is having the opportunity to communicate with them.  I don’t profess to have the talents of Dr. Doolittle, the fictional physician and subject of Hugh Lofting’s children’s books.  However, I manage quite effectively in “talking” with my pet clients.

One of my cat clients, SOCKS, and I spend a significant portion of our time together communicating.  I use my human voice and sense of touch, while SOCKS uses his feline voice and body language.  For example, when I sit next to SOCKS and brush or stroke his handsome coat, he lets me know that he’s thoroughly enjoying himself by purring, lying on his side and stretching out his body in a way that asks for belly rubs.  I comply by gentling rubbing his belly and using a soft, soothing tone of voice to engage him.

In today’s post, I’m going to go out on a Dr. Doolittle limb and detail how a typical conversation would go if SOCKS had the capacity to produce human speech.  

A Conversation with SOCKS:

I turn the key in the lock, push down on the door handle and enter his home.  SOCKS is always upstairs so I let him know that I’m there. 

Me: “Good morning SOCKS, it’s David.”
I immediately proceed upstairs and am overjoyed to find him waiting for me on the top landing.  My experience tells me that when SOCKS greets me at the top of the stairs, he’s going to be in a particularly talkative mood.  
“Hi SOCKS, it’s so good to see you.  How are you doing today?”
SOCKS: He looks up, “Hey David.  Doing quite well.  Been waiting for you.”
Me: “So what have you been up to?”
SOCKS: “Just kicking back this afternoon, taking some cat naps, snacking in between.  Other than that, there’s not much happening.”
Me: “Really? But you’re such an intellectual cat.”
SOCKS: “That’s true.  I do have a rich inner life.  Actually, I was sitting over by the window earlier looking out.  It’s entertaining to watch birds fly by.  They’re always in such a hurry.  Guess they have to look for their three square meals every day.”
Me: “Yes they do SOCKS.  Of course, that’s why I’m here.  I’m going to give you your dinner so you don’t have to expend any energy searching for it.”
SOCKS: “Thank you.  Appreciate your efforts when my Mom is away.” SOCKS rolls over on the floor, stretches out the full length of his body and throws his head back.  “Before you go grab my food, do you mind a little belly rub?”
Me: “Well of course SOCKS.  I don’t mind at all.  My pleasure.”  I sit down on the floor next to him, and start to rub his tummy gently.  SOCKS begins to purr.
SOCKS: “That sure feels good.  Oh yeah.  Work those tummy muscles David!  Mmmm!  Feels good.  A little bit lower.  Oh yeah.  That’s right.  Right there.” SOCKS purrs continuously without interruption.
Me: “Feels good?”
SOCKS: “Just like cat Nirvana dude!”
Me: “Glad I can help.” SOCKS sways ever so gently, relishing all the attention.  
SOCKS: “That’s so good.  But I’m getting hungry.  Do you mind……?”
Me: “Absolutely not.  I’ll be right back with your dinner.”
SOCKS: “Don’t be too long.  I’ll start to miss you and might require another belly rub.”

I hope you get an idea from this brief dialogue how SOCKS and I communicate during my visits.  As a cat care professional, I listen closely and take cues from my kitty clients.   When they’re as expressive as SOCKS, the communication is easy and very straightforward.

Gotta go blog readers!  My cell’s ringing.  Hmmm!  I recognize that number.  It’s SOCKS calling to catch up.  “Hey SOCKS……What’s up?” 

Friday, August 2nd, 2013, 04:11 PM | Updated: 08/02/2013, 04:11:17 PM | (Anonymous) [0 Comments]

As I provide dog-walking services around UTC/La Jolla and nearby neighborhoods of San Diego, I have observed a disturbing trend.  The pattern doesn’t originate with my four-legged clients, but rather with motorists on our local roads.  I’ll get right to the point.  A substantial number of motorists in the neighborhoods I frequent disregard the electronic walk signs for pedestrians and do not yield the right of way to individuals in the roadway.  Specifically, an increasing number of motorists seem to think it is okay to drive around a pedestrian who is in a marked crosswalk with the electronic “white hand” sign flashing.   It should be common knowledge that this walk sign indicates that it is safe for pedestrians to cross the street.  Furthermore, when this walk sign flashes, drivers are expected to come to a complete stop and allow pedestrians to pass. 

What I see happen more often than not is that when I step off the curb with one or more dogs by my side, motorists do not completely stop.  Rather they tend to slow down or coast, edging forward in order to make the light before it turns red.  If they think they can make their turn prior to me getting close, they go for it.  So often, I’ve had cars skirt in front of me, behind me or take some other creative path around me just so they can get through the intersection.   On one occasion, a motorist actually honked his horn as a call that I should pick up my dog-walking pace [let it be known that I am not a slow pedestrian].  It is disappointing to admit it, but I’ve even seen San Diego police cruisers (clearly not in an emergency situation) engage in these around-about-the-dog-walker maneuvers.

Let me shift gears for a minute!  Pedestrians walking dogs have to be especially careful; not only do we have to look out for ourselves, but we also have to hold onto our dogs’ leashes and be cognizant of the dogs’ exact positions as we cross the street.  Imagine having to factor in another variable to this equation: that of moving vehicles.  The situation immediately becomes fraught with potential danger. 

In my dog-walking experience, there are some pets that get frightened by all the sounds and activity around them as they walk across a busy street.  It can be challenging for a dog-walker to respond to (and help manage) a pet’s emotions and reactions under these circumstances.

And so I urge our local motorists to not only follow traffic laws but also practice common courtesy while on the road.  When you see a pedestrian with dogs crossing the street, please allow the person and his/her pets to make it safely across before accelerating forward.  Kindly put down your cell phones and wait to have your conversations at another time when you can them give your full attention.   If you arrive at your destination a few minutes later than anticipated, your life will go on.  But if you cut corners and try to get around pedestrians, you may injure a human and/or a pet.  I hope that we can all still agree that there is nothing more precious than life.  This includes human life and the lives of our pets.

Thank you!

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013, 08:19 PM | Updated: 07/30/2013, 08:19:02 PM | (Anonymous) [0 Comments]

Yesterday I had an errand that required a visit to a local pet cemetery.  Never having been to a pet cemetery before, I took the opportunity to walk around and see for myself what one is like.

Visually the landscape was similar to a human cemetery except on a smaller scale.  The grounds were very well maintained with flowers placed on or nearby some of the graves.  The majority of the graves were marked by flat (flush with the ground) stones.  Small sculptures, mostly recreating the likeness of an animal or specifically, someone’s deceased pet, also graced the grounds.

By far, the most compelling part of my visit was reading the inscriptions on the gravestones.  Some were very simple, including just the name of the pet and his/her years of birth and death.  Others were more elaborate with the words carefully chosen to reflect the depth of the pet owner’s relationship with their loved one and the profound loss they experienced following their pet’s death.  Still others were more whimsical or humorous, capturing some favorite pet pastime or memorable personality trait.  Rather than feeling sad as I read the epitaphs, I actually felt lighthearted.  Clearly this was due to the meticulous thought pet owners had given to the words they had engraved on their pets’ tombstones.  And so as I read each epitaph, my mind tried to visualize the animal associated with it and I found myself smiling, occasionally even laughing out loud.

It wasn’t until I walked back to my car that sadness began to settle in around me.  I felt like I was leaving so many loved ones behind and I could not take them with me.  My mind leaped forward to those days somewhere in the future, when my own dogs will no longer be with me.  And that caused me to consider what I will do with my pets’ remains.  Would I bury them in a pet cemetery like this one?

While this cemetery was a beautiful place and only goodness inhabited it, I concluded that it was not a place that I would want to bury my pets.  Rather, I would continue down the path that I started more than thirteen years ago when our last pet passed away.  Our pets’ ashes will be with us in our home.  And when I leave this world, I will have their ashes buried with me.  I will clearly need to do my homework on how to make this happen.  But for right now, it gives me a great deal of comfort.

I had no idea that a visit to a pet cemetery on a sunny San Diego morning would lead me to do this kind of soul searching.  What an amazing day!

Friday, July 26th, 2013, 07:04 PM | Updated: 07/26/2013, 07:04:03 PM | (Anonymous) [0 Comments]

Every occupation has its own unique history including where and how it originated, and how it evolved over time until the current day.  This even applies to the profession of dog walking.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported the death of Jim Buck.  Mr. Buck was a native New Yorker who is credited with having started the first dog walking business in the city (and in the U.S. for that matter).  He operated “Jim Buck’s School for Dogs” for approximately 40 years.  Jim ran his business with the help of more than twenty assistants.  Together they provided daily walks for over 150 New York dogs.  He and his dog walkers rambled up and down city streets and through Central Park providing each owner’s pet with at least 12 miles of exercise.  The dog walkers themselves walked approximately 25 miles each day and fanned out across Manhattan in pairs, each person commanding the leashes of six or more dogs at one time.   

I did some of my own research about Jim Buck and located a “Talk of the Town” segment about him in The New Yorker magazine from 1965 and a newspaper article from 1996.  What a fascinating man!  In the course of reading about his life and his business, I immediately felt a strong kindred spirit.  Why?  Because there are several common threads to our lives – traced back to place, physical traits and personal style:

(1) Both Jim and I spent time as children in Connecticut; he trained horses there and I was born and grew up there.
(2) The New York Times referenced his lifelong slim physique and weight of 145 pounds.  A photograph reveals his long legs suitable for making strides and going for extended walks.  I also have a trim physique and consistently maintain a body weight of 145 pounds.  When I lived on the East Coast and frequently spent time in New York, going for long walks in the city was one of my favorite pastimes.
(3) Jim was typically seen sporting fine clothing, often wearing grey flannel and tweed as he walked Manhattan with his canine entourage.  Those who know me well can attest to my own personal fashion sense.  When I lived in Boston (and travelled to New York for business and to attend theater), I enjoyed dressing smartly often wearing tailored wool suits, crisp dress shirts and fine leather shoes.  At the time, the only thing I lacked was a well-groomed dog by my side.

But of course, I feel most connected to Jim across the decades given the occupation we share.

Today I walk dogs in and around La Jolla, a far cry from the towering cityscape of Manhattan.  But since reading about Jim Buck’s life, when I now set out to walk a dog, I think of Jim and his groundbreaking efforts to professionalize dog walking.  When people ask me what I do, I proudly explain that I am a pet care professional and have my own business.   As I speak these words, I think of Jim Buck fondly.  And so, I say “Thank You Jim” for turning your love for dogs into an occupation and setting the course for dog walking history more than 50 years ago.


Thursday, July 11th, 2013, 03:45 PM | Updated: 07/11/2013, 03:45:05 PM | (Anonymous) [0 Comments]

In my last post, I disclosed my multiple dog personality – my adoration for larger breed dogs along side my actual pet ownership of small breed dogs (Shih Tzus to be precise).

Upon close examination of my feelings, I’ve been able to identify the reasons for my small dog affinity.  First, there is a very practical reason.  Throughout almost all of my adulthood, I’ve lived in condominiums or apartments.  While these living spaces have not been tiny, they also have not been expansive.  It wouldn’t seem fair to a large dog to be confined to a limited space, especially one with no private yard or secure outdoor area in which to run and play.  Our Shih Tzus weigh approximately thirteen pounds each and are fairly sedentary; this is a perfect pet size and lifestyle to negotiate around a 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo. 

The second reason relates to ergonomics.  When I’m not performing dog walking or pet care services for my clients like kitty home visits or pet sitting, I tend to spend time working on my laptop.  One of my dogs, Lucy, loves to be held.  It’s much more comfortable to sit in my office doing computer-based work with her in my lap than it would be with an affectionate and well-intentioned Weimaraner pinning me down in a half nelson.

Third, I’m very tactile and affectionate with dogs.  That said, it is so easy and personally soothing to be able to wrap my arms completely around a small dog like a Shih Tzu than it would be to pick one body part like a Great Dane’s head and scratch both of its ears only having to leave its feet for a later reflexology treatment. 

Finally, there is the small female dog factor.  This one is a bit more elusive. Nonetheless, I experience immense joy when my two girls come home from a day of beauty at their grooming salon with decorative bows adorning their backs.  I’ve resisted dressing my dogs in canine haute couture and crowning them with diva-esque tiaras, but the feminine bows certainly add something and I look forward to picking them up and seeing which colors Jeanine has selected for them this time. 

And so while I yearn to own a larger breed “guy’s dog” someday, for right now I’m perfectly happy with my two Shih Tzu daughter dogs as they create their own feminine mystique in an otherwise all male household.  You Go Girls!  Your Dad promises to manage his multiple dog personality and keep his big dog feelings in check.  “Doctor, how much is that therapy going to cost me?”

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