OK, only kidding about the going out of business part, but not the sale part.

As per your requests, here are some drawings for sale, priced to leave here and have forever homes with you and yours. If you want one, please message me via FB and I will reserve the drawing for you and send you my address for payment.  Drawings will all be signed and the black and white one will be colorized.  You know, like old movies.  Colors are muted, not as bright as the scans made them.  Drawings have all been previously published, are smallish and look lovely matted and framed.  Sale price: $310 except This is America which is $290.

I Can Do It, 5 x 4 pen and ink with watercolor wash

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Great Minds Think Alike, 5 x 7, pen and ink with watercolor wash  SOLD

dog juggling

 

Fetch!  two part drawing, can be framed separately or together, 4 x 4.5, pen and ink with watercolor wash

dog w ball

Dexter doing math!!!  6 x 7, you know the drill by now  SOLD

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A Few Simple Rules, 6 x 4, very cute   SOLD

Can do

and last but not least, This is America, 4 x 3 1/2, will be in color  SOLD

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highlinewSky 004

Why a sit stay on a bench?  Because you can practice not only SIT and STAY but UP and OFF.  You can teach UNDER when there’s a bench around, LEFT and RIGHT when there’s a fork in the road, UP and UP and WAIT when there’s a picnic table (with no one eating there!)  Low fences are perfect for jumping games.  Your own self for GO AROUND.

Most of my walks with Sky are silent, if you don’t count the noise of the city!  But sometimes a walk can be an agility challenge, brain work, time for new words, time to practice known skills.  Today we used everything we found, a picnic table, a bench, a little park for some off leash retrieving.  Going down the stairs from the High Line, I stopped many times and to make sure Sky would stop, too, for our safety.  OK, for my safety.  She did and I thanked her.  Just before turning the corner to head to the entrance to our building, I had her loose in the park that sits between our home and the sidewalk and, as luck sometimes has it, she found a tennis ball so we incorporated that into our fun/educational walk.

I love our quiet walks, walks when I often let Sky choose the way.  And so does Sky.  I also love walks like today’s when we make everything we see part of a game.  And so does Sky.  Almost immediately, she began to use the environment, too, and so I didn’t have to tell her to leap up and up and down and down every time we passed a picnic table and when we got to the first little park, she turned to look at me, her mouth open in a grin, pulled me just inside the gate and stopped so that I could unhook her leash.

It’s fun for a dog to break from comforting routines to test herself, to practice what she knows, to learn new words and skills, to earn a great big smile for her brilliance.

Good dog, Sky.

 

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As always, thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

Wasn’t that part of an old commercial?  For us, how about is it dog training yet?  Does the dog, in other words, view what you are doing as work or as some sort of trick he can do when he feels like it?

Take a pill

Years ago I taught an intensive week-long graduate course in mystery writing at Manhattanville College and one of the most talented members of the class, a retired police officer, came for a conference with me about his writing.  Who’s your agent, he wanted to know.  Ha ha ha.  You’re not ready for an agent, I told him.  But but but – what he really wanted was my agent’s name.  What I really wanted was for him to take his writing seriously, to make it his job.  The technical problems he had could be overcome.  The fact that he didn’t consider writing to be his work could not, unless he began to view it differently.

OK, back to dogs.  The way I see it, most dogs are free, more or less, to do as they please for about 95 percent of the time.  For about 5 percent of the time, they may be asked to do your bidding AND if that is not their job, if that is not serious, if that is a trick and not dog training, they may or may not obey.  (OMG, politically incorrect!)  And when, for instance, a dog does not drop immediately when he gets an emergency down command, he may continue on the path he was taking which will lead him into traffic.

Ignoring bad behavior, some of which is self reinforcing so that the dog doesn’t give a hoot if you ignore him, or turning your back on bad behavior will not create a dog who listens when there is an emergency you understand but he doesn’t.  When you wouldn’t raise a child without saying NO sometimes, and if you did, God help us all, why would you raise a dog that way?

Saying NO is not abuse, it’s communication.  It’s clarity.  It can be life saving.  It can offer a dog an opportunity to see his training as his job.  Not that, this.  Good dog!

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No matter the weather, my dog and I hike every day.  I almost never ask anything of her unless, for fun, I am teaching her something new.  I often ask her which way she’d like to go and follow behind her.  We have games she loves that we play on our way to the gym where I swim.  Her life is full of work she understands and loves, learning, play, rest, more play, kisses and great food.  But once in a while, when she’s being annoying (yup) or perhaps headed for danger, I give her a command and I expect her to obey it promptly without thinking over whether or not she should.

Had my Golden Retriever, Oliver, thought over the Down command on the two occasions when it saved his life, well, there only would have been one of those occasions.

Watch your dog’s eyes when you are working him.  Is he looking at you, waiting for a signal?  Is he waiting to see how many times he can get you to say a command before he obeys? Does he have an irresistible itch right when you say Come?  Is it soup yet?

 

 

 

 

It happens every year.  When the holidays approach, more people want to pet my service dog.  Perhaps it’s the light shining from her eyes that blinds them to the notice on her cape which says, Please Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working.  Or perhaps they are too busy to wonder why she’s in a place where there are no dogs allowed.  You may spend your Christmas season shopping, singing carols, opening gifts.  I spend mine batting hands away from my dog and informing strangers that she’s working. That’s when I get the look, or the comment.  Both say the same.  Working? But she’s just (standing, lying, sitting) there.  I don’t get it.

Indeed. Because when some service dogs work, it’s what lies beneath that counts.  What lies beneath is a silent conversation, the dog’s understanding of where something is off and the gentle, miraculous way that dogs and people improve each other’s chemistry. What lies beneath is a connection that thrives without words and that helps maintain the ancient contract between humans and dogs: We will each do whatever we can for the survival, safety and health of both our species.

 

Happy Holidays, dear readers.  Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Drawing from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP? by Carol Lea Benjamin and C. Denise Wall

Drawing from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP? by Carol Lea Benjamin and C. Denise Wall

The time is always now, I told her.  The present, that’s all we have.  She turned and looked at me and then her attention went back to the road ahead of us, to the plants at the side of the path, to winding her way through the other walkers, to taking me where we both wanted to go.  To here.  To now.

But she’s always known that.  It isn’t she who needs a reminder.  It is I.  For I am only  a human.  She, after all, is a dog, so she lives in the moment.  She doesn’t rue the past.  She doesn’t plan the future.  She just is.  And I would like, no, I would love to be more like her.  And sometimes, when I am in her company, I am.  I get totally swept up in the small, beautiful, fragrant, colorful, peaceful now.

The elegance of dogs, it’s just astonishing.

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Here are some of the things my service dog, Sky, does for me:

She makes me laugh.

She keeps me warm at night.

She makes me feel safe.

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She’s the reason I take a long walk every day.

She gives me something and someone to think about every single day that’s not me or  my troubles.

She teaches me new things all the time. She inspires me.

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She helps me understand another species, how they think, how they move, what they care about.  And this helps me to understand species I don’t live with, to know better how to observe and think about other creatures with whom we share our world, to understand that, like Sky, they feel and they contemplate.

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She’s the best ice-breaker ever and so I get to talk to lots of interesting people.  But only when I feel like it.

She gets smiles pointed our way.  Lots of smiles.

She’s the best company ever and so despite having a disability, I don’t feel isolated or alone.  She helps me to feel connected and a part of things.

She notices things I wouldn’t notice without her.

She makes me feel loved, no matter what a mess I am at the moment.

She’s always happy to engage with me, to play, to learn, to just be quietly together.

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And none of these things are what make her a legal service dog.  Not one.

According to the law, in order for a dog to be a legal service dog, her handler must have a disability and the dog must do something, on command, to help her person function, to enable her person to be as much as possible like everyone else.  A service dog must give you back (some of) what your disability has taken away.

Yes, she does that, too.

Yes, I am immensely grateful for all of it. Good dog, Sky.

Sky at Chelsea Piers

Sky at Chelsea Piers

 

What are you training him for? the tourist in the elevator going up to the High Line asks.  Or How long does it take to train a service dog?  A better question would be How do you teach a dog to alert seizures? because no one knows the answer so I wouldn’t be obliged to have a conversation when all I want is quiet and the company of my dog.

On the other hand, how do you train a dog to alert seizures? Of all the things service dogs can do, this one thing has to rank as one of the most valuable.  A seizure coming with no warning, as many do, means you can fall to the ground while crossing the street.  You can fall and break a bone.  You can fall and hit your head.  Or your poor face. It means you wouldn’t know to take your medication so you wouldn’t be able to minimize the seizure.  It means you’d wake up to strangers staring at you, if you woke up at all.

But a person without epilepsy cannot train a dog to react to or predict seizures.  How would they do that?  You could fake it for a human, but not for a dog.  The dog does not react to play acting.  He is reacts to an impending internal storm.  And a person with epilepsy cannot train the dog because if there is no warning and a seizure starts, the person is out of commission.

So how do you teach a dog to alert seizures?

You don’t.  The dog teaches himself.

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It is by being with his human 24/7 that dogs learn to respond to medical conditions.  On their own, they figure out how to help with pain, indicate low blood sugar, get a stuck limb moving, calm anxiety, and yes, while it helps tremendously to say, Good dog, letting the dog know that this behavior is exactly what you want, that he is, if not already there, on the right track, you can’t always do that.  And in that case, the dog, on his own, will have to figure things out.  He will need to know what to do when he senses a seizure coming.  He will need to know how to behave while the seizure lasts. He will need to know how to help bring his person back.  And when he does that, he is more precious than rubies.

Remember that it is natural for a dog to understand the difference between sick and well – he comes from an animal who hunts to survive and no animal who hunts could survive without this knowledge. When you’re hungry, when there are young back at the cave to feed, you want the easiest catch, not the one who will fight back and might injure you.  You  want the lame, the old, the less fit.  And our domestic dogs still have this knowledge but luckily they use it to help us, not to have us for lunch.

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Drawing from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP?

Will any dog learn to alert seizures?  Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.  And there’s the real difficulty. But chances are, given a very strong bond and the constant companionship of their person, a dog with a strong sense of nurturing would do the job. And given the alternative, it sure is worth a try.

Sometimes it seems as if the cheaters are flying all over the map with their fake service dogs and those of us with legitimate service dogs are being denied access.  Perhaps that’s because it’s easier to be a liar than it is to be disabled.  If your disability is exacerbated by stress, just the stress of travel alone can put you in a bad place, a dangerous place.  Too many what ifs.  Too many issues.  Too many things to manage, the leash, the rolling bag, the backpack, your passport, ticket and driver’s license.  And, then, the questions.

Here’s what I learned and it applies to flying with a service dog as well as access to commercial buildings, hospitals, restaurants, cabs, long distance trains, schools, the place where you work, your apartment etc. (Below: Sky looking out the plane window on our flight home from Alaska.)ALASKA 248

  1. Make sure people can see your dog is a service dog by using a vest (yes, anyone can buy them on line but that doesn’t mean real service dogs don’t wear them) with one patch – or, at most, one patch on each side.  Do not (can I repeat that? yes, I can) do not load the dog’s vest with information that no one will read and which will make it appear that the lady or gentleman (that would be you) doth protest too much.
  2. If the municipality where you live registers service dogs, do whatever they ask to register your dog.  This will give you a letter, a card (not the one you buy on line PLEASE) or, as in our case, a brass tag.
  3. Pay careful attention now.  THE LESS YOU SPEAK, THE BETTER.  If your disability exacerbates with stress, and whose doesn’t when you think about it, you do not want to argue with anyone ever.  When asked if your dog is a service dog, show your letter, card (only a real one) or tag without saying a word.  Want more “speak no evil,” as it were?  Good.  Get a letter from your doctor – not the kind you pay for from a doctor who has never seen you and says you need an emotional support dog, but a real letter from your real doctor. Keep a copy of the letter in a plastic bag in your dog’s vest and use when necessary in lieu of arguing.
  4. Goes without saying but when did that ever stop me!  Your dog’s manners and your manners as a service dog partner should be impeccable.  (Translation: better than perfect.) It’s not about your dog.  It’s about your disability and the help your canine partner offers you every hour of every day. Yes, the law gives you the right (the dog has no rights) to be places with your service dog where pet dogs can’t tread, but be grateful anyway.  Be polite.  Thank the flight attendant who made sure you were seated in bulkhead.  Thank the person who holds the door for you. Tell the lifeguard at the gym where you swim how grateful you are that he makes sure no one pets your dog while you are swimming.  Thank the cab driver who picks you up after five others speed by and if you can, thank him also with a little bigger tip (not necessary, but nice.)
  5. Okay, in the weird but true category.  You love your dog and just like everyone with a pet, you love to take pictures of your dog even though your dog is a working service dog. You even like to take pictures of your dog where other dogs are not allowed.  Fine.  This is America.  If the guard in the museum doesn’t mind, have your fun.  But…2468
  6. don’t take pictures where it might undermine the serious purpose of having your service dog with you in the eyes of others. I rarely if ever take pictures in restaurants.  I shoo my dog under the table or have her lie quietly next to my chair.  A restaurant is not a great place to make a fuss over your dog.  It, like other places you get to go, is a place where the dog should be unobtrusive.  The ability of your dog to be unobtrusive is, in fact, one of the ways he will appear to be what he is – a real service dog. (The guard at the Musee Picasso fell in love with Flash – see above – and even asked us to write down his breed.  The gallery where the sculpture was was nearly empty and so, with the guard looking on with stars in his eyes, we took a few fun pictures.)
  7. When you answer questions, be prepared for them to never end.  This I learned the hard way.  And, yes, I still do talk to some people about what my dog does, but it’s a judgment call.  When some people ask the first nosy question and you answer it – she helps me with a disability (the proper answer by law) – there’s a follow up, or three or eight.  What disability?  What does she do? How does she do that?  When it’s nosy/friendly, it’s up to you.  When it’s official, show your letter or tag, and if need be, your doctor’s note.
  8. KNOW THE LAW.  The law if your protection.  Read it.  Print it if you like.  Stay within it. Use the correct terminology. Tune-up your dog’s training from time to time. Take superb care of your “medical equipment,” a balanced life of work and play, of time to rest and lots of  love.

    Find the stick!

    Find the stick!

As some of you already know, someone asked not to pet my service dog because she was working replied, She doesn’t look very busy to me.  As many service dogs do with their partners, Sky watches me to see when I need her.  Even from several feet away, she can dowse for pain.  Because she watches me, particularly when we are out away from home, she’s there when I need her without my asking for help.  She’s there, sometimes, before I know I need her help.  One might say she’s thinking all the time. Thinking.  But she doesn’t look busy, at least not to the uneducated eye.

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A seizure alert dog just looks like any other dog, like anyone’s pet dog, even a minute before he detects an oncoming seizure and offers a life-saving alert.  Distract him with chit chat or handling and he may miss the chance to give his person enough time to find a safe place and/or take medication.

The dog who alerts low blood sugar, who helps with balance, who monitors the human heart, who can stop an autistic child from running into the street, the dog who warns against allergens, the dog who helps a partner to get up out of a chair or up off the couch, these dogs may not look busy when, in fact, they are.  Because thinking doesn’t show the way, say, paving a driveway does, or herding sheep.

Makes me wonder if I look busy when I’m thinking about what I want to write. Because most of my thinking is done away from the desk, on a walk, sitting  in front of and ignoring the TV set or just watching the clouds roll by, my dog at my side.

Scan a girl and her dog

I know some people don’t understand that dogs think, and certainly not that they think of anything other than when their next meal is coming and when someone might throw a ball.  But if you aren’t busy, you might sometimes notice how thoughtful and intelligent our dear dog friends can be. Sometimes they reveal their intelligence by their response to a suggestion or the environment, to a crying baby or a lamb buried under the snow.  Other times, their thinking doesn’t show.  They’re doing it alright, but they just don’t look busy – unless you assess the situation and give it a little thought on your own.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Many years ago, a then prominent veterinarian wrote in a book about dogs that since when a dog was tied to a tree, if he twisted the rope around the tree he could not figure out how to untwist it, dogs had no reasoning power.  Perhaps I should give the man credit – because statements like this were some of the reasons I began to write about dogs.

First, you cannot judge the intelligence of another species by the standards you would use to test members of your own species.  In order to assess the intelligence of a species, you have to understand what that species needs to do in order to survive.

Judging the IQ of dogs by their relative placement in AKC trials is also non-productive.  For one thing, it assumes that all breeds of dogs are alike and think alike.  Not so, and therefore simply using test scores only tells you which breeds are best at the arbitrary activities being tested in AKC trials.  And perhaps, which breeds have the tolerance for the sort of repetition it takes to teach perfect heeling, a feat which has nothing to do with the true, inner life of dogs.

Then there’s the towel test – or whatever it’s called.  Drop a towel over a dog’s head.  The faster, we are told, he gets it off, the smart the dog.  No way!  Drop a towel over a Shiba’s head and he will keep it there as long as possible because a Shiba will never, ever in a million years let you know that something you have done (or he has done by mistake) is annoying.  Drop a towel over a Golden Retriever’s head and he might well keep it there because you want it there.  Drop a towel on a laid back pit bull’s head and he’ll sigh, lie down and take a nap.

We created different breeds of dogs because there was work to be done and we humans needed a dog with a great nose, a desire to herd, a penchant for digging to get to rodents, long legs and good lungs for the chase etc.  Look at the dog’s body and begin to understand the way he views the world.  All the same?

As for real brilliance, as for the ability to reason, check out a service dog. For some, given the job of assessing the well-being of a partner also means making judgments about others in need.  Sometimes that means alerting others, even saving the lives of people who are not their partners, as well as assisting their partners in miraculous ways day in and day out.  What about the dog who saves his family from a fire or rouses the parents when a child is in trouble or leads a blind master out of a damaged building or finds a lamb buried under the snow? What about the dog who can open the refrigerator and get his own snack?

If you think a dog tied to a tree can be taking an intelligence test, you have a lot to learn about dogs, about what’s important to them, about the way the think and see the world, about their real skills, the kind they can exercise when not tied to a tree by a rope.  If you think dogs are dumb animals, you’ll never “see” the smart stuff they do, not even if it’s right in front of your face.

Seeing intelligence in another species means letting all our preconceived notions about that species float away.  It means looking at what’s there in front of us and asking ourselves why and how and what.  Why did that dog do that?  How did that dog know to do that?  What abilities does that dog have that I, as a human, do not have?

I am asked all the time how my service dog knows when I am in pain, how seizure alert dogs know when a seizure is coming, how some dogs who hunt run not after the game but toward where the game is going, how dogs know good people from bad ones.  I don’t know the answers, but if you tie me to a tree and the rope gets twisted up, I do know how to untwist it.

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