November 27, 2005


If Every Day Were Thanksgiving...

November 23, 2005


Lucky Dog

No one does gratitude better than a dog, so I'm here to give voice to my blessings on the eve of Thanksgiving. Thank you, readers, for coming to visit occasionally and leaving your comments. I suspect that blogging pets and the people who read these blogs are a breed apart, given to more whimsy, generosity and a gentleness of spirit than most others.

I'm also thankful for and all the other blogging spaces on the Web. There are technologists and business people who, for reasons a dog can't quite grasp, set these places out like so much free virtual real estate. The dogs that many of us are, we promptly and unapologetically claim our own territory. We create our own back yards and then turn them into virtual dog parks where other pets can meet one another, at first sizing each other up and then playfully engaging.

For me, dlogging is largely about strolling through the virtual neighborhoods, sniffing through the more interesting posts here and then leaving my own there. It's very doggish, as a recent Mother Goose and Grimm pointed out well.

Most of all, I'm thankful for being a dog, or at least playing at being one. Dogs, after all, are all about play, as well as the other good things in life. Some of my own favorites are eating, dozing, swimming and the long jaunts with Mike and Molly, beloved pack members. I expect I'll do all on Thanksgiving Day. A dog's life is usually simpler and even purer than that of their human partners, lives which seem so filled with stresses and intrigues and unfathomable complications. Being a dog is a priviledge. We have many duties, of course, but in the end our primary one is to remind people of what's most important in life. And, for this, I think they too are thankful.

November 19, 2005


Family Practioner in a Lab Coat

Most people don't fully appreciate the care they receive through their CDHPs, or canine-directed health providers. Does your hound sniff your crotch, lick your nose, smell your breath, and bother you for attention when you're feeling busy, blue or stressed? If so, then it's likely you've been the beneficiary of the kind of patient-friendly housecall that human doctors stopped providing decades ago.

There's nothing new about this, of course. For years, Mike has been calling me "Dr. Hank" because I insist on smelling a puff of his breath when he gets up in the morning. You see, he has digestion problems that I have to monitor before he engages in tooth-brushing, mouth-washing and an array of other behaviors that can throw off my findings. Then there's the surpise-from-behind wet-nose test that I sometimes give Molly when she's getting dressed (a superb reflex check) as well as the tried-and-true crotch sniff as Mike and others sit on the sofa, a multi-function examination of pheromone and persperation production, hygeniene and urological health.

I must say that my family patients don't alway appreciate such efforts, but it's part of my Hankocratic Oath to maintain my practice. And the health of humans is my primary concern, even if the poor creatures don't always understand that I'm trying to help. I'm hopeful, however, that the virtues of canine medicine will become more apparent to them over time. Just last week, for example, a group of U.S. researchers told the American Medical Association that a few minutes spent with a dog can help reduce anxiety levels and perhaps even speed recovery.

"This therapy warrants serious consideration as an adjunct to medical therapy in hospitalized heart failure patients. Dogs are a great comfort," said the leader of the study Kathie Cole, a registered nurse at the University of California Medical Center in LA. Their study showed, for example, that canine medicine was able to bring down stress hormone epinephrine by an average of 17%, compared with just 2% decline brought on by a human volunteer visitor and a 7% rise for patients who were left completely alone. "This study demonstrates that even a short-term exposure to dogs has beneficial physiological and psychosocial effects on patients who want it," Cole said.

Well, of course it does. We dogs have known it for thousands of years, way back when we were licking the gashes suffered by humans during their encounters with mastadons and giant sloths. Today, we continue to treat our human pack members every day, whether they like it or not. And very seldom do we require proof of membership in a healthcare plan or even ask for a co-pay. We perform these services mainly for caninatarian reasons. And, well, because everbody should have a doctor in the family.

November 11, 2005


The Canine Mystique

I've been pawing through some holiday catalogues and have come away feeling a tad exploited lately. Do you ever get the feeling that you're just being used as a pet object? You know what I mean. People seem to notice you mostly for your looks. They're always saying stuff like, "Oh, look how adorable he's being" or "You're just too cute" or "You're just so achingly handsome you make me weak in the elbows" (well, okay, so I made that last one up).

I just want to speak up for my fellow dogs (you cats are on your own): in the animal kingdom, we are not just another pretty hairy face. We dogs shouldn't have to submit to stereotypes just because people like the way the our tails swoosh as we prance across the living room. We wish to be loved but not objectified by LL Bean catalogs and those sundry playmate-of-the-month dog calendars that are sold out during every Christmas holiday.

We are, after all, more than the sum of our looks. Consider the scientific evidence gathered by the likes of research fellow Adam Miklosi of the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest. He and his colleagues have found that "dogs have far greater mental capabilities than scientists had thought." So, put that in a 6x8 frame on your side table, why don't you?

Look, up till now, a lot of people have been thinking that just because we're good (and good-looking) dogs, we must also be relatively slow-witted compared with our bad-boy wolf ancestors. I call it the Canine Mystique. In reality, studies show that it's not that we dogs can't quickly learn how to do certain things, such as open gates in our backyards on our own, it's that we like to play by the rules. We just want permission before we show off our brilliance, which is actually another sign of that brilliance.

Or consider this from CBS News: "In one classic experiment on dogs' use of human visual cues, food is hidden in one of several scent-proof containers. The animal is allowed to choose only one. Beforehand, the experimenter signals the correct choice by staring, nodding, or pointing at it."

It turns out that chimps pretty much flunk out when given this test. Dogs, on the other hand, ace it with ease, speed, and grace. Why? Because we're flat out better than any other species in the world at tuning into humans. In fact, we're even better than the not-really-so-great apes at imitating people. Miklosi says that dogs are "very motivated to cooperate with and act like people." So, the cliche should actually be "Doggy see, doggy do."

Well, sometimes I'm not sure why we bother, for all the respect we get. They come home to us after a long day at the office but all they really see is their loving, photogenic house dog, a bit of domesticated cuteness just waiting at their beck and call. From now on, people should respect our minds as well. I am Labrador - hear me roar!

November 05, 2005


By Any Other Name

I guess they don't call them "pet names" for nothing. They're the rain of monikers that comes pouring down on the heads of many an innocent hound. Sure, sure. There's the "main name," but then there are all the others, as one writer confessed in a recent article about her dog Yofie. I think I know how poor little "Yofadoodle" feels. For me, it's seldom just Hank. It's Hank the Tank, Handsome Hank, or Hankadoor.

And that's just the beginning. For every little foible, there's another pet name. Gained a little weight lately? I'm suddenly the family Flabrador. Take a little longer to get through my walk (hey, it's Florida; it's frigging hot down here!) and I'm the Lagador or the Laxador or Pokador. Get a drink from a poorly flushed toilet (and whose fault is that, anyway?) and I'm Rank Hank. Walking a little stiffly? Hankenstein. Feeling just a bit blue? HounddogHank.

Enough already. I've got news for all you pet-namers. We dogs play the same game. How often I've looked at Molly eating a banana and thought, Homo Apien. Or, watching Mike and Molly entranced for hour after dull hour in front the TV like dang vegetables, I've thought, Human Beans. Then there's Water-Bowl Pooper (no need for explanation). And Smelless Wonder (jeez, how can you not smell that?). And Night Kicker (since their legs are basically blunt bludgeons that they blindly stumble around on all night -- get some night vision, will you?). There's also Stumpy Tongue and Dull Tooth and Compost Breath and Mr. No Tail, not to mention Can't Lift Your Leg When You Pee. The list goes on. Of course, we dogs love our Hard-of-Hearing Hairless Monkeys and mean no offense. They're just terms of endearment. And, after all, they can't really understand us anyway, right?

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