Remembering Butch: Family memories

On Friday afternoon, I received this delightful e-mail from my grandfather-in-law (my husband’s grandfather), who is seriously one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever met.

A German shepherd with a big ol’ head. Click for source.

If you are thinking about a German shepherd, I need to tell you about Butch.

We lived in a very small (6,000-person) town and Grandmother Tillman’s home was about two blocks from downtown.  She lived alone, but had Butch to be her guard and companion.

Two tales of Butch the German Shepherd:

Most mornings, about ten, Butch would walk downtown, into the drugstore, and make a straight line to the soda fountain.  The manager would greet him and hand him a little tin pan with a scoop of ice cream.  It went on the bill for the month. Butch would eat and exit gracefully. Sometimes he would come back in a little while and try again. But the manager would shake his head and say, “No more, Butch”. So off he went home.

Because there were many children in Lake Wales, the mothers would visit with Grandmother Tillman on the porch and let the children play in the yard while they visited. One day while they talked, they missed the toddler who was wobbling out towards the sidewalk and the street. As they watched, Butch walked quickly up behind him, gently mouthed the seat of his diaper, and pulled him back onto the lawn.

The local paper praised him in the next edition.

And many years later, when Butch died, the Lake Wales news had a memorial article, complete with a picture of Butch.

Have a nice weekend.

Granddad T

Isn’t that sweet? Butch sounds like he could have played in some Americana film from the 1940s with his good sense and everyday heroism. I particularly love that the local paper published an article about him when he died. Dogs live so differently in our neighborhoods today, but I love imagining what it might have been like to have had a dog like Butch in such a time. Such sweet family stories about a remarkable dog! Thanks so much for sharing, Granddad. Love you!

Poem: “Custodian”

A gorgeous poem about the ritual between a spotted old dog and his carefully tended frogs.

Click for source.

Custodian
By Maxine Kumin

Every spring when the ice goes out
black commas come scribbling across the shallows.
Soon they sprout forelegs.
Slowly they absorb their tails
and by mid-June, full-voiced, they announce themselves.

Enter our spotted dog.
Every summer, tense with the scent of them,
tail arced like a pointer’s but wagging
in anticipation, he stalks his frogs
two hundred yards clockwise around
the perimeter of this mucky pond,
then counterclockwise, an old pensioner
happy in his work.

Once every ten or so pounces
he succeeds, carries his captive north
in his soft mouth, uncorks him on the grass,
and then sits, head cocked, watching the slightly
dazed amphibian hop back to sanctuary.

Over the years the pond’s inhabitants
seem to have grown accustomed
to this ritual of capture and release.
They ride untroubled in the wet pocket
of the dog’s mouth, disembark in the meadow
like hitchhikers, and strike out again for home.

I have seen others of his species kill
and swallow their catch and then be seized
with violent retchings. I have seen children
corner polliwogs in the sun-flecked hollow
by the green rock and lovingly squeeze
the life out of them in their small fists.
I have seen the great blue heron swoop in
time after wing-slapping time to carry
frogs back to the fledglings in the rookery.

Nothing is to be said here
of need or desire. No moral arises
nor is this, probably, purgatory.
We have this old dog,
custodian of an ancient race of frogs,
doing what he knows how to do
and we too, taking and letting go,
that same story.

Review: If Only They Could Speak

If Only They Could Speak, Nicholas Dodman

I know. Another Nicholas Dodman book! This is because I just like reading stories of dogs with behavioral problems, I guess. (And there’s a beautiful Aussie on the cover…)

You could also say that Dodman is kind of like the modern James Herriott: The good-natured, occasionally cheeky veterinarian who saves troubled animals and gets thrilling stories for dinner parties in exchange. He seems amiable and energetic and likes being able to save the day. What I appreciate about Dodman, though, is when he admits to mistakes–or when he occasionally gives his human clients the benefit of the doubt.

His stories also help me empathize with the veterinary profession, especially those who are called in with behavioral problems. So much of their work is rehabilitating the people and convincing them to do what is right for their pets. That would certainly be a thankless task. Re-training a dog isn’t a big deal; re-training a person? Nightmare.

Materially, this book is barely distinguishable from The Dog Who Loved Too Much and Dogs Behaving Badly–except the stories are different. The one divergence is that this book includes cat stories. I don’t know much at all about cats, but I’m trying to learn more about them, and so this book was a helpful–if brief–foray into the mystical, shrouded world of feline behavior.

I like Dodman. Even though I don’t necessarily learn anything new, I’ll probably keep reading his books as they keep coming out–because they’re entertaining and often eye-opening glimpses into the busy, fascinating world of a behavioral veterinarian.

Review: The Dog Who Loved Too Much

The Dog Who Loved Too Much, by Nicholas Dodman

The Dog Who Loved Too Much is the precursor to famed veterinarian Nicholas Dodman’s other book, Dogs Behaving Badly, which I read a few months ago. Overall, the books contain essentially the same information, except that Dogs Behaving Badly is alphabetized by chapter according to behavioral problems.

That said, this book was still interesting to me. I tend to be very behavior/training-heavy in my reading interests, and so it’s nice to get the medical perspective on these issues. While serving as an accomplished and respected vet, Dodman is also a behaviorist on a basic level. He wants to get to the root of each dogs’ problem rather than just throw a handful of expensive pills at them.

I always enjoy reading the bizarre stories he tells about the dogs he’s treated. Dodman alone has convinced me never to consider a bull terrier (not that I would any way). My heart broke over his extended chapter on treating bull terriers, who are commonly plagued by a variety of genetic, behavioral, and psychological disorders (including chronic tail chasing, among others). People are totally responsible for this. It’s a cruel way to practice eugenics. Bull terriers deserve better, but their warped genetic heritage has decreed that they will be perpetually plagued by these disorders.

Books like this start to give me some anecdotal fear, though. German shepherds are almost always featured in these stories about dogs behaving badly. This is probably because they are still one of the most popular dog breeds in America. But then I start to get worried that German shepherds are an inherently problematic breed. I know this isn’t fundamentally true and that every dog, purebred or not, can have a host of psychological problems, but I still get worried. I was also astonished at the sheer number of messed-up English springer spaniels that Dodman has seen. From Dodman’s stories, GSDs and springers seem to be the most common problematic breeds. This is from a purely anecdotal perspective, though, and so I try not to get too anxious about it. Although I am against breed stereotyping, I do wonder what most veterinarians would say if you asked them which breed tended to have the most issues…

Overall, it’s an interesting book and Dodman is a commendable writer and researcher. I think I would recommend Dogs Behaving Badly first, though, since its categorized chapters could be a more helpful behavioral guide.

Pup links!

Two classy broads. Source: Miss Moss

Interesting pup-related links from around the web…

A retriever in the lake. These photos are so gorgeous and peaceful. I love Shirley Bittner’s work. (My Everyday Life, Shirley Bittner)

Farnham Park Flyball. I always love a good series of photos of herding dogs in action. (An English Shepherd)

Honoring Animal Heroes. Every year, Purina nominates some dogs and cats to go in their Animal Hall of Fame. These pets are pretty awesome and, I admit, their heroic stories made me tear up a little. (Rescuing Insanity)

Causes of Death Vary by Breed. This shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone who’s read about the dangerous genetics of purebred dogs, but it is an interesting and helpful study to be aware of. (The Bark)

Top 5 Myths about Dog Behavior and Children. A helpful overview of the myths that people perpetuate about the interactions between dogs and children. (The Dog Training Secret)

Artist Anna Dibble and Her Unforgettable Dogs. Anna Dibble makes lovely–and un-tacky!–paintings of pooches. (City Dog/Country Dog)

Peonies and Rain Don’t Mix. Martha Stewart’s team writes a blog from the perspective of her French bulldogs, Francesca and Sharky, and, I have to admit, it’s pretty adorable. (The Daily Wag)

DIY Pet ID Tags. Speaking of Martha Stewart, check out this great template for making pet ID tags at home! She’s the best. (Martha Stewart)

Puppy’s First Year: Time-Lapse Video. OK, this is a cool idea. Watch this German shepherd puppy grow up! (Paw Nation)

How to Run with a Dog. Tips from a pro about running with your dog. (That Mutt)