Thursday, September 29, 2011

What Would Dempsey Do?

When Dempsey was a little baby dog, we spent a lot of time socializing him. He used to be afraid of men with long beards or men with feathers in their cowboy hats, but with the kindness and patience of strangers we met on the street, we taught Dempsey not to be afraid of people's appearances. Someone who might look like a mean biker on parole, we taught him, could actually be a kind and trustworthy person with a good heart.

We are very proud to report that Dempsey has learned this lesson well. In fact, the student has surpassed his master.

I discovered this one morning a few months ago, when I was walking with Dempsey near downtown. Down the street was a homeless man, sitting on the curb. My gut instinct was to cross the street and avoid the man, but with the heavy traffic that day, crossing the street wasn't an option. I told Dempsey to pick up the pace, with the intention of walking quickly by.

“That's a beautiful dog,” the homeless man said as he watched us walk towards him. “And so well behaved! Are you training him for something?”

Being a sucker for anyone who compliments Dempsey, I stopped and explained that Dempsey was in training to be a service dog. Dempsey sat politely at my heel, wagging his tail.

“Dempsey seems like a really smart dog,” the man replied. “I know I'm not supposed to pet him, but he sure is beautiful.”

Dempsey wagged his tail even harder. Although Dempsey likes everybody, he seemed particularly in love with this man.

“Well,” I replied, trusting Dempsey's judgment, “He's not in his pack, so he's not on duty. You can pet him if you want.”

The man beamed with joy. “I'd love to!”

Dempsey was still politely sitting at my side, but as soon as I said “Release,” he dashed towards the man and gave him a snuggle.

The man buried his face in Dempsey's neck and gave him a big hug. “Dempsey reminds me of my old dog, Rocky” he said. As he petted Dempsey, he explained that the first thing he did after coming home from Vietnam was to get Rocky, who always woke him up from his nightmares by kissing him. Rocky was a matchmaker, too: The man met his wife, he said, when Rocky ran off at the park to greet her.

With Rocky's help, the man had put his life back together after Vietnam. He got married, bought a house, and had a baby.

Then came what he called the worst day of his life. His young son had forgotten to close the gate to the backyard, and Rocky ran off. He said he knew it was bad news when he heard a car screeching to a halt outside. The man ran outside to find Rocky in the street, blood pouring from his mouth. He died right there, in the man's arms.

The man didn't finish the story, but I imagine that day was the start of the downward spiral that led him to living alone, on the street. He was crying, and Dempsey was right at his side, wiping away his tears with big doggie kisses.

“I'm so sorry,” I said, knowing how empty those words must sound. I just stood there, watching Dempsey comfort the man. It shamed me to realize that my dog is a better person than I am: a more perceptive judge of character, more attentive to others' needs, more generous with his love.

After a few minutes, the man seemed to pull himself together.

“Well, I guess I should let you guys go on your walk.” He looked at Dempsey, who was sitting perfectly still, looking back at him. “Dempsey, you're an angel on earth. You're going to change somebody's life.”

Dempsey was sitting politely, wagging the tip of his tail. “Wait a sec,” the man said. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a $20 bill, and offered it to me. “Dempsey's a great dog. Go buy him a steak.”

I was dumbstruck. I've had countless homeless people ask me for money, but never in my life had a homeless person offered me money. “Oh, I can't,” I stammered.

“Look,” the man said, “I'm an alcoholic.” He nodded towards the liquor store across the street. “As soon as that store opens, I'm just going to buy some booze. Do me a favor and buy Dempsey a steak for me.”

Now, I've studied philosophy at the graduate level, but I can tell you that when you're on the street, trying to decide whether you should take money from a homeless man who says he'll only use the money to hurt himself, all the fancy talk about categorical imperatives and utility maximization means absolutely nothing. I had no idea what to do.

Finally, I just said that Dempsey is on a special diet, and that I really can't give him a steak.

“Ok,” the man said skeptically. He put the money back in his pocket, and looked again at Dempsey. “God bless you, Dempsey. You're very special. Now go change someone's life!” Then the man looked at me. “And God bless you, too, for training him.” He was smiling now, and I knew he meant it.

I wondered, as we walked away, what I should've done for the man. Stupid me: I should've just asked Dempsey.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Graduation day

It is with unbelievably immense pride that we announce that Dempsey will be graduating this Friday, September 30. Everyone is invited to attend! We hope to see you there!

Dempsey actually moved out last Wednesday, September 21, and he's been staying with his new mom for the last half of the 3-week training period.

We miss having Dempsey around, of course, but as you can tell in the photo below, we have Dylan, aka Silly Dilly, aka Dilbert, aka our therapy dog, to help with the transition. Although, as you can also tell from the photo below, as a young puppy, he's in "jail" quite a bit.

Dempsey has taught us a lot in the two years we've had him, and in the next few days, as I catch up on Dempsey's adventures, I'll share Dempsey's Life Lessons. To start, here's lesson 1:

Lesson #1: Poop bags are quite handy
I now carry poop bags around in my pocket everywhere I go, whether I have a dog with me or not. I use poop bags the way some people use Swiss Army knives, though Swiss Army knife owners probably don't find their knives in the dryer lint trap, as I often do when I forget to empty my pockets.

In addition to picking up poop, we've used poop bags: As a trash bag on road trips; to wrap a gift; as a flag to attract Doreen's attention in a crowd; as a makeshift water bowl; as a makeshift glove while checking the oil in my car; to wrap a leaky shampoo bottle; and to to take home a leftover pie. We now know all that poop bags can do for you. Thanks Demps!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Toy time

The other day, I received a nice card and gift from a colleague at work. "Thanks for your help with the project!" the card read. The gift was a flattened squeaky squirrel.

I'm not sure what possessed Lisa to think that I might enjoy a flattened squeaky squirrel, but whatever. Though Dempsey was no help whatsoever on the big project at work, I decided to re-gift the squirrel for him. I wanted it to be a surprise for him, and I told him to cover his eyes, but he was way too excited to wait long.

Dempsey and Dylan had a blast playing tug with the flattened squeaky squirrel, and within about ten minutes, our little goldface killahs had the squirrel dissected and desqueaked.

Dempsey says "Thank you Lisa for my new favorite toy!"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


In addition to the State Fair, Dempsey went cruising last weekend on the steamboat Minnehaha on Lake Minnetonka near Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Once again this year, Dempsey volunteered to do a demo at the Minnesota State Fair. Dempsey has been going to the fair his whole life, but you wouldn't be able to tell from his pictures, since none of them were obviously taken at the fair.

Since this is Dempsey's last time going to the fair with us, we went looking for a sign someplace that said "Minnesota State Fair," but alas the only sign we could find at Dempsey's height was on a recyling can. Luckily, Dempsey was happy to show what a good citizen he is by picking up a plastic bottle to recycle.

Dempsey also had the chance to visit his brother Sawyer, who is also graduating this fall. We're very proud of Dempsey's whole family!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Doreen and I had never had a dog before we got Dempsey, but now that we've had Dempsey, we can't imagine ever not having a dog again.

With Dempsey graduating in a few weeks, we were faced with a doggie emergency. We had to get a substitute for Dempsey. And last Sunday, we did:

New puppy is, of course, cute and sweet and adorable and very well socialized already, though we'd already forgotten how much work it is to have a puppy. Dempsey acts like a real service dog now; new puppy, we joke, is a dis-service dog. He is a joy to have around, but giving him freedom from the crate requires eternal vigilance.

It's so much fun introducing a baby dog to the world, and we're really looking forward to spending time training him. And the best news is, Dempsey is helping!

On new puppy's first night at home, he cried and cried and cried when we put him in his crate at bedtime. Big-hearted Dempsey, who had just met new puppy about an hour before, was very worried about him. He planted himself right next to the crate, occassionally giving new puppy a touch of his paw or a kiss.

When Doreen and I went upstairs, Dempsey followed us. He licked our hands a few times, and then ran back downstairs. When we didn't follow him, Dempsey ran back up, licked our hands again, and then ran back down. He did this a few times before we finally gave in, and went downstairs to sleep with new puppy and Dempsey. Even Buddy joined us.

I know dog-skeptics will accuse us of anthropomorphizing, but it seems pretty obvious to us that Dempsey was worried about new puppy, and wanted us to comfort him. Dempsey -- and his whole family -- are such kind hearted, furry little people. If you need moe evidence, check out Dempsey's brother Sawyer, who also tries to comfort sick animals. Therapy dogs for other dogs -- who knew?

We're so proud of Dempsey and Sawyer! They're both graduating in September, and they have the temperament, and not just the skills, to be wonderful helpers.


Happy camper

Now that Dempsey is set to graduate in September, the last few weeks have been full of "lasts": Last visit to his current vet, last trip to the office, last dinner at our favorite pizza place.

But since life is full of adventures, we decided we needed to balance some of these "lasts" with some "firsts." So last weekend, we took Dempsey on his first camping trip to Sakatah Lake State Park.

Like the good service dog he is, he started the trip off with some work, helping us check in and set up the tent.

Dempsey was a little disappointed we didn't have a pup tent, but we were happy: Dempsey, we discovered, is quite the sprawler when he sleeps at night. As much as we love the idea of sleeping with him, in practice nobody likes a sleeping-bag hogging dog.

Dempsey enjoyed a little hike on the Singing Hills Trail, but he thought the campfire was boring. No chocolatey Smores for doggies!

We're planning to check off more adventures from Dempsey's bucket list this weekend. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wally World

While Dempsey's baby brother Walter was here, it felt like Wally World. He is quite adorable, but very insistent on being the center of attention, all the time. If Dempsey is getting a massage, Wally needs to muscle in between us and roll over for a massage, too. If Dempsey is quietly chewing a toy, Wally comes charging in to try to play tug. If I tried taking a picture of Dempsey without Wally, he'll come stick his wet nose on the camera lens. Wally, Wally, Wally.

Luckily, Dempsey was a good sport about it all. He and Walter were good buddies as well as brothers, though as you can tell by the pictures, Demps started getting tired of Walter's energy after a few days.

Luckily for Dempsey, Walter turned out not the Energizer Bunny. After a few more days at our house, Walter settled down, though he had a penchant of sleeping by the toy basket and using it as a pillow, just in case anything exciting happens.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Three's a Crowd

With the majority of our unpacking complete, we were somewhat settled enough to dog-sit Walter, one of Dempsey's Helping Paws colleagues, while his family is on vacation.

After a long day, I decided to relax and take advantage of the huge whirlpool bath tub - one of my favorite things in our new home.

All the noise behind a closed door must have been too much excitement for Dempsey and Walter. As I settled in among the bubbles, BAM - the door flew open and two furry heads peered over the edge and tried to jump in the tub with me. Luckily, without success.

True service dogs, always ready to be of assistance.