Monday, December 13, 2010

Dog tired

Has it really been almost 3 weeks since we've updated the blog? Yikes!

It's been pretty busy here in the Dempsey household, and time has been flying by. We're packing up for our second annual Christmas road trip to Phoenix and LA, and for the last few weeks, Dempsey has been in "evaluation."

Evaluation is the very first step in placing Dempsey, either in a career as a service dog, or perhaps an alternate career if his skills and temperament aren't a good match for service work. Three days a week for three weeks, Dempsey goes to the training center, where professional dog trainers test his skills and get to know his personality. In addition to the evaluation at the training center, there are field trips, where Dempsey's skills are tested in the "real world."

The evaluation process is really well run, and it's been fun for us. Every morning, we pack a little lunch for Dempsey and get him dressed. A pet taxi service comes to pick him up, and in the afternoon, they bring Dempsey home. It's like our little boy is going off to school, for a big midterm exam.

Dempsey just adores his "school bus" driver. Every morning, he greets her with wagging tail and wet kisses. When he comes home, he's happy to see us. As soon as he gets undressed from his pack, he'll go in the backyard, run crazy snow zoomies for a few minutes, and then -- crash! -- he naps the rest of the afternoon. We know he's been concentrating hard for his midterm exam, so we've eased up quite a bit on his training.

We only have one other adventure to report -- a trip to Macy's downtown to visit Santa Claus. I'll put some pics up as soon as I finish the Christmas cards. Right now I'm wishing that licking envelopes were a service dog skill. Blech!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

E Pluribus Unum

My motto for taking pictures of Dempsey is E Pluribus Unum: Out of the many pictures I take, one might be a keeper.

I think we got a keeper last night. It's a new view of Dempsey, one we've never seen before, though as any pro photographer can tell you, it took a lot of work to get the shot.

The preparations started in the afternoon. We decided to haul out a rug from the basement, where it had been hiding from a curious puppy. I was imagining a Norman Rockwell portrait, with Doreen and me in our slippers and recliners, Buddy on my lap, and Dempsey curled up on the rug, at our feet.

Our plan proceeded flawlessly as we rolled out the rug and Dempsey completely ignored it. The next step went flawlessly as well, as Dempsey let us brush his coat and tail without a fuss. Dempsey was so mellow, we decided to reward him with a piece of rice cake -- which he didn't eat. Hmm. This was the first time in the history of the universe that Dempsey did not immediately eat something we gave him.

Doreen was worried, but I suggested we try the doggie equivalent of "take two aspirin and call me in the morning": Belly rub now, see how he feels in the morning. I invited Dempsey to roll over on the new rug for a belly rub.

Within a couple of minutes, Dempsey got up, and -- blech! -- vomited all over the rug we had been carefully hiding for a year and a half. As we scrambled to clean up the mess, Dempsey stepped into the vomit and made a few pukey paw prints across the rug as he headed for the hallway. When he got to the hallway, he stopped and -- blech! -- vomited on the hallway carpet. When I asked Dempsey to go to his kennel, he dutifully went, but with a stop -- blech! -- to vomit a third time downstairs.

By this point, I was pretty panicked. Boy, Doreen is really going to be mad at me. We got Dempsey into the car and started driving across town to our favorite emergency vet (yes, we actually have a favorite emergency vet). We drove through an ice storm that the highway patrol described as "one for the ages." It was indeed a mess. Freeway entrances were closed and cars were sliding into ditches as we rushed, at a blazing 20mph, to the vet.

With all the lights and sirens and police cars around us, I kinda felt like OJ Simpson on a slow-speed chase. Except there wasn't freezing rain in LA: We had to keep the windows rolled up as Dempsey lay in the back, burping and otherwise spewing noxious gasses that filled the cabin.

We finally arrived at the vet a little after 2am, relieved we had survived. After another hour and several hundred dollars, I finally got what I wanted all along, a new view of Dempsey:

As you can see, there's nothing in there. Some gas in his colon, but no socks or obvious ill-gotten gains. The vet gave Dempsey two shots and told us to call him in the morning.

I just hope Dempsey thinks about how much he makes his parents worry the next time he tries eating something.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy and unhappy endings

Dempsey had a surprise visitor tonight. While I was in the garage, cleaning some nose prints off the car window, a big gray dog came trotting down the alley and into our garage to say hello.

Not seeing his person anywhere, I introduced big gray dog to Dempsey and let them play a bit while I called the phone number that was on his dog tag. Within ten minutes, big gray dog was safely at home.

In a remarkable bit of synchronicity, I was reading the paper later tonight when I saw that Target, the dog who saved lives by thwarting a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, had been accidentally euthanized in Arizona.

Animal control had clearly made a tragic mistake, but I have to question why Target didn't have a microchip. Or a license. Or even a $5 dog tag. Or why Target's people had enough time to go on Oprah, but not enough time to take care of her. Or why the organization that had raised the money to bring Target to America didn't follow up and insist on having proper ID for Target. With a simple dog tag, Target could have been safely at home in ten minutes, instead of dead.

Like plane crashes, this tragedy isn't the result of a single person making a mistake. It's a systematic failure. There were lots of people who should have been looking out for Target, who didn't. It's no way to treat a hero.

I feel sad for Target's family, but I really feel sad for Target. Dogs do so much for us, and yet people always seem to find ways to let them down. The only consolation is knowing that Target is going to heaven.

[Disclaimer: These views are solely my own, and not necessarily those of Helping Paws.]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More chores

When he was a little baby boy, Dempsey did a very bad thing: He chewed up the power cord to my beloved Hoover WindTunnel vacuum cleaner. I had to take it apart and replace the cord. (And since that first repair, I've replaced the switch, a belt, two HEPA filters, and zillions of bags -- it's been working very hard ever since we got Dempsey.)

Ever since then, Dempsey has been getting stern "leave its" whenever he so much as looks at a power cord. Being a smart boy, Dempsey has become reluctant to touch power cords. He can vacuum the floor -- he's being doing that since he was 7 months old -- but when it comes time to wind up the cord and put away the vaccum cleaner, fuhgeddaboudit.

Naturally, this will not do. So this morning, we worked some more on putting the vacuum cleaner away.

For the next step, I will teach Dempsey to untangle the cord.

Of course, I should probably figure out how to do that myself first.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dempsey on TV!

We think Dempsey is a star, and now we actually have some evidence: He appeared today on Twin Cities Live, on ABC affiliate KSTP.

TCL is a talk show, but Dempsey didn't do much speaking -- he failed his screen test. Mostly, his job was to look cute while Dana Nelson of spoke about Give to the Max day. Billed as the "Great Minnesota Give Together," Give to the Max Day is a day when Minnesotans will be challenged to raise as much money as possible for non-profits in 24 hours.

Helping Paws is participating in Give to the Max Day again this year. Thanks to an anonymous donor, the first $15,000 donated to Helping Paws will be matched, dollar-for-dollar. Helping Paws also has a chance to win additional money: Every hour, a donor will be randomly selected, and that donor's charity will get an additional $1,000. There's also $20,000 for the organization that has the most individual donors.

We're big believers in Helping Paws, and Dempsey asks that you consider making a donation tomorrow.

It's an important message, but we think Dempsey did a great job helping deliver it on TV. He was so calm and confident, ignoring all the lights, cameras, and action:

Dempsey was even comfortable mingling backstage with celebrities, like TCL co-host Elizabeth Ries:

Backstage, Dempsey checked out the dressing rooms:

We wanted to make sure Dempsey looked his best, but Dempsey said he had already powdered his nose last week, while Doreen was baking cupcakes for Hudson:

When the cameras started rolling, Dempsey hit his mark like a pro.

Dempsey says he even did a better job on his "stay" than Doreen:

I know it may not look like much, but "stay" is particularly hard for our spastic little puppy. Before Dempsey graduates, he'll need to be able to stay in a drop for 30 minutes. Right now, he can do a drop-stay for about 9 minutes under ideal conditions.

Luckily for today's show, Dempsey has been practicing very hard at his stays. Last night, he visited his friends Bridget and Samantha, where his dad made him practice his stays under very distracting circumstances. Bridget and Samantha did great at their stays, but as you can see, somebody is ready to spring up and play.

Thank you Bridget and Samantha for the practice! It really paid off for today.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

White Christmas

Christmas came early this year for Dempsey: It snowed.

Normally, Dempsey is a very quiet boy in the morning, waiting patiently till we get up before he asks to go to the bathroom or to play. Not today. Today, he was up bright and early a little after 6am, insistently ringing the bathroom bell. Half asleep, I crawled out of my warm bed, went downstairs, let him out, let him back in, and then crawled back into bed.

Then Dempsey rang the bathroom bell again. I crawled out of my warm bed, went downstairs, and opened the door. This time, though, Dempsey wouldn't go out. He just sat by the open door, wagging his tail. I told him to get going, but then he gave me a play bow. He was talking so fast, I couldn't catch everything, but it went something like this:

"Hi!!! Dad!!! Good morning!!! Old Man Winter came by last night, and you know, he leaves snow for all the good little doggies, and I must be a good little doggie, because when I woke up this morning and looked outside, I saw all this snow, and it must be for me, because I'm a good little doggie, and all that snow looks really really really fun to play in, and to eat, and to roll around in, and I'm just sooooo excited, I can't wait to go outside to play and to eat and to play and, and to roll around in all the snow that Old Man Winter left for good doggies like me!"

I'd have to be a Grinch to deny Christmas to a little doggie, so I reluctantly bundled up and stepped outside so Dempsey could play, eat, and roll around in the snow while I shivered and watched him. I tried taking a video, but as you'll see, I'm not at my best at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday.

That crazy dog! No one else in the family likes getting up early to play in snow. I'm pretty sure he's adopted.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Go get help

As helpful as Dempsey is now, he can't do everything himself. That's why he needs to learn to "go get help."

After several weeks of work, Dempsey has learned that pawing is the only acceptable way to get somebody's attention, and he knows that he must bring somebody back to me.

Pretty fun! But of course, at this distance -- about 8 feet, in the same room -- it's not very helpful. I could just as easily call for somebody. So now we'll be working on increasing the distance and adding distractions. There's still a ton of polishing to do, but this is a great first step!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Doggie banana split

Doreen cooked up so many treats for Hudson, I'm still trying to blog about them all. In addition to the puppy cupcakes, Doreen baked some cinammon rolls, using a recipe she found on Dog Treat Kitchen.

My personal favorite, though, is the doggie banana split, which is something we thought up ourselves.

It's kind of a Rachel Ray recipe (i.e., assembling pre-made stuff vs cooking from scratch), but here's what we did:

Doggie banana split
Makes 2 servings

2oz plain hung yogurt ("whipped cream")
3oz pureed blueberries ("chocolate syrup")
A few rasperries ("maraschino cherries")
A few Little Stars sweet potato treats for garnish ("crushed peanuts")
1 medium banana ("banana")
4 small scoops lowfat vanilla ice cream from McDonald's ("ice cream") -- we used a cookie scooper

I think this should be self-evident. Also, I am lazy.

Speaking of lazy, here is one of my favorite pictures of Hudson from our archives. We took this on the way home from a long walk at Harriet Island. Dempsey curls up and sleeps in the car, but Hudson loves looking out the window.

Hudson was really tired from his walk, but like a little kid, he insisted he wasn't. He kept nodding off while he was looking out the window, and eventually he fell asleep and started snoring while he was sitting up.

Hudson is such a lovable little goofball.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Ok, I guess I've been busted by the puppy paparazzi. After I blogged about spending the whole day giving Hudson attention, Doreen snapped some pictures of me sleeping on the job.

In my defense, I have to say that it is impossible to give a dog too much attention. I was trying to massage Hudson to sleep, but every time he looked like he was asleep and I stopped, he started pawing me and asking for more. I fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion.

I did wake up eventually, and we had more fun with Hudson: playing fetch and hide-and-seek; going to the McDonald's drive-in for an ice cream cone; sampling some Singapore-style rice noodles; eating a well-balanced meal of actual dog food; and then having "Mr. Cool Bear shabed [sic] ice" for dessert.

The shabed ice wasn't as big a hit as I had hoped. Dempsey loves snow, and he loves eating ice cubes and shaved ice, but Hudson wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

Oh well. We tried. I just hope we succeeded in spoiling Hudson and giving him the best day ever.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Nap Time

Looks like it's not only the pups who are pooped.

Now, if only Dad will wake up.

[Paul says: Those pesky paparazzi!]

Puppy cupcakes

I know it might seem like we're shoving food down Hudson's throat, but really, I think we've been pretty careful. He only got one bite of the awaze tibs, and the rice ball is pretty similar to the chicken and rice Dempsey gets when his tummy is upset.
Luckily for Elsie, Hudson's sister, we have a lot of cupcakes left over. Doreen packed them up in a doggie bag, and Hudson will be bringing them home to share. (Right, Hudson?)

Most of today has been spent doing Hudson's favorite thing: Giving him attention. No chores, no conference calls, no e-mail unless he's napping. If he wants me to watch him chew a Nylabone, I watch. If he wants a massage, he gets one. We don't have a lot of pics and videos of all this because, frankly, it's pretty boring to watch him chew a bone. But it's Hudson Day today, so he gets pretty much whatever he wants.
Here is Doreen's puppy cupcake recipe:

Cake Ingredients: 
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats 
  • 1 tsp of baking soda 
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract 
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1/4 cup of peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup honey or molasses
  • 1 1/2 cup plain pumpkin (not pie filling)
  • 3 cups plain lowfat yogurt
  • couple of grated carrots for an optional "confetti" garnish
  • any cute treat to decorate
The evening or several hours before making the cake, place a large coffee filter in a strainer over a bowl and pour yogurt in the filter. Keep in refrigerator until ready to use. This thickens the yogurt so it will be easier to frost the cake or pipe decorations.

Blend baking soda and spices with flour. In separate bowl, blend egg, vanilla, and oil. Add peanut butter, honey, pumpkin and oatmeal. Fold in remaining dry ingredients. Batter will be very thick.

Heat oven to 350. Generously grease two 6 inch cake pans and add half mixture to each pan. Or use regular muffin tins - the recipe makes about a ten cupcakes. The batter will not spread or rise much in the oven, so make sure it is flat on top and spreads to the sides of the pans. If it's not pretty, don't worry - dogs are very forgiving. Bake 20 minutes.

Once cooled, frost with the thickened yogurt; it's easier to use a pastry bag. Sprinkle with extra shredded carrot and  decorate with any other puppy-themed treat.

Piece of cake

The cake is finally ready!

When we made a similar cake for Dempsey's birthday, he was way more excited than he was today. I think the boys might be getting jaded already with all the treats.

Of course, they've also been snacking on the cake the whole day. It started this morning when they got to lick the batter from the beater.

And then they got to lick the yogurt "frosting" from the spoon when we started hanging it.

So when the cupcakes were finally ready, it was old hat.

I think it might be time for more play. We want Hudson hungrier!

Play time

Hudson and Dempsey are both napping now. They've been playing for the last few hours, burning off the calories from all the treats they've been eating.

Hudson has even tried playing with Buddy. Buddy refuses to play, pointedly noting that he doesn't need to burn calories since no one has given him any treats today.

Hudson goes hunting

It's hard to believe that such a sweet, lovable guy like Hudson is descended from wolves. I guess every dog wants to be a wolf now and then, so today, we decided to let Hudson act like a wolf and go hunting.

Because we don't like dead squirrels or rabbits in our house, we decided Hudson could hunt -- for animal crackers. Even though he has trouble seeing out of his right eye, he's doing a great job chasing down the animals.

Bento for the boys

The second course for Hudson's lunch was a Japanese nigiri -- a ball of rice with shaved fish inside. Since I'm a lazy cook, my rice balls look nothing at all like the fancy ones true bento connoisseurs make.

Luckily for me, Hudson is such a good guest. He said it looked great, and he ate it all up.

Gursha dogs

Spicy, layered, and complex, Ethiopian cuisine is one of the most underrated cuisines in the world. I think anyone who's serious about food needs to try it.

Dogs, of course, are very serious about food. Therefore, Hudson and Dempsey need to try it.

If you're unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, one of the things that make it distinctive is that there are no utensils. Food is served on injera, a bread that I would describe as a sourdough crêpe. To eat, you break off a piece of injera with your right hand (never your left!), scoop up the meats or veggies, and pop it in your mouth.

Another endearing Ethiopian custom (which makes Ethiopian restaurants great for date nights) is gursha, the practice of taking food and putting it in the mouth of a friend or loved one. Because giving gursha symbolizes love and friendship, I had to give gursha to Hudson this morning.

It was a little spicy, but both Hudson and Dempsey said they liked the awaze tibs (peppery sauteed beef) very much. They both asked for seconds, but I told them they needed to save room for the snow cones and cake and ice cream.

Spoiled dog day

We were really saddened to learn that Hudson, one of Dempsey's favorite brothers, has a tumor behind his eye. Hudson went to a veterinary oncologist yesterday at the University of Minnesota, and they're doing tests to understand the extent of the tumor and treatment options for Hudson. The results aren't in yet, but it seems pretty serious.

We wanted to spend time with Hudson, and his family was very generous letting us have him for the day. As Hudson's aunt and uncle, we're planning to spoil him rotten today.

We've already started with an egg and cheese breakfast:

Dempsey has learned that when we give him food, he needs to eat it -- quickly. A lesson learned from his birthday party last year:

More spoilage to come!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Increased chatter

For the past 1,909 days (since August 12, 2005) the Department of Homeland Security has said that the United States is under threat level yellow: "significant risk of terrorist attack."

Of all the things that have happened in the last 1,909 days -- threats to burn the Koran, warnings about the dangers of traveling to France,  FedEx-ed mail bombs from Yemen, an alleged Satanic witchcraft dabbler running for the Senate -- nothing seems to change the threat level.

I'm not sure how our intelligent intelligence experts determine the threat level, but one of the signs they seem to use is "increased chatter" among evil-doers. I may be wrong, but I think Homeland Security may soon be increasing the threat level.

We're seeing increased chatter from our resident evil-doer, Dempsey, who tried stealing some pumpkin bread before we made him work for it. Check out the evidence.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Dempsey wishes everyone a Happy Halloween! And if you stop by our house, he can do a trick and give you a treat.

Sadly, Dempsey did not dress up as a dalmatian this year. We couldn't find a suitable fireman's hat, and we were worried that if he just had spots of black hair dye, he would just look splotchy and diseased. Maybe next year.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Whenever I tell people that it takes 2 to 3 years to train a service dog, the response I invariably get is "Wow -- it takes that long?" It may seem like a long time, but let me tell you, it really flies by. This really hit me tonight at the Helping Paws graduation, where I saw Keona -- the first Helping Paws dog I ever met -- graduate.

It may be hard to believe now, but I really didn't want to train a service dog. It was Doreen's idea. I thought it would be too much work, but Doreen persuaded me to go to the Helping Paws open house, ostensibly for "research."

I realized as soon as I walked in that Doreen had set a trap. The training center was full of adorable little puppies. I didn't know much about dogs, but I knew it was impossible to do any sort of objective "research" when you have a cute puppy in front of you.

Trying desparately to avoid getting suckered into something, I headed straight for the cheese plate that had been set up in the kitchen. I figured if I were holding a plate full of cheese, I'd have the perfect excuse to avoid meeting any puppies.

As I was greedily piling cheese onto a paper plate, I noticed little Keona lying quietly by the table. She was only a few months old, but she seemed mature beyond her months. She had her chin resting on her paw, and she was looking up at me, somewhat disapprovingly.

"Man," she said, "you have no self-control."

With these well-behaved pups, holding a plate full of cheese would not be a problem. As we all know now, this would not be the last time my brilliant plans would be foiled by a puppy.


Whenever I think of Keona, I think of that perfect little puppy, but tonight on stage, she was a beautiful, poised young lady. She grew up so fast!

I tried taking a picture of Keona on stage, but I forgot to turn off the flash. The result is a nicely illuminated picture of the back of someone's head, with a dark stage in the background. I guess it's no surprise I get outsmarted so often by little puppies.

I did, however, manage to get a few other decent pictures. The first one is of "Larry," who was there to remind people that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects service animals, not just service dogs.

Good point, Milo, but I doubt there are many service lobsters at work. 

Here's a good picture of the "Four Musketeers," i.e., the four boys from Dempsey's litter. From left to right are Benny, Hudson, Sawyer, and Dempsey. It may look like I'm choking Dempsey, but I promise no animals were harmed in the making of this picture.

The last good picture I got is of Walter. He is growing up to be such a handsome young man! He's already matured a bit since we last had him at our house, back in July.

Congratulations to all the teams that graduated tonight!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The things we did last summer

Yikes! I still haven’t blogged about all the things we did last summer. Time to quit procrastinating. Herewith, this mega, meta-post.

Shake your tail feathers
We took Dempsey to Goldzilla, the annual fundraiser for RAGOM: Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota, a rescue group for Golden retrievers. Because we've seen firsthand how much dogs do for people, Doreen and I try to give a little something back to those dogs who aren't lucky enough to be service dogs.

One of the things we really like about RAGOM is that they're a bunch of softies. Though they focus on Golden retrievers, they don't turn away dogs that sort of look like Golden retrievers but aren't, or dogs that clearly aren't Golden retrievers, but have Golden personalities. This was pretty obvious at Goldzilla.

Of course, Goldzilla was also a great training opportunity for Dempsey. Though we think he's perfect, Dempsey sometimes gets overexcited when he's on leash and meeting another dog. At Goldzilla, he got lots and lots of practice shaking his tail feathers -- greeting other dogs politely with a butt sniff and a tail wag, without immediately going into play mode.

It wasn't all training, though. Dempsey had a lot of fun, too! There were tons of vendors giving away sample treats, and a demonstration area for canine agility, where Dempsey got to try his paw at agility. Of course, we think he did exceptionally well for his first try. Watch out, Kenya!

The Love Bud
Dempsey had lots of play dates and sleepovers with his friends this summer. Dempsey's newest friend is Bud the Labrador retriever.

Bud was an absolute blast. We were told he would eat his dinner in about 30 seconds, but that was not true. We timed him once, and he took 11.9 seconds. Everything Bud did, he did with exuberance. Here he is pulling one of his pro-wrestling moves on Angel.

Now that we know Bud a little better, Marley and Me seems a lot more believable. Bud is just pure energy. No, actually he's 50% energy, and 50% joy. And 50% love. Yes, that's more than 100%, but that's the magic of Bud.

You don't know me
Dempsey is, of course, the most beautiful dog in the world, though even as his totally, completely objective parents, we have to admit sometimes he has competition. One of his toughest competitors for "best looking" is Jazz.

Every time we see Jazz in class, we're stunned at what a beautiful dog she is. We had assumed her beauty wasn't a natural talent, but the result of her proud parents specially primping her for class. Then we ran into her one night at the Galleria, looking as stunning as ever.

Because the Galleria is one of the fanciest malls in town, I had taken a lot of time to brush Dempsey before our trip, to make sure he looked good. But somehow, in the thirty minutes it had taken us to get there, Dempsey had found time to drool on himself. Aargh! That little beast!

Needless to say, Jazz did not have any drool. She was perfect. I know her parents take very good care of her, but I might have to admit she might naturally be as beautiful as Dempsey.


Rug, rug, goose
We recently hosted Rugby, one of the Dempesy's classmates in "Big Dogs." He's a very lovable little guy who seemed to have a crush on me, following me around everywhere. Alas, having a crush did not make him particularly obedient when I wanted to snap some pictures of him with Dempsey and Jesse.

Fundamentally, I think, the problem has to do with the laws of physics. It's the classic three-body problem, which makes it impossible to predict whether three dogs will be in the same state at the same time. Hence these photos, which all have an odd dog out.

Highway 61, visited
Dempsey took a trip out on Highway 61 (and Hwy 169, and Hwy 1) to Hibbing, Minnesota, birthplace of Robert Zimmerman. (RZ's better-known alter ego, Bob Dylan, was born in Greenwich Village.)

Hibbing is also the birthplace of another American icon: the Greyhound Bus. Dempsey was very excited to see the signs promising "something for everyone" at the Greyhound Museum.

When we got there, Dempsey was disappointed to see a bunch of old busses: "Riding a bus is work!" he said. He was too embarassed to admit it, but I think Dempsey mistakenly thought the Greyhound Bus Museum would have greyhounds riding busses. At any rate, he complained there was nothing for him.

The story of Greyhound is actually kind of interesting. It was founded by Carl Wickman, an unemployed iron miner who decided to change careers and become a car salesman. Unfortunately, instead of picking a Ford or a Chevy franchise, Wickman decided to sell Hupmobiles

Faced with mounting debt and unable to sell the one Hupmobile he had in inventory, Wickman decided to use his Hupmobile to ferry miners in Hibbing to saloons. He got his really big break when one of the world's largest iron deposits was discovered -- directly under the town of Hibbing. The entire town was picked up and moved, creating more demand for transportation for the miners. The original town site is now the world's largest open-pit iron mine, which is promoted as tourist attraction, the "Grand Canyon of the Upper Midwest."

I have to admit the view is pretty impressive, though it reminds me not so much of Paradise, as John Prine's "Paradise." I suppose with some imagination, you can pretend the huge mounds of tailings in the Iron Range are really cinder cones in New Mexico, but for me I think about the penultimate verse of  "Youngstown," the last great song Bruce Springsteen has written, where Bruce gives a shoutout to the Iron Range.

I wonder why there are so many songs about coal miners, and not many about iron miners? I would ponder this more, but someone is reminding me with his Kong squeaker that there are more important things to do right now.

Ridin' dirty

Now that we're suffering through a hurricane in Minnesota, I've become nostalgic for the very nice weather we had just a few weeks ago. Low humidity, temps in the 70s -- we took advantage by taking Dempsey on lots of outdoors adventures.

I think Dempsey had fun, though all that outdoors time meant we often caught him riding dirty in the Jeep, staring hungrily at his picnic food bowl.

Though he's spent a lot of time in the great outdoors, Dempsey still manages to find things that surprise him:

Obviously, something with nasty, sharp, pointy teeth had been chewing the tree. We explained it was just a harmless rodent, but Dempsey wasn't buying it. After some investigation, Dempsey decided it was ok after all, and he showed us what he learned by pretending to be a beaver fetching sticks:

Dempsey's swimming skills have greatly improved, but he's months away from his wilderness merit badge. Case in point is a 2-mile hike we took on the Grand Portage trail at Jay Cooke State Park.

I admit we started off a bit late, just before sunset, but I figured we could knock off 2 miles in about an hour. The problems started when we were in a dark hollow just after the sun set. I was studying the park map when we heard a screech owl, which really alarmed Dempsey. He jumped up, knocking the map out of my hand, and started looking around nervously, ears back.

"Don't worry, Dempsey," I told him cheerfully. "It's just an owl. Like Woodsy: Hoot, hoot -- don't pollute!"

Dempsey looked back at me incredulously. "That was not a hoot."

It took a few minutes, but I was finally able to get Dempsey to relax, giving him simple tasks with high-value treats. Then I gave him a harder task: I asked him to find the map he had knocked out of my hand. The problem, you see, is that the free park map is printed on yellow paper, a color best described in the autumn as "leaf-colored." In the darkening woods, with leaves all over the ground, I couldn't find it anywhere. When I asked Dempsey to get it, he looked down from his sit, somewhat puzzled, and then back up at me: "Yeah, right."

I let Dempsey sniff around the leaves while I got on my hands and knees searching for the map. Dempsey wandered over to a tree. I heard some leaves rustle, and then a branch snap, and the next thing I knew, I was on my back. Dempsey had spooked something that had spooked him, and he took off so hard, he had pulled me over with his leash.

It was eerily quiet now, except for Dempsey's heavy breathing. Looking up, I saw some big shadowy branches swinging from a tree.

"Don't think about the Blair Witch Project," I told myself. This, of course, only made me think more about the Blair Witch Project.

We were now caught in a vicious loop of anxiety. Dempsey had made something nervous; that thing, whatever it was -- skunk? witch? killer rabbit? -- made Dempsey nervous; Dempsey's nervousness was making me nervous; which, of course, only made him more nervous.

Now, Dempsey was so nervous, he wouldn't budge. He didn't want to drop, shake, or roll over. He didn't even want the tasty treats I offered. With darkness quickly falling, I decided I needed to use the nuclear option: Pretending to leave. I walked about ten feet away and then called him. Afraid I'd leave him alone in the woods, Dempsey came charging, tried sliding to a stop, failed -- and crashed into me.

After dusting the leaves of my jacket (again), Dempsey was finally ready to go, but by now, it was pretty dark. While I looked at the stars to navigate, Dempsey kept his nose to the ground, and we both followed the trail a pretty good distance.

Until we came to a fork.

I was pretty sure the trail veered to the left, but Dempsey insisted it veered to the right. Right was roughly the direction we wanted to go, and Dempsey had been pretty good at sniffing to stay on the trail, so I disregarded all the previous examples of Dempsey's good judgment, and followed him.

We walked for about fifteen minutes, watching the trail was getting progressively smaller and muddier. It was pretty obvious now that Dempsey was leading me down the path of wrongness. We got proof positive when Dempsey stopped at a dead tree, and something gave us a very loud, unfriendly hissssss. Dempsey and I both jumped back about ten feet. There was no way we would be passing by that tree.

I didn't want to backtrack on the muddy trail. Luckily, I heard the hum of some power lines, which I remembered ran back towards the parking area, so we followed the hum back to the parking lot.

My little buddy Gilligan and I returned from our one-hour hike three hours later, wet, muddy, and scared out of our wits. Though Dempsey usually does not like jumping into cars, this night he seem positively elated, and leapt in the car before I even asked him.

It's a good thing Dempsey is going to be a service dog, and not a wilderness guide dog.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A mighty wind

A mighty wind is blowing across the land today. It's apparently one of the strongest storms on record in Minnesota, comparable to the "gales of November" that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald and inspired Gordon Lightfoot's overwrought, overlong, overrated 8-minute opus.  "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is one of those songs they play ad nauseum every November, along with that other, overwrought, overlong, overrated ditty, "Alice's Restaurant."

I digress. I thought the mighty wind would be a fun opportunity to get a Fabio-like shot of Dempsey, his chest hairs bravely blowing in the wind. Alas, it turns out that Dempsey is a bit of a princess. He doesn't like the wind, the rain, or the puddles, and it took some cajoling to get him to go potty this afternoon.

So instead, we practiced "speak" in the wind. With the big storm, we thought it would be good practice for Dempsey to get help, if your wheelchair -- or car, or house -- got overturned in the gusts.

As you can tell, we still need to do some work on "speak."

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Last week, Dempsey went out to a club. Not just any club, but the biggest, most popular club downtown. Downtown St Louis Park, that is: The Sam’s Club.

For disability awareness day, the good folks at Sam’s Club invited Helping Paws to come speak about service dogs. Dempsey met with the staff of the Sam’s Club to demonstrate his skills and explain everything he’ll do one day to help someone with a physical disability be more independent.

We really appreciate the opportunity to talk about service dogs and people with disabilities. Having worked in the retail industry, I know how difficult it can be to keep the entire staff informed and well-trained, so I really appreciate the efforts of the people at Sam’s Club to ensure that everybody, regardless of physical ability, feels welcome. I think their invitation to Helping Paws shows a genuine commitment to diversity. Thank you very much!

Dempsey would also like to thank the Sam’s Club staff for all the pets and belly rubs he got after the presentation, the generous gift card, and -- most of all -- the very large, club-sized bag of doggie treats they gave him! Dempsey says you’re now his favoritest people!

At least, of course, until he brings me his food bowl for dinner.

Just for fun

We promised ourselves we would not turn into freaky dog people. We failed.

Here's Dempsey trying on a Halloween costume. Dempsey says he wants to dress up this year as a Dalmatian or St Bernard. We're looking for a dog-sized fireman's hat. Freaks.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Apple pickin' time in Minnesota

With apologies to Jimmie Rodgers: It's apple pickin' time in Minnesota!

Last weekend, we took Dempsey out to Afton Apple Orchard for some fall fun. As a service dog in training, Dempsey was allowed everywhere, but the good folks at Afton Apple Orchard are very dog-friendly: We saw lots of  "civilian" dogs outdoors, enjoying the grass, and even the hayrides.

Dempsey went on a hayride, too, though I'm not sure he enjoyed it. Being a pampered pooch, he said the straw was a little scratchy, but he agreed to do a nice drop for some high-value treats.

More fun for Dempsey was watching the chainsaw artist carve statues from blocks of wood. We had never seen a demonstration of chainsaw carving, but we have to say it's pretty impressive. When Dempsey was a very young pup, he was afraid of animal statues, but we're happy to report he seems to have totally conquered his fear. Here he is posing happily with some cute little bears:

Dempsey's favorite activity, though, was visiting the petting zoo. Of course, Dempsey didn't pet any of the animals, but he really seemed to enjoy kissing ass:

Dad's own personal favorite, though, was the cider pressing demonstration. I love unpasteurized sweet apple cider, which I haven't been able to find in years. (Apparently, you can only get unpasteurized cider and very young cheese in socialist France, not in the land of the free. Crazy world, no?) Good unpasteurized cider has a bite that really makes it taste like a fresh, liquid apple. I can recommend visiting just to get a taste of the cider. Yum!

Dempsey says thank you to everyone at Afton Apple Orchard for helping him have such a fun day out!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Take me out

We took Dempsey out to the ball game last month, to see the Twins play during the inaugural season at Target Field. 

Designed by Populous, the architecture firm that seems to have a monopoly on new stadiums in the U.S., Target Field is pretty nice, though Dempsey's colleague Ripken will be pleased to know that Camden Yards is still my favorite ballpark, insofar as I have an opinion on these things.

It was pretty crowded -- since the new park opened, the Twins have sold out several games -- but Dempsey did a great job walking through the crowds to our $5 nosebleed seats.

Dempsey did an awesome job ignoring all the spilled food on the floor. And being a good citizen, he even picked up some empty plastic bottles on the way and put them in the recycle bin. During the national anthem, Dempsey respectfully did a perfect stand-stay, and then politely sat down again when the game started. During the game, Dempsey was completely unfazed by anything: the fireworks, the t-shirt cannon, the music, the cheers. I think this is because Dempsey was having a great time watching the hot dogs and beer being passed down the seats, though he never once tried stealing any.

Despite his perfect behavior, we only made it through three innings, mostly because we got more fidgety than he did. Not being big sports fans, we'd forgotten how s-l-o-o-o-w baseball can be. We went looking for some cute cheerleaders, because I thought Dempsey needed to meet them -- for the socialization, obviously -- but we couldn't find any. 

Doreen tells me this was for the best, anyway. Something about taking me out, and I don't think she meant to the ball game.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Clean up time

As I mentioned the other day, it's been decades since I've listened to Double Fantasy. Unfortunately, it's all coming back, and the whole album is stuck in my head, Yoko Ono included. It's not pretty.

In honor of the cut stuck in my head today, we present Dempsey performing his own version of "Clean Up Time."

He's doing pretty well putting a toy away in his toybox, but for the finished behavior, we want to be able to say "clean up" once, and have Dempsey look for all his toys and put them all away.

We're not there yet. Dempsey still insists on getting credit for every single toy he puts away, and he makes sure we know.

Frisking the demonstrator

Dempsey saw on the news the other night that there have been lots of demonstrations in Europe, and he asked me why he wasn't on the news. Dempsey, you see, thinks he's an active demonstrator.

He has a point. This month, Dempsey has demonstrated practically every week. I've already blogged about his demos the golf tournament and the Kiwanis Club, but there have been two more: the State Fair and the federal building.

Now that he's a year older, Dempsey did much better at the State Fair than he did the first time. This year, instead of staying for just an hour, he stayed for three. And he was able to show off a lot of skills he didn't have yet last year -- snuggle, the light switch, retrieving a quarter and a ticket stub. Here he is trying to imitate the Helping Paws logo:

And here's a picture of Dempsey showing he has no performance anxiety in front of big groups:

The other place Dempsey has demonstrated is the federal building at Fort Snelling. This was exciting for him, because it was the first time he went through a metal detector. Actually, he was pretty nonchalant about it. The first time, he walked right through, and he was only a little startled when his collar set it off. I was easily able to get him to go through it again; he wasn't scared a bit.

Dempsey's biggest disappointment was when the policeman refused to frisk him. Luckily, we met an off-duty policeman who was willing to frisk Dempsey. Crazy Dempsey even told the policeman what to do: After being thoroughly frisked behind the ears and under his chin, he rolled over and told the policeman that he'd forgotten to frisk his tummy, too.

Somehow, Dempsey thinks that being frisked indicates you're a VIP, and not a potential security threat. Even when he's working, Dempsey lives in his own little bubble of happiness.