Friday, August 27, 2010

Dempsey's architecture tour: Part 2

Last weekend, we took Dempsey to one of our favorite buildings in Minnesota: the bank.

We like the bank not just because that's where the money is. This particular bank is the old National Farmer's Bank in Owatonna, designed by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright's mentor, and the guy who coined the phrase "form follows function."

Residents of Woodbury, Minnesota, may recognize this building, because there's a loving tribute/low-budget copy near the Woodbury Lakes shopping center:

The original building is a masterpiece against the odds. When Sullivan won the commission for the bank, he was widely considered a washed-up has-been. Luckily for Carl Bennett, the president of the Farmer's Bank, that made Sullivan affordable. It was still a risk, but one that Bennett was happy to take. A Harvard-educated musician, he had dreamed of a career in New York City, but was called home to Minnesota to work at the family bank. He wanted to bring a work of art to his quiet corner of prairie.

The bank, now owned by Wells Fargo, has been beautifully restored. Outside the bank, Dempsey was a good little student, listening attentively to my boring architecture lecture.

Inside, Dempsey admired the "color symphony" from the stained glass.

And of course, since this was a training trip, Dempsey practiced his retrieves in the historic building, too.

Dempsey would like to thank the good people at Wells Fargo for taking such good care of this architectural gem, and for letting us stay a little past closing. They were very accommodating to visitors, and very welcoming of our little service dog-in-training. Thank you!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Doggie diversity

Throughout Dempsey's training, we've been very careful to introduce him to all different sorts of people. We haven't been as diligent introducing him to different sorts of dogs.

This is paranoia on our part: Because we want to make sure Dempsey only has positive experiences with other dogs, we are extremely selective about who we let Dempsey associate with. That's why his playmates have all been blondes: i.e., Golden retrievers from Helping Paws.

Of course, not every dog is a service dog-in-training, and we wanted to introduce Dempsey to other breeds. We had the perfect opportunity the other night, when our friend Susan came to visit with her two dogs, Bridget and Samantha. Susan competes with Doreen for the title of "world's best doggie mommy," so we had an easy time vetting Bridget and Samantha as Good Dogs: well socialized, trained, vaccinated, free of contagious diseases -- I checked for everything except worms, mostly because I couldn't think of a discrete way to ask for a stool sample.

As I had hoped, Dempsey had no problems with different breeds. The older dogs were patient, though they didn't know quite what to make of our little whippersnapper. As mature as Dempsey seems compared to Walter and Jesse, he still has some growing up to do.

At first, Samantha and Bridget tried ignoring Dempsey and kept to themselves.

But by dinnertime, Dempsey had worked his charm on Samantha, and the two of them held hands at the table.

After dinner, when I asked Dempsey to go to his kennel, Samantha hopped in with him.

Yea!!! We're very happy that Dempsey has more diverse friends now. And we hope Bridget and Samantha can teach Dempsey more about acting like a grown-up dog. We're looking forward to more visits!

Friday, August 13, 2010

You can call me Mel

I recently took Doreen to see a concert at the casino: a double bill of living legend Ray Price and "Hee Haw" star Mel Tillis.

If it isn't obvious, I'm a huge fan of Ray Price. Back in the late 40's, he played with Hank Williams, often filling in for him when Hank was too drunk to perform. And in the late 50's, he discovered a country music legend: Willie Nelson. Today, at age 84, Price still tours regularly, and his rich, deep voice is still astounding. (Although this isn't the best quality, here's a clip of him playing with Willie Nelson and Mike Huckabee last year.)

Mel Tillis I'm not as familiar with. Most of his more popular stuff ("Coca Cola Cowboy," "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town") is from the 70's, my least favorite decade for country music. And having never watched "Hee Haw," I didn't know Tillis had a trademark stutter that he often joked about.

I bring all this up because after the show, I did some reading about stuttering, and being a doggie hypochondriac, I think Dempsey may have a stutter. Here's the evidence:

According to Google Health, symptoms of stuttering include "hesitancy in starting sentences or phrases," "jaw jerking," and "involuntary movements of the head or other body parts."

Dempsey only does these things when I ask him to "speak," not when he barks at squirrels or strange noises in the night. It's almost like performance anxiety, which, of course, is a cause of stuttering in people. People who stutter don't typically stutter when they talk to themselves, or when they talk to an animal. Again, Dempsey fits the description: He never seems to "stutter" when he's play-barking with another dog.

I know this all sounds like a joke, but I'm serious: Do dogs stutter? Apparently, about 7% of zebra finches stutter, and scientists are using zebra finches as an animal model to study stuttering in humans. I haven't found anything about stuttering in dogs, so I'm wondering if anybody else has ever observed it?

(Isn't it amazing how I can take any topic and turn it into a conversation about Dempsey? He really is an endless source of fascination for me.)