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.