Thursday, April 28, 2011

Show time!

Tomorrow is the spring graduation ceremony for Helping Paws, and though it's a happy and proud occasion for everyone, I have to admit it also makes us nervous.

When Dempsey goes training in public, he usually gets lots of compliments on his skills and his good looks. But at graduation, Dempsey is just one of dozens of Helping Paws dogs, and he isn't quite as much a star compared to all his colleagues who are at least as well trained and cared for.

The most obvious difference is grooming. We brush Dempsey's coat and teeth every day and trim his nails and clean his ears every week -- but that's about it for grooming. Heck, I barely groom myself. I probably shouldn't admit this, but I haven't combed my hair in over 20 years, after I lost my comb and forgot to buy a replacement. It's not a high priority.

This is probably why, when I think of Dempsey's grooming, I think of this:

Dempsey's colleagues, on the other hand, all look like show dogs, all the time. So for this graduation, we decided to hire Jazz's groomer, who did a fabulous! job. He looks like he's ready for Westminster.

We're so proud of how he looks, we took him on some extra field trips today, just so we could show him off. And though we usually restrict how many people he can greet, we said yes to a lot of people today. (Beverly, Margaret, and Nancy: Hope to see you tomorrow at graduation! And Margaret, you have got to look into becoming a foster.)

We're hoping all the compliments don't go to Dempsey's head, but it might be too late.

A godly dog

Dempsey wishes everyone a happy (belated) Easter! This year, we thought of taking Dempsey to a sunrise service, but like every other Easter, we ended up sleeping in.

This is not to say that we've been neglecting Dempsey's religious education. Over the past year, we've taken him to a Catholic church, a Lutheran church, a Baptist church, a Methodist church, and a Mega Church. That's right: we're raising him Unitarian.

All kidding aside, there's a serious purpose. Since we don't know who Dempsey's going to pick to be his new partner, we're trying to expose him to all sorts of different rituals, so he's not startled or surprised by anything, and so he'll just lie quietly in the pews during the service. We want him to be an idle worshipper.

Now, I know you might be concerned about this. Dempsey is very friendly and playful, and I've seen him give play bows to a cat, a lamb, a coyote, and a white-tailed deer. If he ever saw a golden calf, I think there's a good chance he would bow before that, too.

Luckily for Dempsey, all dogs go to heaven. Especially service dogs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fowl weather

Now that winter is finally over, Dempsey has been enjoying the fowl weather: warm(er) temperatures and bare trees where you can easily see bird nests.

Bird week started when one morning when I went to get the paper and spotted some wild turkeys wandering down our street, only a couple miles from downtown Minneapolis. Dempsey looked out the storm door, but he didn't seem to notice them. Having once had a scary run-in with angry birds while kayaking near some swan nests, I was pretty happy with Dempsey's blasé reaction.

We continued bird week with a trip to North Mississippi Regional Park. Doreen and I brought the binoculars and spent some time looking at the blue heron rookery, while Dempsey practiced his long drop-stays.

We also took another drip downriver to look for bald eagles, and we found a nest near Lake Rebecca in Hastings. Since I forgot to bring the camera, I used afocal projection with the 20x80 to get an EFL of 2,000mm. In less highfalutin terms, I help my camera-phone up to the binoculars and hoped for the best.

I don't think National Geographic will be calling me anytime soon.

(Where's Waldo? Believe it or not, there's a bald eagle in the nest if you look hard enough.)

On the bright side, Dempsey is doing much better at not pulling on his leash when he sees birds or squirrels. That's because we've been working pretty hard on that.

What we haven't been working on, however, is not pulling on the leash when a plastic grocery bag blows by. Just when you think you have him well trained, Dempsey will find something new that needs work.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The name game

Now that many of Dempsey's "Big Dogs" classmates are getting ready to graduate, we've started thinking ahead to Dempsey's own graduation.

It's hard to imagine life without a dog, now that we've seen what a joy it is to have Dempsey around. So instead of picturing a dog-less, joy-less house, I've been imagining what it would be like to have a new Helping Paws puppy to train.

The first thought, of course, would be what to name him. I think new puppy's name should represent all the qualities that we've seen in service dogs (and service puppies in training). We haven't picked a name yet, but here are some ideas.

Einstein: Because he will be a genius; also, so if he tracks paw prints on the newly mopped floor, we won't sound so sarcastic when we tell him, "Way to go, Einstein."

Because he will be a big help around the house, and so we can blame him by saying he did it: Butler.

Because he will be smart, good-looking, athletic, and well-bred: Winklevoss.

Because he will actually have one: T-Paw.

Because he could grow up to be the President's dog, or at least the Vice President's: Bo Biden.

Because he will be loyal, trustworthy, helpful, and similarly colored: Smithers.

Because he will love to hunt rabbits, though he will never actually catch one: Fudd.
Because he will be a Golden Retriever: Harry.

Winklevoss or Fudd. Hmm. This is going to require some more thought.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Le manège enchanté

As part of Dempsey's homework, we've been asked to expose him to some novel visual movements. It's been a bit of a challenge, since it feels sometimes like we've already taken him everywhere. But a couple of weeks ago, we discovered a carousel at Maplewood Mall.

Finding a carousel in an unexpected place reminded me a little bit of Paris, where carousels seem to pop up for a few weeks everywhere. Discovering a carousel with Dempsey reminded me of Paris in another way: Un film we saw there starring a badly drawn dog, a scarf-wearing snail, and a magic merry-go-round: Pollux: Le manège enchanté.

Dempsey was a very good boy by the carousel. As we expected of him, he wasn't afraid when it started moving, and he ignored the little girl who squealed and blew kisses at him every time she rode by. It's a real pleasure having such a well-behaved dog, but sometimes I miss puppy Dempsey, and how he was so curious about everything.

Friday, April 1, 2011

X lax

This year for Dempsey's anniversary, we decided to expose him to some "X lax": Professional lacrosse at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul.

The Minneapolis Swarm (whose owner, BTW, owns a Golden retriever!) invited Helping Paws to see the first televised Swarm game, against the Buffalo Bandits. A big thank you to the Swarm for this wonderful socialization opportunity!

I've seen a couple of Division I lacrosse games, and what I remembered most vividly was seeing preppies from Ivy League schools on the field, slashing and checking each other with wild abandon. Because Dempsey doesn't like violence, I was a little worried he might be upset with all the action.

He wasn't. He was totally focused on me, not paying any attention to the players, or to the balls flying around.

In fact, all the Helping Paws dogs were good little canine citizens. I thought with all the cheering and excitement, someone would get overexcited, but everybody was perfectly behaved for the whole game.

Here's a picture of Dempsey doing a nice drop-stay with three of his siblings. From top to bottom, Nala, Sawyer, Benny, and Dempsey:

Like his dad, Dempsey thinks cheerleaders are much more interesting than the players.

Unlike his dad, Dempsey is quite successful at attracting attention from cheerleaders.

Despite being overshadowed by Dempsey -- a pretty common occurrence, really -- we had a blast! Thanks again to the Minnesota Swarm for a fun afternoon!

A tail of two cities

Someone once described to me the difference between Minneapolis and St Paul, the twin cities on opposite sides of the Mississippi River, as the difference between the last city in the east (St Paul) and the first city in the west (Minneapolis).

It's not quite accurate -- I would argue that Atlanta is further "west" than San Francisco -- but it does capture the different vibe in each city.

As part of Dempsey's continuing architecture tour, we've taken him to two city symbols: The St Paul central library and the Minneapolis central library.

The St Paul library is a Renaissance revival building designed by Electus Litchfield. You can guess, since parents don't name their kids "Electus" anymore, that it's an older building -- and it is, built in 1917. It's an old building, designed to look even older.

The Minneapolis library, in contrast, is much newer, built in 2006 by "starchitect" Cesar Pelli. Where St Paul's library looks back, the Minneapolis library is decidedly modern, all steel and glass, with "green" features like a rooftop garden.

In the Twin Cities, most people are either Minneapolis people or St Paul people, rarely venturing to the other city. Dempsey, however, is truly a tail of two cities, a cosmopolitan little dog who's equally comfortable in either town.

We thought Dempsey might be afraid of the creaky old elevator at the St Paul Library, or the high walkways with glass windows in the Minneapolis Library, but he was perfectly fine with both. Such a brave little boy!