Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dog Friendly

My fabulous weekend at the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina proved that I really can find a "dog friendly" town. Three of my dearest friends and I spent four days charmed by this smokey mountain city. As one might suspect, friends of mine are usually animal lovers, and we were all particularly excited to see the number of dog lovers milling about everywhere we looked. Even on the Biltmore Estate grounds people were walking all variety of dogs through the gardens to enjoy the festival of flowers.

Apparently, one living in the area can purchase an annual pass for only slightly more than the day pass most visitors buy. Any and every pass holder is free to walk their dogs about on a leash, although I doubt they are allowed in the estate house itself. For the really adventurous annual pass holders, one can even bring their horse in to ride the trails. I live too many hours away to take advantage of this, but I would certainly be a regular dog walker there if I could.

The Biltmore isn't the only dog friendly establishment in town. Dogs were abundant everywhere, and many of the area hotels, even the nicer ones, advertised allowing pets. In the downtown area, people were out walking dogs all around the city. Dogs were in the stores shopping or hanging out with their companion shop keepers. They were in the cafe outdoor areas enjoying tea and crumpets. One was even sunning himself in a local shop window display. Nowhere did I see a muzzle, nor did I find people cringing when a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd walked by. There was none of the seeming reticence about certain breeds, and one's best friend seems free to accompany them out most everywhere for an afternoon on the town. It was everything I expected from my visit to Paris, but didn't get.

I have said for many years, particularly in times when politics in this country were not going my way (like the dark days we have recently, and finally, moved beyond), that some day I was going to move to Paris. Last May, not having been to that city, I decided it was time to be prepared for the worst the following November. Plus, I wanted to be sure Paris lived up to my romantic ideal. Well, let me tell you, it's a lovely city, and contrary to their undeserved reputation in our country, the people were also lovely. At first, I was sure it was the city for me. The art, the architecture, the night life, the culture, all things were fabulous, and I was so ready to pack my bags until...I saw a man walking a very timid Rottweiler with a muzzle. The dog was panting and seemed uncomfortable in the humidity, and I couldn't understand why this sweet thing needed to be subjected to a caged mouth. My friend Leon explained in his very French accent, not knowing the can of worms he was about to open, that "Rottweilers are dangerous, and it is law that they must be muzzled if they are taken out in the public." I'm sure his ears rang for several hours after. He knows me well, and still speaks to me regardless of my response that day.

Rottweilers, yes, have the potential to be dangerous. So too does every single dog breed of every single size and shape. And, if one wants to talk about the danger factor, I will take a dog of any size over a cat any day of the week. I've said it before, folks, and I'll say it again, animals of every kind have individuality, for which I have coined the term "animality". Just like humans, each individual has the potential to be dangerous. Often, in the case of animals, it is the humans and their abuse or neglect that create the danger.

My first Rottweiler, Isabeau, was heavily abused by a drunk man for the first six weeks of her life. This was before I rescued her. She was horribly afraid of strange men, particularly if they were in their cups. A professional dog trainer and friend taught me to work with her so she would not snap, snarl, or growl at every man she met. Through positive reinforcement training, she became able to socialize in public, although being a smart dog owner, I was always mindful to keep her under control and away from parties and drinking. She was not, however, a fear biter as one would suspect, and she never needed to be muzzled, not even with her male vet during painful procedures due to cancer.

My current Rottweiler, Mercy, will help you carry out the television if only you offer her a cookie. Good thing I don't publish my address here, I guess. Be warned, however, that my dingo dog (below), a little thirty pound mutt, will be glad to chew off your right leg and your face and feed them to you, should you care to try it. My mother's Shih Tzu will be there to help clean off your bones, as well. He does a mean imitation of a dobie.

If I had to choose which dog to muzzle in public, it certainly would not be my sweet Mercy. Yet, when people see us out, they make a beeline for the cute little dogs and cringe away from the loving bigger one. For me, this isn't any different than any other form of prejudice. You cannot, and should never judge others, be it by race or species, simply by their outer appearances. In the case of animals, I suggest you might want to take another look here at my previous blog, The Danger Disconnect. A chimp looks mighty cute and cuddly, particularly when it grins at you, but you are a foolish person to approach one, especially if it's smiling.

Having the good fortune to have worked as a veterinary technician back in my younger days, before one had to be certified to do so, my co-workers and I quickly learned which animals were most likely to bite when handled. The worst of all were not even dogs or cats, but our clients feathered friends, particularly the parrots. I've seen them flay the skin open to the bone. This particular gentleman carried his macaw around an Asheville music festival all day, where perfect strangers were perfectly willing to hand it food. If you ask me, they are lucky they walked away with their fingers. If I were one to judge simply on a breed, I might be willing to suggest a muzzle for all Macaws.

But, let's keep it among the dogs for a moment. My fellow vet techs were known to come near blows over whose turn it was to handle to next Chihuahua that came into our clinic. We were perfectly happy to help restrain the larger breeds of dogs. After more than twenty years of zoo, vet medicine, pet sitting, and animal rescue work, I have only ever been bitten by numerous species of birds, several nasty little Chihuahuas, and a half drugged out Cocker Spaniel, who woke up during surgery. So, where does one get off saying that a certain breed is more dangerous and needs to be muzzled?

Enough has been said about a certain sports jerk who got caught dog fighting. Since any press is supposed to be good press, I will not even use that _____'s name(insert really nasty word of your choice here). Yet, most of his confiscated Pit Bulls have been rehabilitated, even after all of the horrible abuse they lived through at the dog fights. We watched the documentaries on television and saw them being trained to get over their fears. Most have been placed in loving homes, some even with children and other pets. Unfortunately, many of those families will certainly now have trouble renting a new home or finding insurance to cover them simply because they chose to do a good deed and give a home to an abused dog.

It is not now, nor will it ever be, simply a matter of the breed or the size of the animal that makes it dangerous. Every animal has this potential. A mouse can deliver death in one bite because of its ability to transmit disease. Perhaps we should make a law that all mice must be muzzled in the city, and if one chooses to keep these dangerous creatures as pets, one should certainly NOT be allowed to rent a home nor purchase insurance!
I hope this never happens again, but, if I ever find myself disgusted with my country in the future, I will not be moving to Paris, nor, I am sad to say, anywhere in France for that matter, unless they rethink some animal laws. Instead, I'll be looking for a place more like Asheville, where I can take Mercy and Cinco for a stroll on the town without muzzles, where we can enjoy a latte at the corner and shop together to our heart's desires. No city will be perfect, but this should be close enough for us.

All pictures provided by Amanda C. Sandos.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lynchburg Pet Store Thinks Green

Diana Hobson is setting a green example for area business owners and customers alike. The owner of Pet Craze at Western Ways has chosen to think green in her new business endeavor on a number of levels including her buying practices, not only in the sale of environmentally friendly products, but also in the promotion of purchasing American and locally made products. She is also thinking green in her daily conservation practices like recycling, and through her advocacy of animal rescue over the sale of animals. Hobson is also the owner of the well-known Western Ways, which has been in business for thirty-five years, and remains the only specialized horse and tack store in the area.

When Western Ways began to bulge at the framing, and since Hobson didn’t own the building in order to enlarge it, she was forced to relocate it to a bigger red barn built around the corner. Rather than abandoning the original location, which in this economy might have left the empty building to sit for an unknown period of time, she opted to follow her interest in the proper care and nutrition of dogs. So, she created Pet Craze at Western Ways, a new specialty pet store and do-it-yourself dog wash in the old Western Ways barn. One might think all of this does not sound very green, but just wait until you dig beneath the surface.

With the help of a couple of long-time friends, Kathy Malloy and Lisa Boedaphur, the store underwent a few very small renovations, some even built with the help of friends and family. These included the addition of three stainless steel washing stations with easy access doors and ramps and three grooming stations with easy access steps. Pet Craze at Western Ways was open for business after only a few short months.

But, what is really great is all the ways Hobson has been thinking green in this new endeavor. For instance, she opted to install a tankless water heater with temperature regulators to conserve water and energy use in the tubs. She also installed lower energy blow driers for the dogs. Plus, the store provides micro-fiber super absorbent towels to cut blow drier time and natural shampoos that are environmentally safe. And, if you’re worried about all that laundry, not only do the micro-fiber towels cut the overall volume of laundry, but the store uses a load-sensitive, energy efficient washer and drier, as well.

Owners who take their pets to the groomers or even those who wash them at home in a traditional tub can now do so affordably with much less stress on the back. Plus, they can do so knowing they are not just saving money but helping to conserve water and energy in the process. Hobson will also be the first to tell her customers that dogs don’t need to be bathed too often. For a healthy coat and skin, they need their body oils and over washing only serves to dry their skin and waste time and valuable resources. Washing the dog once every few months is usually more than sufficient.

In addition to her new green dog wash, Hobson is taking proper dog and cat nutrition very seriously. In preparation for opening the new store, she attended conferences and took animal nutrition classes in order to make informed choices on what lines of high quality foods she should promote in her store. After careful deliberation, she has chosen some well-known and highly recommended brands like Wellness, Canidae, and Innova, along with some newer brands like the holistic line called Halo and the brand my own dog is raving about called Into the Wild. She offers some grain-free varieties for food allergy animals along with other organic foods and snacks for dogs and cats, as well. She even plans to keep one or two lines of fresh food in the store as soon as she has chosen the best products and the energy efficient freezer she’ll need to store them in. When it comes to nutrition, Hobson is making sure her store is stocked with the best brands America has to offer and employing a staff, including people like myself with over twenty years of animal care experience, that is knowledgeable and ready to assist the customers.

One of the things which impressed me the most about Hobson, and the biggest reason I accepted her offer to help out with this new project, is her insistence on promoting the best animal care practices. Rather than making a killing (often in more ways than one) selling animals like so many other pet stores, she will instead be promoting local animal rescue organizations. She has designated a blackboard area in the store for these organizations to advertise the animals they are currently trying to place, and Hobson plans to allow them to schedule weekend fundraisers and rescue fairs at the store. A donation box for the Humane Society was already in place for last Friday’s soft opening. Every person who asks about purchasing animals will be encouraged to consider rescuing a pet instead.

Even better for this former zookeeper, Hobson is not fond of the idea of promoting caged animals, and although she wouldn’t dream of begrudging others their own pet choices, she has made the personal choice to specialize only in the sale of items for dogs and cats, along with and a few things for the wild backyard variety of bird and affordable animal related gifts for the humans in the household.

Another thing that impressed me is her reluctance to purchase too many needless items for the store. Rather than making sure every shelf is bulging with all kinds of low quality junk from unknown locations around the world, Hobson has tried to buy mostly useful items made in the United States. Not only is she buying as many American Made products as she can, she will also be providing products made by several local artists and small businesses. In addition, she has no problems leaving a few shelves empty for the time being until she is sure she has purchased quality items that her customers will really use.

Indeed, there will be some items of the frivolous nature for the pampered pet and their owners, but I am confident Hobson will refrain from overindulging in this kind of thing. Since my first day working with her when she spent hours looking for and finally choosing the best, most affordable, and environmentally safe shampoo products she could find, I quickly realized that wasteful living and buying practices just don’t seem to be in her make-up.

Having grown up on a farm, Hobson is a lover of nature and no stranger to green living practices. She claims her long-time staff at Western Ways has grown weary of her nagging when it comes to things like recycling and reducing the amount of paper they use. Because Lynchburg does not yet offer recycling pick-up services, she can often be seen loading her own van with cardboard, paper, and plastic items to take to the nearest recycling center. Everyone in her employ is expected to help keep paper use to a minimum and to look for ways they too can help reduce, reuse, and recycle. It is not uncommon to find items made from recycled materials in the store, and she has even made sure to purchase and promote the use of pooper scoopers and biodegradable bags for disposing of the unwanted doggy trash.

So if you are a lover of dogs and cats, particularly if you are interested in green living, when your out running your errands come on by the new store in the little red barn on Route 221 in Lynchburg across from the Graves Mill Shopping Center. Feel free to bring your dog on a leash ( house rules) to check out the store and the baths in the new Pet Craze at Western Ways. Feel free to offer suggestions to the friendly staff about any items you would like to see on the shelves, particularly if they are of a green nature.

No dogs or squirrels were harmed in the making of these photos.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Believe me, I know how lucky I am. My mother and I are best friends. We always have been. I gave her a card this year that says "We are the best mother daughter duo in the world," and I think this really may be true. She always believes in me, even when I don't believe in myself. She is always there for me, too. Even though we live together again, we still enjoy each others company. We look forward to doing things together and rarely feel the need to avoid each other. For this, I am grateful every day. For all of you this mother's day, I wish for you a mother as fabulous as mine. May you also remember that you are lucky to have her. If you've lost her already,may the memories of all you shared be with you today and always and may they bring a smile and peace to your lives.

Today I took my mother to her favorite place, the Peaks of Otter Lodge for Mother's Day brunch. This is the view from our table.

She is always at work in her gardens. The same gardens that have been tended by generations of women in my family. For her and her love of flowers, I am posting some more pictures I have taken over the years in her garden. I hope you enjoy them.

Have a beautiful Mothers Day.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Earth Art by Amanda

Although I have shared photos, I have been remiss in sharing my paintings with you here at the old blog. Apart from the painting at the top of the page, I don't think I have posted any, so I'm going to sprinkle them into this post while I tell you about my latest adventures. The past few weeks have been crazy, now that I have actual paid writing assignments with the expected and dreaded deadlines, plus I continue to run a small pet sitting service, plus I took on a new part-time job helping someone else open a specialty pet shop in town (more on that once we are open for business). On top of all this, I am finally in the process of completing my application to graduate school.

The Zinnia Patch, 2008

College was wasted on me when I was young. I could not wait to get out into the real world, so I gave up a free ride to finish my BS at the age of twenty and took a zoo job in Dallas as quickly as I could. Now after years in the real world, I find I might want to stay in school for the remainder of my adult life. But seriously, I always regretted the decision to quit after only getting my associates, and so several years ago I made the difficult decision to leave my long-term zoo career and return to school. I completed my B.A. in 2008 in the midst of a huge controversy because the woman's college I chose to attend opted to go co-ed and did so with little grace and horrible communications with their student body, faculty, and staff. I ended up smack in the middle of sit-ins and demonstrations and everything college in the sixties seemed to be. Needless to say, I needed a break once I got the heck out of there, so I took a year off. But,the goal has always been to go all the way. I always wanted to be a doctor of something, although never one of the medical variety.

Emerald Boa, 2007

The biggest problem I ran across during my years as an undergraduate was this notion that we should choose one thing to specialize in, choose a major that would become our area of expertise. I've always been an eclectic sort with passions in a number of areas which generally all relate back either to the environment or to the arts or both. But, choosing one of these things over the others seemed impossible as each one compliments the other in the fragrant soup dish that is my life. I got around the notion of choosing a major by doubling up my work load and majoring both in English creative writing and studio art. My final senior project with both departments combined my love of writing, painting, photography, and the environment. My professors passed me, but I'm not sure they really believed I would continue to pursue all of these passions into my professional life. They often encouraged me to pay closer attention to one interest and decide how to pursue this one interest in my graduate work. The very idea made me crabby.

Crabbing, 2007

As usual, I rebelled against the voices of authority. In today's global and rapidly changing world, it seems people are not as interested in things that conform to strict guidelines of genre. Most consumers today are used to multi-tasking in multi-media, and they seem more interested in rapidly changing things that stimulate all their senses, hence the popularity of the computer, where blogging, gaming, and social media continue to grow. Already, with very little experience as a writer or an artist, I have been selling articles to magazines along with my own photography, and even one of the literary journals that will soon publish my poetry will also publish one of my photos to go along with one of the poems. Editors seem increasingly excited by someone who can produce both written and visual work. So, it seems to me that my graduate work should still incorporate both the visual arts and the written word. I want to continue to search out new combined ways to show the concept of deep ecology, the interconnectedness and equal importance of all things on our planet, through my work.

Mercy, 2007

After researching programs all over the country, I was starting to think there was no hope for these eclectic dreams. I thought I might have to conform to the academic world's old school methods, and I was not happy about it. Then, a friend pointed out Goddard College. This low residency graduate program offers an MFA in interdisciplinary arts and/or an MA with an independant study which can include a concentration in environmental studies. It's like they came up with this whole school just for me. So, I am once again wading in the waters of the paperwork swamp, while I also gear up to swim the crashing waves of financial aide tsunamis. Cross your fingers that I make it out alive. When and if my acceptance letter arrives, I'll surely be crowing about it.

As the Crow Cries, 2008

One more quick thing before I go. For those who were interested in the results of Disney's tree planting initiative which coincided with the opening of the movie Earth, go here to read the press release.