My First Aussie, Sydney

My First Aussie, Sydney

After saying goodbye to Gretchel, our White Shepherd, my husband and I chose our first eight-week-old, red-merle, Australian shepherd, and gave him a unique name, Sydney! We had been told Aussies could learn words like a two or three-year-old child. Since I was teaching special needs children, I had to give it a try.

We spoke to him, using one or two words at first. I named his toys and when he knew the word ball, he also distinguished the difference between a ball or a football. After doing research to see if dogs saw colors, I taught him the names of colors. He recognized shades of blue, light yellow, darker yellow (sort of brown), and very dark gray.
Sydney craved learning new things. My husband and I started spelling words, thinking he’d not understand. But he listened to us spell and picked up on the meaning by our actions. His favorites were: BED! GO! CAR! TRIP! WALK!

He was a red, brown, and white bundle of energy, and needed to be kept active, mentally and physically. His instinct of herding became a problem when our petite, three-year-old niece visited. She could not walk down the hall. She ran. Her rapid movements made Sydney want to nip her ankles. We kept him on leash when she visited, until she grew larger and he matured.

Every year we traveled to Edisto Beach with our best friends and spent long, delightful weekends in an old house, overlooking the ocean. Digging in the sand, chasing seagulls, and biting the waves kept Syd busy. Unfortunately, he learned the hard way not to drink the salt water. A tablespoon of pumpkin everyday helped the bad effect of the ocean water.

My husband and I fell in love with the high maintenance of an Aussie personality, and have had three other Aussies. After Sydney’s death, I wanted to keep his memory alive and he became my main character on Edisto’s setting in Seven Days to Goodbye. I had as much trouble writing the last chapters as the readers who were affected.

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A Virtual Zoo — All in One Book

by Barb Goffman

It’s July, the perfect time for a beach read. You know, a book that’s fun and not too dark. Something you can read on the sand in between naps. And what could be better for the beach than a book of mystery short stories? Especially one filled with animals–perfect for the fun factor.

I’ve talked briefly before about Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies, which was published this spring by Wildside Press. But you haven’t had a chance to meet the stars of this book. So without further ado, I present both the fur and the feathers. In this book you’ll find stories with all of these animals. I hope you’ll check it out:

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Making It All Work…Or…How Time Management Makes Me Nuts!

I like to plan.  I really like it.  I use markers and colored pens.  I allot my time judiciously.  I build in time-buffers to make sure I get my stuff done.

Then, life happens.

It’s been crazy busy around Chez Adams.  We’ve got a high school graduate for the first time.  Eldest Son (pictured on here with his bestie) graduated on June 1.  Before that, it was the baseball championships which they won for the fifth time in a row – WCAC Champs, baby!! – and then there were the after parties, proms, graduation parties, etc. etc. etc.

In the middle of all this, I’m on deadline.

I didn’t plan it this way.  Ohhhhh no.

I planned my spring schedule to the letter.  I took a HUGE trip – England and Scotland!  WOOT!  I planned that around baseball and graduation.  Books to write and get out.  Promotion to do, events to plan around.  Yeah….

With all that, I needed to have the novella that’s due, done by May 1 so I’d be able to relax before graduation – take my time, and have plenty of editing and cogitation time left over before turning it in!

Did that happen?  Of course not.

What the hell was I thinking?  I never have the time I THINK I’m going to have.  While I admit that I occasionally over estimate what I can do in the amount of time I have, it isn’t because I cannot DO the work.

It took me a while to realize why I wasn’t getting stuff done.  I can do what I need to do in the amount of time I allot.

I so totally could….

The problem is that I cannot plan for just MY time.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but sometimes kids and dogs and life really muck up a writing schedule!  This spring at my house would have mucked up ANY full time job, much less a creative one.

Somehow, even when I add in time for the unexpected, the unexpected manages to take up way more time than I thought it would!  Ha!

That said, even when I’m behind, and thinking, “where did I screw this up?” I still have to factor in time away from writing to just breathe.

If I try to cut out the important “extras” I put on the schedule, I get in trouble.

I have to read.  I have to walk the dogs – that way I don’t gain ten pounds for every book and novella I write! – and I have to smell the flowers.

Why?  If I don’t put in time for this – actually schedule it in with my colored markers – it doesn’t happen.  Then I stop being as creative as I need to be because I’m not “refilling the well” of my soul.

This spring, another issue came into play.

I didn’t realize that I would have to add in time for what I’ve come to call the “depression factor” of the daily news cycle.  (No political discussions or comments, please!)

However you feel about it, the world’s in flux and it’s challenging to stay creative while you’re living it.  That means I need MORE time refilling the well than usual.  More flowers.  More dog-time. More family time.  More baseball with the boys.

Staying positive is challenging. So I have to find coping mechanisms so I can do the work, and do it well.  Hence, the flowers, dogs, and baseball!

I also read, a LOT!  I read my fellow Pens, Paws and Claws authors.  I read my Romance Bandit pals – Kate Carlisle, Nancy Northcott, Anna Campbell, and others have new releases this spring to my great delight!  I find new authors.  I wait with bated breath for the next Nalini Singh and Ilona Andrews novels.  Grins.  Ellery Adams needs to put a new one out soon, as does Sophie Kelly!  Ha!

I dive into their worlds, escape into the lives of the characters they’ve created and live those lives and feel those feelings as a break from my own world.  It’s what we all love about reading, right?

Then, thankfully refreshed, I can go back to creating my own worlds and people and move their stories forward.

In amongst all that, I have to look forward to what I’m doing, promo wise.  I’m going to be at DragonCon in Atlanta over Labor Day.  Gotta prep for that!  And hey, Coastal Magic in February!  I hope y’all will come visit me there for the booksigning!

How can I be planning for 2019 already?  Yikes!

It’s crazy!  Wow!  Then again, while I want to control my time more, I also know that I won’t have my boys at home for long.  Got one going to college in the fall.  The other will head to high school in another year.

There will be lots of time at some point and I’ll miss them.

Until then, it’s a strategic puzzle as to how to make it all work!  Ha!

Are you crazy busy this year? 

What are your relief valves from all the insanity of jobs, and family, schedules and work, crises and news cycles?

Since you’re following and author blog, I presume you read (yay!), and maybe have a few fur-babies to help cut the stress, does walking the dog, or playing with the cat or horse or snake work for you?

Do you have some authors whose books you’re looking forward to?  Who’s on your auto-buy list?

What else do you do?  Crafts?  Golf?  Sports? Travel?

Give me some pointers, y’all!

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Tales with Tails … (and some without!)

by Barb Goffman

Jingle doing time! (This is my dog the day I adopted him from a shelter.)

It started with an idea: Everyone loves animals. They’re cute. They’re furry. They’re begging to be written about.

Next came a call for stories for the eighth volume of the Chesapeake Crimes short-story series. It said in part:

“We want animals. More than six out of every ten homes in the United States has a pet. Be they dogs, cats, birds, pigs, or lions or tigers or bears—or even snakes­—people love animals. They love playing with them and caring for them and, we’re happy to say, reading about them.

“That’s where you come in. We want crime/mystery short stories involving animals. The animal could be the sleuth or the sleuth’s sidekick or merely a part of the plot. We could hear the animal talk or think or do neither. Any kind of crime/mystery story you can come up with that involves an animal, be it furry or feathered, warm- or cold-blooded, is good with us. So bring on your animal stories!”

The authors of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime did not disappoint.  To paraphrase McGruff, our authors took a bite out of crime! And now, finally, the book has been published. Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies offers mystery readers who love animals a bevy of options.

Like dogs? Then this book is for you. We have several stories involving dogs and crime. But we don’t stop with dogs. Oh no. We have stories with crows, cows, crickets, and cats; rabbits, ferrets, an octopus, and rats. And fish. Mustn’t forget the fish.

Like police procedurals? We have three of them. How about historicals? We have a trio of those too. One story will take you back to nineteenth-century England, another to 1930s Hollywood, and the third to 1950s Pennsylvania. If you like amateur sleuths, you’re in luck. We’ve got some of those. Like dark stories? We’ve got ’em. Stories from the animals point of view? We’ve got those too. Funny stories? Check. Paranormal? Check. Stories where animals save the day? Check. Check. Check.

Basically, if you’re a regular reader of this blog and you enjoy mystery short stories, then this book is made for you. We hope you’ll check it out. You can buy it in trade paperback or in e-book format.

The authors with stories in the book are: Karen Cantwell, Carla Coupe, Barb Goffman (yes, that’s me!), Eleanor Cawood Jones, Linda Lombardi, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, Shari Randall, KM Rockwood, Joanna Campbell Slan, Marianne Wilski Strong, Robin Templeton, and Cathy Wiley. The book was edited by Donna Andrews, Marcia Talley, and me. The stories were chosen by Brendan DuBois, Mary Jane Maffini, and Leigh Perry (Toni L.P. Kelner). And the book was published by Wildside Press.

If you’ll be attending the Malice Domestic convention next weekend, stop by the Wildside Press table in the book room at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Nearly all the authors with stories in the book will be there for a mass signing. And if you’re in the Washington, DC, area on Sunday, May 20th, we hope you’ll come to our official launch party at the Central Library in Arlington from 2-4 p.m.

In the meanwhile, happy reading. We hope you enjoy our tales with tails!

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First Puppy Love

Gretchel- Our first puppy

Many years ago, my family moved from Southern California to Atlanta, Georgia. It didn't take long before Charlie, a German shepherd, spent more time at our house than hers. I cared for children after school, and when David arrived home, he walked across the street with Charlie following. Curious why Charlie's ear bent at the half way point, I had asked. "What happened to Charlie's right ear?"

David lowered his head. "When I was a baby, Mom said I pulled on her ear and broke the cartilage."

Murphy fell in love with Charlie and when the neighbors moved away we kept her. Charlie attached herself to Murphy as he did yard chores. At age ten, she had cancer and we had to let her go. Murphy's despair was painful to watch.

The children lamented, "Dad needs another dog." We decided while he traveled for work, a new puppy would be a wonderful birthday surprise.

My six-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son were elated. We spent s few days scouring shelters, and breeders. I believed Murphy needed a dog that didn't remind him of Charlie. After reading an ad for White German shepherd pups, we headed there.

With the puppies' parents in the backyard, I learned about their easy- going personalities. My children had wandered over to the crates and called to me. "Mom, this one. This one."
One eight-week-old shepherd pup with a bent ear stared at us. She was adorable, and we didn't hesitate to choose her. This pup had so many fleas, she could have been part Dalmatian. She couldn't be bathed with flea soap at her young age, and I hoped water would wash them away.

Driving home, we played with names. We were new to the south, and I came up with a perfect southern name. "This pup was born in May, and she is a SHE." I asked my children, "What do you think about naming her Shelia May?"

The laughter started first, and then moans and groans came louder. "No way, Mom. That's awful." The children decided Dad needed to name her.

We had two days before Dad arrived home. I pulled out a porta crib from the attic and wound a sheet through the slants. The puppy took her paws and shoved them down and squished her tiny body through the small openings.

If she was left alone for any time, she'd do all her business on the carpet. I slept downstairs in our finished basement to keep her company and wondered if I had made a huge mistake. My kids were independent, and now I had a new baby.

The afternoon Murphy arrived home, the children made him sit upstairs on the couch and close his eyes. He asked all kinds of questions.

Their excitement spilled out. "We have a birthday present for you."

I carried the pup upstairs and plopped her on Murphy's lap. The second she sat on his lap, a scratchy, wet tongue slid across his cheek and nose. His eyes popped open, and to say the least, he was surprised.

Now it was time to name her. My sweet children had a great laugh with my choice of name.

Murphy stared at me and chuckled. When he caught his breath, he started suggesting German names. Gretel or Gretchen. Our young daughter mixed the two names, and it was so cute we named our pup, Gretchel.

Over time, Gretchel became the children's dog. Murphy had built a fort in the backyard and the neighbor boys played there. Gretchel climbed the wooden ladder to be in the middle of all the fun.

Our daughter, who wanted to ride horses, trained Gretchel to jump over bushes, and to follow her many other commands.

As we walked around the neighborhood, Gretchel would fill her mouth with small rocks one at a time. She'd tilt her head sideways to adjust the rocks. When she had no room for one more rock, she'd spit them on the street and rearrange them one at a time. And sure enough, she'd get one more in her mouth.

She became a water dog as we water-skied every weekend. At first, she was small enough to sleep under the dashboard. As she grew, she'd leap into the lake with the children and could climb the ladder to get into the boat. She enjoyed camping with us and would stand guard the bathroom, waiting for her best friends to reappear.

Gretchel was our first chosen puppy. When she died at eleven-years-old, she left a huge hole in our hearts. We didn't wait too long before we filled our gap and chose our first Australian Shepherd.
And that will be another story!

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The Dogs in My Life Part III: Ranger

By Judy Penz Sheluk

Ranger with Judy, fishing in Collingwood

In my previous posts, I shared stories of my first dog, Sandy, and my second dog, Einstein. Neither of those stories had a happy ending, though they did come with a message, and hopefully, a lesson that can be shared.

You might think that after our heartache with Einstein that my husband, Mike, and I would find another breed. But we both love Golden Retrievers, and so this time we were determined to do things differently. We were going to do our research.

This was in November 1992, long before the Internet and Google, so we bought books, read lots, and went to dog shows. It was at one of those shows that we met Liz and Bruce Russell, owners of Gowrielea Goldens. As luck would have it, a litter was due in January 1993. We went to the premises, where we were able to meet the mother, as well as several other Gowrielea Goldens. We’d found our breeder.

Gowreilea’s Forest Ranger was born on January 23, 1993. Every Sunday for the next seven weeks, we went to the Russell’s to watch Ranger and his siblings grow. Week eight, Ranger came home with us, pretty much house trained.

Obedience school followed, and Ranger thrived on learning his commands. He was a gentle, bright boy who loved his soft toys and could be trusted alone in the house (though he did like to sleep in his crate with the door open).  In fact, his only real fault was a propensity to pull on his leash (not sure if there were gentle leaders and harnesses then, if there were, we weren’t aware of them). He also had “selective” hearing when off leash, but only if water was nearby. That dog loved to swim.

For more than nine years, Ranger was a terrific dog and wonderful companion.  He particularly loved a cottage Mike and I rented every October in Collingwood, right on Georgian Bay. It was while we were vacationing there in 2002 that we realized something was very wrong. We cut our vacation short and took Ranger to our vet, only to discover he had a large, inoperable tumor. He died in November, in our arms, in his own home, just two months shy of his tenth birthday. At the time, Mike and I truly believed we’d never have room in our hearts for another dog, let alone another Golden Retriever.

Then we met Copper. Stay tuned for Part IV!

In non-dog related news, my most recent audiobook, LIVE FREE OR TRI, is now available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. And yes, one of the short stories take place in Collingwood!

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The Care and Feeding of the Small Evil One

Pens, Paws, & Claws is happy to welcome Donna Andrews, author of the multiple award-winning Meg Langslow mystery series. She’s sharing about a fictional dog you may recognize.

The Care and Feeding of the Small Evil One

by Donna Andrews

Somewhere in my files I probably still have a set of instructions with that title. It dates from one of the times when I was taking care of the real-life Spike, who served as model for the feisty canine in my Meg Langslow series. One of these days I should try to find it, so I can prove that I’m not maligning the original Spike—just giving him the title his doting owners bestowed on him.

Spike was a stray when my friends Tracey and Bill adopted him. He wasn’t fond of men other than Bill, and his pathological hatred of umbrellas and brooms and rakes clued us in to the fact that he had probably been abused. We never knew exactly what mix of breeds he was—our best guess: part chihuahua, part something else not a lot bigger.

When I started writing Murder with Peacocks, I based a character on him. I changed his name, and replaced his sleek honey-colored coat with long hair. Tracey and Bill still recognized him. So when he died—at what was, as far as they knew, a fairly ripe old age—shortly before I turned my book in, I offered to change the name of my fictional dog to Spike. Heck, it was a better name anyway.

They gave copies of that book to everyone he ever bit—which meant most of their friends and relatives. Had Spike lived another year or two, I could have been a New York Times bestseller solely on the strength of the many books I inscribed to his former victims.

I took a poll once to see which of my characters—other than my heroine—were my readers’ favorites. I wasn’t surprised to find that Spike placed high up in the list—right behind Meg’s dad, if my memory serves, and slightly ahead of her grandfather.

I’m grateful that readers rarely ask that awkward question: isn’t Spike getting a little long in the tooth by now? If I were writing stark realism, I’d say yes. He was middle aged and cranky when it began, and the series has now been running for nearly twenty years. If I’d known it would run this long, I’d have made him a puppy to start with.

But it’s my fictional world. Meg’s children have grown from babies to preteens, and Meg and Michael might eventually develop a few gray hairs. But sorry, fans of extreme realism. I’m never going to inflict an Old Yeller scene on my readers. Spike may grow old and crankier—if that’s possible—but I’m not killing him off.

I’m open to knocking off a few humans, though. Any suggestions?

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A Calico named Shammy

April 23, 1991 was a very good day. It was the day that Glen and I adopted Shamrock Leah King, a gorgeous long-haired calico, affectionately known as “Shammy.”

We first saw Shammy the day before at the Holiday Humane Society in North Hollywood, California. The shelter required a waiting period of 24 hours before letting us take her home.  When she walked us to the door—no other cat did—we knew that we’d been picked!

At home, Shammy was sweet but timid, with self-esteem issues and a fear of men, including Glen. She came to adore him and became more comfortable with other men. But while her confidence grew, a touch of melancholy stayed with her.

When Glen and I moved from Los Angeles to Virginia in 1996, Shammy accompanied me on the plane. Thankfully it wasn’t full so she didn’t need to stay under the seat in the small carrier the airline required. She was not happy and the tranquilizer the vet had prescribed didn’t seem to take. But she endured the ordeal with her customary dignity. In fact, she fared better than I did!

Eventually Shammy fell prey to that common and dreaded feline condition: kidney disease. By the time she died at home one March morning in 2002, she had lived with us for eleven years. She had always preferred cuddling to lap sitting, but during her last months, she sought comfort in our laps.

We buried her in the backyard of our home in Earlysville, Virginia. I cried for days.

When the Albemarle County SCPA built a new facility, we purchased a brick and dedicated it to our special friend. When we visited the SPCA this past September, we looked for, and eventually spotted, the brick (there were lots of them).

Shammy also lives on in my Hazel Rose Book Group series. Hazel’s backstory reveals that her beautiful calico cat named Shammy accompanied her when she moved from Los Angeles to the east coast and settled in Richmond, Virginia.

Sound familiar?

 

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Our Jake

Years ago, my husband, Murphy, and I enjoyed an unusual, heavy snow storm during the middle of January in Greenville, South Carolina.  Our six-month-old, red-haired, Australian shepherd, Sydney, raced around, his little legs sinking into the fluffy, white stuff.

Murphy had pulled a plastic, red sled to our hilly street. Sydney refused to sit on my lap. Instead, he herded the sled, yipping, as I slid down the mounds.

Ready to go again, a Black lab pup raced from the woods and plopped himself on my lap. His brown eyes stared into mine.  Startled and confused, I glanced around, looking for his owners.

Syd woofed. “Get lost. These are my people.”

The Lab ignored Sydney. I put one arm around the Lab’s chest and down we went. His ears lifted in the wind as we raced down the slope. After a few minutes, Sydney played with the newcomer. We romped until my fingers and toes froze.

“Time to go home, little guy,” He cocked his head. “You’ve got to be hungry and cold.” He sat, staring, his tail whipping the snow. I turned to Murphy. “He has to be a neighbor’s dog!”  After a few steps, I twisted around. “Oh, dear. He’s following.”

In the garage, I noticed his thin body. “He’s mustn’t be a neighbor’s dog. I wonder how long he’s been loose?”                 

Murphy ran his hands over body. “Look. He’s been hurt. And he never showed any signs of being injured. I’ll dry him, while you grab some blankets.”

In the garage, he ate small amounts of boiled rice with chicken broth and small chunks of chicken over a period of time. Murphy cleaned his wounds. We made a cozy place for him to sleep and named him, Jake.

Since our city had no snow equipment, we waited three days for the snow to melt before Jake could get medical attention. I had left messages with the local vets, animal shelters, and the newspaper, giving them our phone number. Jake’s low-key personality differed from our active, noisy Aussie. They became best friends, never leaving each other’s side.

At the Veterinarian’s office, Dr. Hill, believed Jake had been attacked by a pack of dogs and guessed his age of around seven-months from his size and weight of forty-five pounds. We made-up a birthday, gave him a red collar with tags, and he became our first rescue dog.  Jake taught us about patience, resilience, and determination which we would refer to later as we rescued other dogs.

The following week Jake returned for another appointment. One wound hadn’t healed and needed a stint. He had gained fifteen pounds! Every visit after that he’d gained weight. Dr. Hill laughed, saying, “He’ll plateau sometime!”

Jake settled in, and his real personality emerged. Since he had wandered into our neighborhood, we should have known he was a nomad.

One afternoon, the two dogs played outside. I watched from the front porch. Since we lived in the woods, I had made sure the dogs knew where we lived. They’d run up and down our long driveway. I’d call their names and they’d dash back.

But one time, I got no response.

I walked up the drive, thinking they had been distracted by a scent and needed a little prodding to return. But they were nowhere in sight. My heart fluttered. My stomach ached. I paced and grew hoarse calling. I entered the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac. Sydney had never been farther than the neighbor’s front yard across the street.

Thirty long, minutes later, the longest minutes of my lifetime, I saw a bedraggled, red-haired puppy limping from the woods.

Crying, I ran toward him and lifted my muddy fella into my arms. He burrowed his face into my shoulder.  I cried in his ear. “Oh, Sydney. Where’s Jakey?” His worried, golden-eyes stared into mine.

After a bath, I called the neighbors, leaving messages for those who weren’t home. Then I drove with Sydney, down a street behind our woods and up the first driveway I spotted. A woman gardening glanced at me. I stuck my head out the window. “Any chance you’ve seen a small, Black lab? We live right behind this area.”

She pushed her straw hat up and smiled. “Matter of fact, I have one on my back porch. Showed up a few minutes ago. He seems mighty friendly. Go on back and see if he’s yours.”

A head poked out between the wooden railings. It was a Black lab with a red collar. “Oh, Jakey. It’s you.” He pulled his head out and raced down the stairs.  I opened the car door, and he leaped in. Sydney barked and nosed him.

I thanked the neighbor and explained how Jake had found us three weeks earlier. I gave her my phone number, just in case he ever appeared in her yard, again.

After that scary incident, Murphy decided with eight acres of land, an electric fence might be the answer. We took one day, draping the wire around our property and sticking white flags in the ground. The flags marked the boundary, and as they approached closer, a chirping signal warned them to back-off.

Sydney learned after one crossing of the line and being zapped. But Jake took days and many zaps to be deterred. He never went any farther than the cul-de-sac and played with the other neighborhood dogs, and always came home for dinner.

He whined and barked, hating to cross the line. I’d pull him across, letting him get zapped, and telling him, “NO.  You must stay here!” He learned, but never one-hundred-percent!

While Murphy and I were at work or on an outing, Jake stayed in our yard, and got bored. Being very much a mischievous puppy, he uprooted entire azalea plants, leaving gaping holes in the ground.  He chewed the branches off the trees as high as his body could reach. One tree trunk had a hole as if it had been devoured by a beaver. The tree survived, but was deformed. Jake ate the electrical wires to the garage door opener, the boat trailer, and the tongues from Murphy’s yard shoes. Jake couldn’t be trusted in the house, alone, or our furniture and rugs would have been devoured.

During a dog class, the trainer shared ideas that would not harm the dog, but deter them from trouble.  Murphy blew up colored balloons and popped them. I screamed. Once the dogs seemed afraid of the balloons, we taped them inside our azaleas, and on the electrical wires, and on Murphy’s work bench.

The neighbors laughed when they saw our colorful yard. But as the air dissipated, Jake would rip off each balloon and eat it. We’d find balloon poop on the grass and decided balloons could be dangerous.

Our daughter’s wedding invitations and decorations arrived one afternoon, and Jake’s curiosity destroyed the box. When our son arrived home, he spent hours cleaning-up purple confetti from the shredded napkins, and invitations.

Education is a wonderful tool. We learned later, Jake suffered from separation anxiety. If we had crated him, we could have prevented these problems.

As you bring home a rescued dog, you have no idea about their past. Jake watched our interaction with Sydney, and over time, he longed for affection. His tail wagged all the time. By age two, he weighed ninety-two pounds, and trusted that we’d never abandon him. He lived to be thirteen-and-a-half.

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Pet Cloning — Yea or Neigh?

by Barb Goffman

Cloning is one of those things people joke about. Or maybe just I do. On busy days, I wish I had a clone to order around. Clone, do the laundry. Clone, edit that book. Clone, cook something. Anything!

Alas, the reality is there is no human cloning. And even if there were, an actual clone would not be like a robot you could order around to do chores. A clone is, essentially, an identical twin, simply born at a later date. The twins should look the same, but they’d have separate minds and thus separate personalities.

But even knowing all this, the idea of cloning appeals–especially when facing loss in the face.

Before my prior dog, Scout, got old, I made him promise he’d live forever. Of course he couldn’t live up to that promise. But he’s lived on in my heart and memories during the past four years.  And if I’d had the money to spare, I could have had him live on–sort of–in my house through … you guessed it … cloning. Yep, dog and cat cloning is here.

Scout

It appears there are several companies that offer this service. I recently read about one in Texas, Viagen Pets, that will clone your dog for $50,000 and your cat for $25,000. How does it work? According to Viagen Pets’s website, before (or very soon after) your dog or cat dies, you send a skin tissue sample to them so they can freeze/preserve the animal’s DNA. When you’re ready for your new pet, they take a donor egg, remove its genetic material, and replace it with that of your beloved pet’s. After that, an embryo is produced and then implanted in a surrogate animal. And you wait for your pet’s identical twin to be born.

According to their website, Viagen Pets has cloned thousands of animals. They say that each cloned puppy or kitten will share many attributes with its twin, often including intelligence, temperament, and appearance. It’s interesting that appearance is on the “often including” list because I would think a cloned puppy or kitten would always look exactly like the original (as a puppy or kitten) because they are supposed to be identical twins. But I’m not a scientist, so perhaps I’m missing something.

It’s interesting, too, that the company says the clones are often similar in intelligence and temperament.  I would think these attributes would vary from dog to dog. I would be interested in seeing study results on cloned animals to see how often the clones really are similar, as well as how similar, to the originals. I’d expect a clone of Scout would look like him as a puppy, but since the clone would be his own dog, with his own experiences and own mind, there’s no reason to think he’d act like Scout as he grew. But it’s nice to dream that he would.

And that is what is likely behind the growth of this market. The desire to  essentially keep the essence of the pet you love–his/her personality–alive. I understand Viagen Pets has a waiting list of people who probably have similar dreams.

Of course, any discussion of cloning pets should address the potential inherent problems. Any owners who’d expect an exact duplicate of their beloved pets would bound to be disappointed, which wouldn’t be fair to the clone. And is it right for someone to bring another animal into the world when you can find one of the same breed, likely looking nearly the same as your own beloved pet, through your local shelter or a breed rescue? An animal that’s already alive and needs a home? (Of course, that question would apply to any animal purchased through a breeder.)

Eggs (not the type involved in cloning)

And then there are the logistics of the process to consider. The cloning company says they get a donor egg. How? Does this involve surgery on a female dog?  How hard on the dog is such a surgery? If it’s quite invasive (and I don’t know if it is), is it right to use a dog in that manner? It’s not like the dog is an adult human who can consent. And once the embryo is created, it’s implanted in a surrogate dog. How invasive a procedure does the dog have to undergo to become impregnated? (All these questions also apply to the donor cat and surrogate cat, who may or may not be the same cat.)

For those of you thinking it, I realize that all these questions could be asked of any owner who chooses to breed his or her pet. The dog or cat doesn’t ask to become a parent, to be used for breeding purposes. I’m not saying it’s wrong (or right) to do these things, ranging from breeding your dog to having your dog used as an egg donor or as a surrogate mother. I’m just thinking on the page. As moral questions, there aren’t any hard right or wrong answers. But the questions are worth considering.

So, what say you, dear reader? Would you clone your pet if you could afford it? And what do you think of the issues involved with cloning (and breeding)?

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