What Friends Do

We got Darwin, the pure bred, championship-quality Pembroke Welsh Corgi, as a freebie from our vet. Why? Darwin was born with an incurable heart problem that was supposed to kill him within his first few months. With a new medication, and great care from the vet, Darwin’s made it to six years old – far outliving all expectations.
For his first five years, Darwin shared the house with a chow-golden retriever mix. The bigger animal never really understood how to play with another dog.
So Darwin played with people, bringing us toys and teaching us games. For all that he had a heart problem, he was passionate about chasing a ball.
When the golden-chow died six months ago, we got a corgi-pit bull-cattle dog-Rottweiler puppy we named Tegan. Tegan is the most playful dog we’ve ever had. If you try to put on a sock, it is instantly a pull toy. If you give her a yogurt container, it provides hours of amusement. And all with a healthy puppy’s energy.
At first, Darwin didn’t know what to do with Tegen-the-whirling-fur-ball. He wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to have to deal with all that young energy.


At first, Darwin wasn’t sure he wanted to play with Tegan.

But one day about a month after we got the puppy, Darwin came out of his dog cave, looked at Tegan and gave a high-pitched growl. Tegan tentatively play-bowed and raised her paws to him. Darwin responded by yipping and running. Tegan chased him. Game on!Puppy Play
Since those first days, their games have changed. They play tug of war over a favorite pull toy. They chase each other. When Darwin comes downstairs after his afternoon nap, Tegan pesters him mercilessly, play-bowing and groveling flat on the floor – then mouthing Darwin’s feet until they are wet with slobber. She’ll grab a mouthful of the fur on his butt, and yank, pulling him off balance.


Tegan bites Darwins butt.jpg

Tegan biting Darwin’s butt.

She’ll swing her hips around and slam him with her rear end.

Hip bump

Tegan gives Darwin a hip bump while playing.


After Darwin wakes up a little, he responds in kind, biting Tegan’s cheeks and mouthing her muzzle.

Darwin mouths Tegan.jpg

Darwin will grab Tegan’s cheeks.

If you don’t keep reminding yourself that either dog could leave at any time, you’d be worried by the intensity of their play.

Tegan offers toy to Darwin

But they keep coming back for more.

Darwin’s condition began to decline just before we got Tegan. While Tegan was just a few months old, Darwin was able to hold his own against her playful assaults. But by New Year, he was having a lot of trouble. He now pants constantly, and his chest heaves as he tries to suck in enough air to keep his body going.
I took him to the vet, who took an ultrasound of his heart. While a normal heart compresses about a third of the way down each time it beats, Darwin’s heart collapses completely. The vet said, “I don’t see why this dog is alive, let alone walking.” I didn’t tell her that every evening involves a twenty minute play session with an active puppy.
That night, Darwin and Tegan played as hard as ever. But I noticed something remarkable. Tegan, at four months old, was handicapping her play — when she got too excited, she’d redirect her energy to calm things down. In the middle of wrestling with Darwin, she’d turn aside and bite the table or chair legs, or more recently, my legs. Not hard, which is remarkable given the frenzied nature of the play, but with enough pressure so I knew she could do real damage if she lost control for a moment. These redirected bites clued me in to how much Tegan the puppy is holding herself in check so she didn’t hurt her sick friend.

Darwin drags Tegan

Tegan handicaps herself by getting lower than Darwin.

Once I noticed her redirection, I could see more examples of restraint. When she gets too aggressive, she rolls on her back, or when she pulls the rope toy away from Darwin, she brings it back and offers it to him.

Tegan gives toy to Darwin

Tegan gives Darwin the toy so they can play some more.


Today, while we were playing fetch, Tegan let the dying dog get the ball, or if she happened to get to it first, she’d drop it in front of him to keep Darwin in the game.
After all, isn’t that what friends do?

What went into this mutt?

We’ve been having a lot of fun with Tegan, the new puppy. We play with her constantly. And between ourselves, we try to guess what breeds of dogs her parents were.

She is long and low. The gene for short-leggedness in dogs is their version of dwarfism. It is found in only a few breeds, yet oddly, it is the dominant gene.

Viva and Tegan at the dog park-05-1.jpg

Viva the Great Dane plays with Tegan. You can really see how short Tegan’s legs are here.

Long and low breeds: dachshund, either Cardigan or Pembroke Welsh corgi, Swedish valhund, basset hound.


Her coat is black, with “pumpkin seeds” above her eyes.

Tegan takes a breather-2.jpg

I’ve always heard the orange marks above her eyes called “pumpkin seeds”, but the American Kennel Club seems to call them “kiss marks”.

Black dogs with pumpkin seeds: Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers.

But her muzzle and paws are speckled, brindled or “merled”.


The speckles on her paws are called “merle” or “brindle”. Not many dogs have merling or brindling.

Dogs that are brindled or merled: Greyhounds, pit bulls, boxers, dachsund, Cardigan Welsh corgi, Australian shepherds, cattle dogs, collies, including border collies. The gene for merling is incompletely dominant, which means it is dominant except when it’s not. Helpful? Not so much for me, either.

She has no undercoat — soft fine hairs that provide insulation.

Dogs without an undercoat: greyhounds, pit bulls, Doberman pinshers, Rottweilers.

Her coat is stiff and wavy.


Every zig-zag in her coat is a natural wave in her fur. When you run your hand over them, they are hard ridges.

Rottweilers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers.

Her paws occasionally point out.

Dogs with bow-legs, or “knuckled-over”: bassets, pit bulls (this is a flaw in either breed that can become severe). Hers isn’t bad, and we hope she’ll eventually outgrow it.

Her ears are thin and erect…


Coconut courtesy of the State of Florida.

Erect ears: lots of dogs have erect ears, but for our purposes I’ll limit the choices to others we’ve talked about — corgis, cattle dogs, border collies.

Rottweilers and Doberman pinscher ears are actually droopy — when you see these dogs with erect ears, it’s because they’ve been cropped so they stand upright.

…except when her ears curl back, which is called a “rose” ear.


Tegan chewing on a coconut I brought back from Florida years ago. They ought to sell these as chew toys.

Ears that curl back: greyhounds, pit bulls.

She is the friendliest, cuddliest dog I’ve ever had.


Tegan when she was very young, cuddling with Darwin. He is not a naturally cuddly dog.

Cuddly dogs: Everybody has their favorites, but the breed that has been the most consistently cuddly for me has been pit bulls. Yes, pit bulls. The ones I have known have been crawl-in-you-lap-and-hug-you friendly.


I’m sure I’ve missed some breed with these characteristics, but I think I got the main ones.

So what do you think? What breeds went into Tegan?

Night Visitors

We had visitors in the night. The dogs woke me up and made me let them out to find the intruders.We’ve had a lot of raccoon lately, including one epic dog-raccoon fight last summer. Dogs and Raccoons Battle to 1-1 Draw

Raccoons in planter 1

Baby and momma raccoon in a 24 x 8 inch herb planter– not very big. The planter sits on the railing to our back porch. The herbs are the only thing up there.

I have no idea what they were doing up there — when I checked for damage this morning, my basil was squashed to the side, but nothing seems to have been eaten, or dug up.

Raccoons in planter 3

I took this photo from about three feet away. To get it, I had to open the back door so that the flash wouldn’t bounce off the glass and ruin the shot.

I was a little nervous when I took this shot, because the door was open and they were only an arm’s length away. Cute as they look, raccoons can be nasty fighters when threatened. But neither of us did anything stupid, and so I got a good photo, and the ‘coons got …whatever it was they keep coming back for.

Dog as God’s Messenger

When we got our golden retriever-chow mix from the Denver Dumb Friends League, we thought she looked like a fox. In honor of this, we named her Kurama Kitsune, “mountain fox” in Japanese. My daughter came up with the name after watching a Japanese anime cartoon that had a half fox-half human character named Kurama in it.
With her thick red coat, pricked ears and bushy tail, the name fits the dog well. Even her amber eyes look a bit foxy.
By the time she was out of doggy adolescence, it was clear that Kurama Kitsune was a very social dog. Every person she met was, in turn, her new best friend. To fulfill this outgoing personality, she and I joined the Lutheran Hospital Pet Therapy Program, in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Now, each month we go to visit patients in the hospital, chatting with them, and giving them warm fuzzies.
A few months ago, when I was visiting the hospital with Kurama Kitsune, I came into the room of an elderly Japanese lady. I introduced myself and Kurama Kitsune, but it was obvious that the lady didn’t speak English. It was only when she saw Kurama Kitsune that her eyes opened wide. She sat up in bed, put her hands together and bowed from the waist down. To Kurama Kitsune. I had no idea what to say, and words didn’t really seem necessary. Whatever was going on, I was only there as Kurama’s handler.
We left the room after a few minutes. The entire time we had been there, the lady never stopped bowing to Kurama. I was totally baffled.
Last weekend, my daughter and I went down to the Cherry Blossom Festival at Sakura Square in downtown Denver. While we were there, we saw pictures of kitsune – foxes. Further investigation revealed that in Japanese folklore, foxes are magical if mischievous creatures. Seeing one is usually considered good luck. Some people in Japan today believe them to be spirits, just as some people in Iceland believe in elves and some in Scotland believe in brownies and banshees.
Armed with this new understanding of what kitsune are in Japanese culture, I remembered the incident with the Japanese lady. I tried to put myself in her place: “I’m sick and in a strange and frightening foreign hospital. My family tried to explain what is wrong with me and what is going to happen to me. But they may not have understood exactly what was going on, either. Anyway, they aren’t here right now. I’m alone, and I’m afraid.
Then in walks a gaijin, a white woman, saying a few words I understand: ‘mountain fox-spirit’. And there it is – a kitsune. A fox-spirit that brings good luck.”
It must have made quite an impression on her – a friendly spirit had come to visit her in the hospital. And so she had bowed to it.
As I figured all this out, it made quite an impression on me. It is a humbling realization that Kurama Kitsune and to a lesser extent, I, had been an agent of someone’s divinity. I have never before, nor do I ever expect to again, have that honor.

How to Shoot Your Dog…With a Camera

It is that time of year again.  Lyn is looking for photos of your dog for the Pet Therapy Calendar.  Having had less than total success with professional photographers lately, many of you are considering taking the pictures yourselves.
And yet, you hesitate. How can you take a shot that will make it to the coveted centerfold?
As I got ready to take pictures of my dogs, I went to that fount of all knowledge worth knowing and much that isn’t – the Internet.  There I found lots of sites by professional photographers giving hints on how to shot your dog.  They all said the same things:
1. Look at your pet’s personality.  That’s what you want to capture. If they are couch potatoes, you’ll want to shoot them lounging on the couch.  If they are active, take them to the dog park and snap away.

Where she likes to be.

2. Setting. Photograph them where they are comfortable. This is less of an issue with Pet Therapy dogs, because they tend to be comfortable in a wide variety of settings – that’s why they’re Therapy dogs. If there is a place where that has special meaning to you or your dog, try shooting there. But be aware of the background.  If your dog’s special place is the dumpster, that may not make the best background.  You don’t want the background to detract from your amazing dog. Try for something simple and/or colorful.
3. Get in close. Use the zoom setting, if your camera has one.

Needs to be closer.

4. Get on their level. This may mean getting on your knees, or even on your belly. Or you can put them on a chair or bench. This will give people a glimpse of their perspective.
5. Change it up. So long as you’re set up and they are willing, shoot from different positions and angles, and with them doing different things. With digital cameras, it is easy to take lots pictures, which increases your chances of getting a good one.  But remember, save ONLY the VERY BEST.  Otherwise, you end up with thousands (and I mean thousands) of mediocre pictures that you have to wade through every time you want to find the good ones. Be brutal when deleting.
6. Lighting and Settings.  No, no – don’t turn off your brain!  This is easy!
Animals move, so you need lots of light to catch the action.  Sunlight is better. Use a flash inside.

Animals move so you need plenty of light for photos.

But what setting do you use on your camera?! When in doubt, use Auto. It seems like every camera maker uses different symbols, but that Auto is usually a green something, either a rectangle or the word “Auto”.
As you experiment, try some different camera settings. Outside in a lot of light, use the “Kids and Pets” or “Sports” or other action-sounding setting. Then you can get multiple photos by holding down the button.
Inside, you’ll need a flash.  “Portrait” or “Night snapshot” will do the job. Don’t worry about red-eye –it can be edited out.

Used flash.

That’s all you need to know about camera settings and lighting.
7. One more thing that none of the websites talked about. Some dogs get very nervous with that big camera lens staring at them. Alternatively, when I take pictures of my dogs, they want to come to me instead of posing for the camera. To fix both of these problems, I try to have somebody else actually take the picture and for me to be the one getting the dog to react.  Then I have lots of treats handy, and make it fun for them, me and the person working the camera.
Remember these are guidelines – lots of great pictures have broken these “rules”. But they will help you get started with your canine photographic adventures.