Saturday, December 25, 2010

Santa Tommy

Santa Tommy is so popular, he even makes an appearance over on Altadena Patch. It's amazing what he'll do for a little bit of Christmas kibble cheer.





Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last Week’s Ups and Downs

Last Monday, before the deluge, I was considering backing out of escrow because the house has a sunken backyard that floods during heavy rains, like right now.

The clock was ticking; I had just a few days left to call off the deal without losing my $10,000 deposit. A contractor had cancelled last minute and I was ready to walk away, but a couple of friends offered to check it out first.

Veronica drove with me, and Sandra would meet us at the house.

I turned onto Lake Avenue and headed up the steep hill, but as the grade increased, my car slowed to a crawl. The hipster behind me cursed behind big sunglasses. I was afraid if I pulled over, I’d lose what little momentum I had so I kept chugging.

“If we don’t make it to the house it’s a sign, and I’m pulling out of escrow.”

Veronica turned on the hazards. The hipster passed me, and we stuttered up Lake, finally turning left off the ascent. In a few blocks I pulled up behind Sandra, already parked in front of the house.

Whew!

Veronica and Sandra are both artists who tackle home-improvement projects with gusto. They loved the sunken yard. They loved the (formerly) dry creek bed, the neighborhood, the house. They helped me see possibilities.

I decided to move forward with escrow.

(I wonder if they’d feel differently now after three days of torrential downpours. I don’t want to know. Too late anyway.)

We coasted home, driving down Christmas Tree Lane to enjoy the lights.

Tuesday morning as I headed out to greet the tow truck, the front door knob came off in my hand, the axle falling to the outside. I exited through the side pantry door, Tommy jumping over the pile of junk as if on an agility course.

The car got towed and a coworker picked us up. Tommy leaped into the back seat and slobbered all over her red sweater. Good thing she’s a dog person.

My mechanic called: I needed a new clutch, $900 to $1200. Ouch.

Later I considered the numbers on the Good Faith Estimate. I was about $20,000 short of funds for the down payment and closing costs. I panicked. Why had I thought I could afford this house?!

Veronica’s car was also out of commission. She was using her friend’s car, a white Marquis with a plush red interior they called “The Couch” because of its cushy ride.

My mind reeled over finances as I drove The Couch to the house for the sewer inspection, only to learn that the pipes were already clogged, a plumber's visit scheduled for the next day. Fortunately the inspector was an honest man: no point inspecting the sewer when he couldn't detect anything through clogged pipes.

I stopped off at Veronica's to return the keys to The Couch. Inside the house, the dogs got all excited. We heard a crash. Veronica opened the door and Babe snuck out. She jumped on me and Tommy got territorial and started humping her. I pulled him off and dropped my raincoat. Veronica came out holding a broken piece of pottery, one of her favorite vases.

With no time left to schedule the sewer inspection, I signed off on the physical contingency without it. Yikes. (I did get a general inspection.)

I spoke to my mortgage broker. They had made a mistake on the estimate; I owed $20,000 less than what they'd calculated. What a relief!

Later I couldn't find my raincoat. I called Veronica. Yep, the dogs had gotten it. Fortunately the damage was minimal, just a tear on one sleeve.

Thursday afternoon I picked up my car at European Motors, the only L.A. area mechanic I trust. I screeched out of the parking lot, unaccustomed to such a responsive clutch. Boy, was my car zippy!

That night, I went to the Arroyo Food Co-op's holiday party. They had a raffle. My adorable French neighbor picked out the names, and wouldn't you know I was the last one called out. I won a free massage.

Yippee!

Tomorrow I will obsess over fluctuating interest rates as I attempt to lock down my rate at the lowest possible number.

This house buying thing is nerve-wracking. It feels like a giant gamble. I might as well go to Vegas and shoot craps.

I dare not visit the house until long after the sun shines. I dare not subject myself to the flooded backyard. I must schedule that free massage.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Veronica's Pack

Veronica's pack is a kaleidoscope of constantly shifting dogs. I can't keep up, so I like to check in now and then to remember our old pals and see who's new in the pack.

Soon after I watched her pack while she drove 40 dogs to Tucson to save their lives, 3 of her fosters got transported up to SafeHaven Humane Society in Oregon.
 
Shiloh, Blondie, Lily. Credit: Veronica Ferrantelli

Remember Blondie? That was my name for her. Her rescuers called her Malibu, as she had been tossed from a Toyota Malibu truck. She was snatched up in no time from SafeHaven, a person undoubtedly falling instantly in love with her beauty and spunk just like I did.

Lily, on the right, was adopted a couple of weeks later by a very nice family with five acres of land and a couple of older kids, who Lily absolutely loved.

When I first met Shiloh, I was intimidated by him, but soon I learned his true nature—calm, smart, loving and loyal. On my last visit with him, he jumped up on the couch with me and nuzzled his face into my thigh, his fur so thick I felt like I was snuggling with a bear. We'd been worried he wouldn't get adopted but eventually he did, by a great guy who loves Shepherds and whom the SafeHaven staff really liked.

Veronica missed them dearly when they left, but knew they needed "a chance at a real family and the love they deserve. I know it is a good thing - it still breaks my heart."

I'd spent a lot of time with her summer pack; my heart ached after they left, too.

Several dogs have come and gone since then. Newest additions are Momma pit bull and her pups. Veronica had been concerned about introducing Momma to the rest of the pack (let's face it, you have to be extra cautious with pitties), but Momma was golden.

Credit: Veronica Ferrantelli
I think they look like a bad-ass gang, but I know how sweet they really are. Veronica says this photo will save Momma's life: it shows she gets along with other dogs, so the pit bull rescue in Oregon will take her in.

Even Tommy got to meet her. We were worried he'd get territorial and start a fight or be a relentless bully. But instead Momma was the pushy one. Tommy acted like an aloof older teenager with better things to do, like sit on the couch with his human. Tommy was the mature one. Imagine that.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Million Times Over

Tommy came barreling into my life with the force of a freight train. My mom, who suffers from memory loss but remains an animal lover down to the deepest core of her being, tells the story this way, “He followed her home!” I don’t correct her anymore; I like her version. But the truth is I followed him, right into the parking lot of the Original Tommy’s Hamburgers.

When I coaxed him into my car with the help of a hamburger and one of the girls who grilled them, I didn’t consider what was next. I lived in a Los Feliz studio apartment with my two cats, so I didn't intend to keep him. As I drove and waited for someone to respond to my crazy voicemail—you know, the one about the pit bull in the back seat of my car—the weight of what I'd just done began to dawn on me. I checked him out in the rear view mirror. He looked concerned, as if wondering where we were headed. I wondered the same thing.

Things moved quickly. That week I brought him to the shelter (long story saved for another time), posted signs in the neighborhood to find an owner, and placed an ad on petfinder, all to no avail.

Tommy the first day I found him
I learned about the Echo Park Animal Alliance, an incredible community of people committed to animal rescue, and I posted a plea for a foster while I searched for a new place to live. Within 30 minutes Jen Byrne responded saying she could do it.

Jen became one of my heroes. She’s saved hundreds of dogs, just like my neighbor, Veronica, transforming sick or fearful animals into loving, happy, adoptable pets.

She also became one of Tommy's earliest and biggest fans (Tommy adored her) and one of my stalwart supporters. When I expressed my gratitude, she said it takes a village, and it certainly has with Tommy.

I love my cats but the impact that Tommy has had on my life has been far more dramatic. He spun my world off its axis and repositioned it in a new direction. It’s been a rough ride, wrought with many challenges. At one point I tried to rehome him, posting an ad on a pet adoption site that said in part:

“I need a strong, assertive leader to give me structure and lots of exercise. In return, I will lick your feet in gratitude while you brush your teeth, and as you sit on the couch I will put my chin on your lap and groan with satisfaction.”

When I brought him home to my Pasadena duplex, I realized I was in over my head. I wasn’t an experienced dog owner and Tommy had some major issues. In a crisis of faith, I sent a message to Jen, who encouraged me to hang in there, saying she thought it was amazing I'd changed my life to keep him. Then she said, "He'll repay you a million times over."

And truly he has. I'm glad I stuck it out.

Karin Bugge recently spread the word about Pepe, and he got adopted. Hooray for Pepe! Her next article on Altadena Patch will feature pet adoption stories from local and not-so-local bloggers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tommy around Town

I took this photo in South Pasadena from my friend’s second-floor apartment, where she was stretched out on the couch with a broken ankle. I don’t visit that part of town too often, yet I get the impression the neighbors don’t see many front lawns with pit bulls shading themselves under olive trees.

But Tommy made himself right at home.


Back in my neighborhood, I gladly interrupted a long afternoon walk to support local Altadena businesses, El Patron and Bulgarini Gelato.






Later while running errands, I stopped for gas. Tommy took the opportunity to contemplate life in the driver's seat.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tommy's Endorsements

We here in the household of Tommy Lee Jones the pit bull mix value living in harmony with all peoples of different persuasions and opinions. And we know that peaceful coexistence sometimes requires keeping our ideas to ourselves, especially in these polarizing times when sensitivities are heightened. But when something as critical as the fate of our planet is at stake, we feel compelled to, well, put a stake in the ground and voice our beliefs.


We stand behind clean air, clean energy, and jobs that come from commitments to those values. It's pretty simple: we believe in protecting the environment for future generations. And we believe these candidates give us the best shot at doing so.


We believe in a lot of other things too, but we don't want to forcefeed you our opinions. We don't want to turn this blog into a bully pulpit. But if you like what you see here, you may want to check out the endorsements of the Sierra Club and NRDC, two environmental organizations we support.

Tommy got so excited for this shot, his snoot loop came off.

We respect other people’s opinions, too, even when they differ from ours, and we welcome civil discourse. That’s what democracy is all about, right?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Good Yard is Hard to Find

Last week I met my realtor, Luis, at an Altadena house. As I tied Tommy to the fence, I caught a glimpse of an orange tabby sliding into the crawl space under the house. I registered a hint of trouble that I chose to ignore.

Inside I quickly walked through the house, snapped a picture of Luis and Lucas in the kitchen (if there’d been more light I would have captured Tommy bucking up in protest through that window)...

and summed up my assessment: It was a fixer and out of my price range but oh that yard!

The house was on a quarter-acre lot, and I intended to take full advantage of it.

Luis was happy to oblige. He unlocked the gate, and, when he and Lucas were safe inside again, I unhooked Tommy's snoot loop.

I love when he tears off but instead he got sidetracked by a scent, sniffing the ground like a hound. I did my version of giddyap. I clapped my hands in quick succession, shouting in staccato fashion, "Go Tommy! Go! Go! Go!" and slapped my hands on my thigh.

I'm not proud of this image but it works. Tommy shot off like a greyhound.

When he got to the other end of the yard, I clapped my hands and yelled, “Come, Tommy!” And he thundered back toward me.

Janine from J9's K9s taught that you always use the recall command in a happy, upbeat tone, and everytime your dog responds, you shower him with praise and treats. It doesn't matter how upset or pissed off you may be, whenever he responds to the recall command it's a party. Tommy learned this command well.

What a good boy, Tommy.

While I gloated over his athletic prowess and exemplary behavior, Tommy ran directly into the crawl space after that orange tabby’s scent.

I shouted, "come!" Tommy ignored me.

I ran to the crawl space entrance and tried to keep the strained panic from my voice, "Come, Tommy! Come boy."

And how was the recall command working now? As if it were swallowed by a dark hole, as if it fell on Tommy's deaf ears.

Ugh!

I feared Tommy would tear that cat to shreds; I feared I'd have to crawl in that dark, dirty space with god knows what down there; I feared rats and snakes and giant bugs.

I ran to the house and called again.

Tommy shot out of the crawl space, saw me standing by the door, and ran right back under the house.

I imagined the neighbors peeking out from behind a curtain shaking their heads and saying, "There goes the neighborhood."

Eventually I lured Tommy out, wrapped that snoot loop around his snout, said goodbye to Luis and Lucas and left.

Tommy was blissfully exhausted that evening.

The next day I put an offer on the house. The neighbors needn't have worried. By the end of the week I got the news that I'd been outbid. The search for a good yard continues.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Young Buck

Monday morning as I drove along La Tuna Canyon Boulevard on my way to drop off Tommy at Starcrest Kennels I hit a deer. He suddenly appeared, seemingly out of thin air, like a ghost, though his massive body hurling against the right side of my car was certainly of the corporeal world. Stunned, I pulled over to the shoulder to survey the damage and get my bearings: The windshield was all in one piece. The only problem I could see was the side-view mirror smashed up against the passenger window.

With trepidation I looked behind me to see what had become of the deer, but then caught a glimpse of him loping up the hill to my left across the road. There were two of them, each with a young set of antlers. I wasn’t sure which one I had hit. They both seemed to be fine, although I couldn't be sure. I didn’t stay long as Tommy, tethered in the back seat, went berserk at the sight of them. I continued onto Starcrest.

Just last week I’d seen five deer running up the same hillside. It was a beautiful sight but I worried then about their fate traveling along such a busy street. In the three years I’ve been taking Tommy to Starcrest, I’d never seen a deer. My theory is that the devastation from the Station Fire that burned thousands of square miles of the Angeles National Forest forced the deer down to these hills, the Verdugo Mountains, to search for food.

I felt shaken up all that day, awakened to how unpredictable life is: you step out the door and go about your daily mundane business and a deer flies out of the sky and smashes into your car.

But I know I was lucky. It could have been much worse. He could’ve slammed into my windshield. I could have been impaled by a rack of antlers.

These are humbling thoughts. I’m grateful I wasn’t hurt. I’m also really, really sad. Animals don’t stand a chance having to share the planet with us. It’s heartbreaking.

Whenever I contemplate the problems that weigh heavy on my heart, my impulse is to go into fix-it mode. What can I do to prevent deer from running onto a road and getting whacked by a 2-ton barrel of steel? The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing.

A few days after I found the Hahamongna Chihuahua, I had dinner with a friend in the Franklin Hills area of Los Feliz. As I drove down St. George Blvd, which runs along Marshall High School, I saw a dog up ahead in the middle of the road. Not again! I spewed out a string of profanity. It was late. I was exhausted and had to work the next morning. Did I really want to stop and try to catch another stray dog? As I reached the intersection, I saw that the dog, who had run up Griffith Park Blvd and now stood motionless in the middle of the street, was in fact a coyote. He looked frightened and confused. I kept driving. My brain kicked into problem-solving gear as I considered how I could help him: maybe I should go back and try to shoo him toward the park or into someone’s yard away from traffic.

Then I thought, really? You think there’s something you can do to help this lost coyote?

And the young buck and others like him?

Some believe the decision to hold off on stopping the Station Fire within the first 24 hours was motivated by the desire to save money. I don't know the truth, but I hope it's not that.

The past year has been filled with depressing news of environmental catastrophes: the Gulf oil devastation, the orange sludge poisoning communities in Hungary killing everything in its wake. Last night The Story featured Echoes of Kentucky, about a town where, ten years after coal sludge poured into their community, they still can’t drink the water.

On a positive note, a lot of people are working hard to change the destructive path we’re following. Today is Blog Action Day, and the 2010 theme is water. It’s the kind of thing that gives me hope: thousands of people around the world writing about a critical issue, millions of readers participating in the discussion.

Here are a couple of participating blogs as well as a charity that provides water to children in Africa:

Blue Kitchen

Pasadena Daily Photo

Drop in the Bucket

"The good Earth—we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy."
— Kurt Vonnegut, from A Man Without a Country

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. "
— Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Imagination Sure Can Run—Part Two

A couple of months ago (that went fast) I mentioned two recent experiences had reminded me of my active imagination. I wrote about the first experience: how I feared my neighbor was in danger (or worse, dead) when I heard her dog whining all day. Thankfully, it was just my imagination.

I’d intended to write about the second experience soon after, but that plan got waylaid by the Hahamongna Chihuahua (otherwise known as Grandpa and Ponchito the Fierce Warrior), then a trip out of town, then a litany of other excuses, including the recent sweltering heat. Now this story feels dated, but one shouldn’t suggest a part two without delivering. So, here it is.

Veronica was driving a transport of about 40 dogs to a Tucson shelter, and I agreed to take care of her pack while she was gone. It was a quick overnight trip. I only needed to let the dogs out for a break that evening and then again the following morning.

You may recall that Veronica has a pack of 10 mostly large dogs. I love hanging out with them when Veronica’s around but I was a bit intimidated by the thought of doing it without her. So we hatched a plan: Veronica would separate the dogs into 3 different groups in 3 different rooms, and I would let them out in shifts.

I got home early that day, changed and went right over.

I approached the door behind which pack 1 barked ferociously (except for little Lola).

Pack 1: (from left to right) Lola, Zoe, Cooper, and Shiloh
I opened the door and quickly turned toward the yard so as not to confront the dogs head-on. They charged at me, the intruder, but then greeted me with sniffs and licks and wagging tails. They ran around the yard and did their business.

I put them back in the house.

When I opened the door for pack 2, they flew out thrilled to see me. Even Blondie, who barked at first, warmed up to me. That was a wonderful surprise.
Pack 2: (from left to right) Domino, Babe, Blondie, and Glory

Blondie’s owners had tossed her out of their car as they drove past a pet adoption event run by Downtown Dog Rescue. At first she'd been tense and lifeless, spending her days hiding in the closet. She soon bonded with Veronica, but she didn't trust me. When I'd visited to pick tomatoes, she barked and growled at me no matter how much I tried to convince her with soothing coos I wasn't a threat.

Now she wagged her tail and jumped up to greet me. The transformation made my heart sing. She’s such a beauty, with one blue eye, one brown; I’d adopt her in a second if I didn’t have Tommy.

Pack 2, the wildest bunch, was ecstatic to be outside. I felt bad putting them back in the house after only a few minutes, so I let pack 3 out with them.

Pack 3: Kurt and Lily

But that wasn't fair to pack 1, locked in the house while the rest were outside, so I let them out too.

So much for shifts.

I hung out under the canopy while the 10 dogs wandered around doing their doggie thing. And it was fine.

But it was time for me to go. I had a deadline looming.

I corralled almost all the dogs back into their rooms (no small feat), except for Lola. I couldn’t find her. I walked all over the yard calling her. She’s so small; she could be anywhere. Eventually I found her curled up under a bureau outside. I coaxed her out and shooed her back into the house in the room with pack 1 and headed home.

Back in March I’d gotten a speeding ticket and I had signed up for online traffic school. I’d already extended the deadline once, and the second deadline loomed. It was due to be completed the following day, and of course I'd left it till the last minute. I still had hours of chapters to read and tests to take. If you attend in person, the class takes all day. If you take it online, the lessons are timed and you can’t forward ahead until the clock runs out: 45 minutes for one chapter, 30 minutes for another chapter, etc. I had a long night ahead of me.

Veronica hadn't expected me to let the dogs out again that night but I wanted to give them a second break. The hours flew by. When I shut off my computer (with still some traffic school chapters to go), it was after 11 pm.

To save time, I discarded the shift idea; I opened the door to let pack 1 out. As the dogs charged out, I went right over to the sliding glass door to let pack 2 out, and then quickly did the same for pack 3.

It was dark. I stumbled through the yard, trying to keep the dogs quiet so as not to disturb the neighbors. When all was calm I sat at the table under the canopy and let the dogs enjoy the night air.

There’s only so long you can sit outside in the dark with a bunch of dogs. It was approaching midnight: time to go home.

I herded Zoe, Cooper and Shiloh into room 1. I didn’t see Lola, so I moved onto the other dogs. I coaxed Kurt and Lily into room 3. After a few tries, I managed to herd all 4 dogs into room 2.

Now, where was Lola? I looked under the bureau where she’d been hiding earlier in the day. Nope, she wasn’t there. I walked around the yard. She was nowhere in sight.

I went into the main part of the house, where pack 1 hung out, and fumbled to find some lights. When I could see, I looked in each room, under the couch, under each chair, in the closet. No Lola.

I went back outside. Where could she be? I called in my sweetest, softest voice, “Lola, Lola girl,” to no avail.

I replayed earlier events. Had I put her back in the house? I could’ve sworn I had. Hadn’t I opened the door and watched her run through it? I certainly thought so, but I started to question my memory.

Did she run outside with the big dogs a few minutes ago? I hadn't seen her but I had turned away to open the door for pack 2, so I couldn’t be sure she hadn’t.

I assumed she was back in the house so I went back inside and retraced the hiding spots I had just checked. No Lola.

I started to panic.

I couldn’t stay there all night with 9 dogs waiting for Lola to show up. I needed to get some sleep. But what if she were still outside? She was so small and fragile. She’d be eaten by a coyote. Or she’d sneak through a little hole in the fence and end up down the street, squished by a car. Or she'd just disappear never to be seen again. Should I call Veronica? She’d had a long day. I hated the idea of waking her. On the other hand, if I didn’t call her, wouldn’t she be upset with me if she got home only to learn that Lola was missing? She’d never forgive me. But what could she do in Tucson to help the situation?

I walked across the street to my house, wracking my brains over what to do. The clock ticking toward midnight, I picked up the phone.

Veronica's voice was drenched with sleep. I rambled on about how sorry I was to wake her, that I’d felt bad for the dogs, that I’d gone back to let them out again, that it was late because of traffic school...

She interrupted my babbling.

V: Talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.

S: I can’t find Lola.

V: Did you let her in the house earlier today?

S: Yes, I think so although I can’t be sure.

V: She likes to hide in the laundry area. She must be there.

S: Are you sure?

V: Yes, don't worry about it. She's fine.

S: I’m so sorry to wake you.

We hung up.

The next morning I let out pack 1 first. The 3 big dogs ran out, and little Lola pranced right out after them. All chipper, she wagged her tail, and I squealed with delight, "Lola!"

She looked at me, and her spirit instantly deflated. 

Dejected, she turned and went right back in the house.

I try not to anthropomorphize. I try not to tell these dog stories with a cloying sappiness. But if Lola could talk, I swear I would have heard her say, “You’re not my mommy!”

Damn, I was glad to see her even though the feeling wasn't mutual. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dog Person or Cat Person?

One of my sisters, after reading my last post, said Intelligentsia looked like a fun restaurant with delicious food. She understood why it was one of my new favorite places, and she suggested that next time maybe I should leave Tommy home.

She has a point.

Lately I’ve been running myself ragged trying to do too much. There’s the full-time job and the daily challenge to burn off Tommy’s excessive energy, and then there’s squeezing a social life in between the cracks of those two demands as well as looking for a house. I’m exhausted. It might be different if I had a fenced yard for Tommy but I don’t. That’s why I take him to Starcrest Kennels all the time: constant stimulation, fenced yards. Tommy can run!

And that’s why on weekends I bring him along when I tool around town. If I leave Tommy at home while I’m out and about for a few hours, the moment I walk through the door I have to step right back out to walk him. But when Tommy joins me on my excursions, he’s ready for a nice long nap when we get home. Then I too get to kick off my shoes and relax (at least until Tommy’s ready for his next walk).

Last Saturday I went to the Verizon store in Old Town (yes, I have succumbed to the allure of the smartphone). The store was empty so the sales clerk let me bring Tommy in. I love that.

Then I walked down the street to Crossroads and discovered the perfect hitching post for Tommy.


Notice the doorway is not used as an entrance. Check out the shaded cubbyhole, where Tommy is set back from pedestrians passing on the sidewalk. Appreciate the door latch and how easily a leash can loop through it and the big window, making it easy for me to watch Tommy while I shop. And marvel at that mail slot, perfect for slipping treats to the pooch.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

My good friend Kelley, who I met in L.A. when I lived with just the cats (my friends call it BT as in “Before Tommy”), had a dear Rottweiler named Nikka. Kelley adored Nikka, while I adored my cats. We once talked about the difference between dog people and cat people and pretty much agreed on these blanket generalizations: dog people are more extroverted and active; cat people are more introverted and neurotic.  

Kelley now lives on the east coast, and after reading this blog she wrote “she’s a dog person now!’ I had to laugh.

My true nature may be that of a cat person. But Tommy (with his all-consuming, high-maintenance, “the world revolves around me” energy) tips the scale, and so I don’t get to indulge the cat person as much. But I sneak it in when I can.


Of course I’m really both. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Humbling Moment

On Saturday I walked Tommy in Old Town and stopped for lunch at Intelligentsia. I was psyched to see an empty table next to one of the large open windows. I quickly claimed it, reaching in to place my bag and water bottle on it and then tying Tommy to the post that separates the two windows. I left him there and went inside.

I planned to give him a big bully stick when lunch arrived so he’d be occupied while I ate. But Tommy had other plans. As I walked to the counter, I glanced behind me to catch him teetering on all four paws on the windowsill. I growled “Off!” in the firmest yet quietest voice I could muster as I jetted back to the window. Tommy knew I was serious so he jumped onto the sidewalk as a passing man said, “That didn’t turn out quite as you’d planned, huh?”

You could say that about the entire Tommy affair.

I gave him the bully stick, which he chewed with abandon on the sidewalk while I headed back to the counter to order lunch. 

Tommy finished just as my food arrived. I spent the next 20 minutes alternating between bites of salmon salad and hand-feeding Tommy kibble to keep him from jumping through the adjacent window onto another diner’s lap.

I wish I’d captured a photo of him on that windowsill, but I had more important things to consider, like not getting 86’d from one of my new favorite haunts. Check out this local blogger’s review of Intelligentsia and scroll down to see a photo of the entrance. Then imagine Tommy tied to that post and jumping up on the windowsill right where that bicycle leans. 

Life with Tommy is both funny and infuriating.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ponchito the Fierce Warrior

I know you’ve all been waiting on pins and needles to hear what happened to the Hahamongna Chihuahua, spending sleepless nights worrying about the little guy. Here, finally, is the update.

Back at my place, he lay on the floor, barely able to keep his eyes open, yet each time I came into the room he’d stand up and wag his tail. The little guy now adored me, and the feeling was quickly becoming mutual.

Already I was testing the waters, mulling over how to make it work, hoping he could make a harmonious transition to becoming a new member of the pack.

The cats, both bigger than he, were unperturbed by his presence, a refreshing change. Ramona lounged on the floor just a foot away. Frieda was cautiously curious, and then ignored him. But he growled at them as they passed.

Life must be difficult when every creature you meet is bigger than you and therefore a potential threat.

Something about this little guy’s scrappy looks with his bulging eyes made me think of Grandpa from the Munsters so that’s what I started calling him.

That night, the cats slept in my bedroom, Tommy in the kitchen, and Grandpa in the living room. It made me happy to see his little body curled up on the makeshift bed of blankets, sleeping soundly.

In the morning, I took him out for a short walk and then went back to the house to take Tommy out. But the little guy wanted more. To save time, I decided to walk them together. I left Grandpa waiting at the front door and brought Tommy in his snoot loop toward him. I picked up the little guy’s leash, and Tommy with his overbearing energy went right up to his face. And bam!, there was a dog fight, the pit bull against the Chihuahua.

I spread my arms, a leash in each hand, as wide as they could go, sending poor Grandpa airborne. And that was it. It was over as quickly as it had started.

I took Tommy for his morning walk alone.

The plan was to drop Tommy off at Starcrest Kennels for doggie daycare and then take the Chihuahua to the Pasadena Humane Society. If no one claimed him after the required allotted time, I would spring him from the shelter and foster him. Maybe I could even keep him, although the morning did not bode well for a house of harmony.

I worried about his options if I couldn't keep him. Veronica said she might be able to get him on a transport if he passed a temperament test, but what if he didn't? He wasn't a cute cuddly lap dog. He was elderly and curmudgeonly and, with his cherry eye and a wheezy cough, he had health problems. What would I do if no one wanted him? I had turned my life upside down to save Tommy, and after two and a half years I finally felt as if I had my life back. I wasn't sure I could take another upheaval, not with my small space and no yard and the constant threat of fights. But what had been the point of saving this guy from the streets if I were to just turn around and let him languish at a shelter for 5 days before being euthanized?

In the car, Grandpa crawled into my lap to get protection from Tommy’s wild gaze. But like I said, he wasn’t a lap dog, he didn’t cuddle. He stood up to see what was happening outside the window, his little legs boring into my larger ones. At a red light, I lifted him to his blanket on the passenger floor. I scratched his head and made cooing noises at him, which really perplexed Tommy. Why was he getting all the attention?!

Once at Starcrest, I left Grandpa in the car while I brought Tommy up to the reception area. As I turned back toward my car, Rita, the owner, passed by. I told her about how I'd found the Chihuahua, and jokingly asked, "Do you want to keep him?"

I expected a laugh in return, perhaps a gentle "no, sorry, I can't..." but instead she said, in all seriousness, "let me see him."

I took her to the car and we discussed what to do. I told her I thought I should take him to the Humane Society first and give an owner a chance to claim him. She said well, if that's what you want to do. But I started to change my tune as we considered his stats: unneutered, cherry eye, with a yellow rope tied around his neck. Whoever “owned” him didn’t seem to take very good care of him. Doubtful that someone was looking for him but if they were, didn’t we want better for this little guy?

Rita took him under her wing, and that's the last I've seen of him. He's since been neutered, had surgery to fix his cherry eye, and gotten all his shots. He's in quarantine in "the condo" until Rita's sure he's healthy.

Rita says he's fiesty. He put up a good fight when she went to give him a parvo shot. She called him a fierce warrior and named him Ponchito.

Once he's out of quarantine, I'll post a picture of him.

Rita, like Veronica, is a hero.

Ponchito the Fierce Warrior. Lucky dog!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hahamongna Chihuahua

Last Tuesday evening after picking up Tommy at Starcrest Kennels, I drove past a little black Chihuahua mix running in the opposite direction along Oak Grove Drive, just where it’s sandwiched between the 210 Freeway and Hahamongna Watershed Park.

I made an abrupt u-turn (sound familiar?) as I cursed profusely. I can’t stand the thought of a dog getting hit by a car (as the Tommy saga reveals), but it’s not like I want to spend my free time catching them.

And yet, I can’t help myself.

The u-turn brought me into a driveway of sorts leading to a dirt road into the park. The entrance to the road was blocked off by a big chain; I parked my car parallel to it. There isn’t much of a shoulder on Oak Grove so it turned out to be the perfect spot to land.

I opened the passenger door in the off chance the dog might just jump in. He didn’t. Instead he lay in front of the car in the dirt.

I left the passenger door open and squatted a few feet away so as not to spook him. The poor guy was exhausted. I threw some kibble his way. He got up and checked it out but didn’t eat it; at least he wasn’t starving.

Tommy whined in the back seat, so I gave him some chicken jerky and broke off little pieces for the Chihuahua. That he liked. I lured him closer. He gingerly approached and sniffed my hand. One of his eyes was all teary and had a big red bulge at the bottom of it (a condition known as “cherry eye”). He let me stroke his back. He had a yellow rope tied around his neck with about two inches of leash. I gently took hold of the leash and started to pull him toward the open car door.

And he flipped out, twisting and turning and bucking up.

Back in February I tried to rescue a stray dog in L.A. Long story, but the upshot is I got bit, the dog ran away, and I spent the morning in the emergency room. Granted that dog was a Jindo, and they can be fierce, but even a Chihuahua has sharp teeth. And what would be the point if I scared him off too?

I reflexively let go of the yellow rope, the dog tore off, and Tommy flew out of the car after him. The Chihuahua with the pit mix on his tail ran into the middle of the street. I screamed for Tommy to come, but he ignored me (so much for rocket recall). The little dog circled back toward the side of the car where I stood, leading Tommy directly into my arms. I shoved him into the back seat and secured him with a harness and seat belt.

Even after that harrowing ordeal, remarkably the little guy hung around, although a bit warier now.

I started to experiment. I gave him a command in a stern voice; that only made him slink away. I called him Chico, the only Spanish name I could think of (lame, I know); it had no affect whatsoever. I made a noose out of Tommy’s leash and lured the little guy with chicken jerky. As soon as I lifted the makeshift noose, he ran away.

Back in the driver’s seat, I put pieces of chicken jerky on the bottom edge of the passenger doorway. He stretched his neck to reach them, while Tommy whined and barked in the back seat. (I couldn’t blame him. Under the circumstances, he was being a pretty good boy, but he didn’t exactly put the Chihuahua at ease.)
The little guy scooted out of sight. I got out of the car to look for him and found him waiting on the other side. As I approached, I sweet talked to him and he wagged his tail. I took that as a hopeful sign.

I watched a bicyclist pedal past. A few cars sped by, followed by a looker in a turquoise VW van. His eyes stayed with mine as I watched him pass, his wheels spinning him toward some unknown destination. I half expected, half hoped he would turn around to join me. Maybe there was a reason I’d stopped for this Chihuahua. Maybe the dog was part of some larger plan to bring me and the man in the VW van together. It would be divine intervention that would lead to love ever after, the kind of fateful event that changes your life and makes for a great story.

But of course the looker just kept driving.

I let Tommy out of the car, and we walked down the dirt road into Hahamongna. The Chihuahua followed at a safe distance. But then an off-leash dog that looked like a fox tore after him as if he were a rabbit. For the second time in an hour, the poor pooch ran as if his life depended on it, and surely it did. The fox-like dog was retrieved by her human, and I went back to the car, securing Tommy in the back seat again.

The Chihuahua still stuck around.

I sat on the dirt cross-legged, like a yogi, hoping he’d crawl into my lap. He came right up to me but as soon as I tried to put my hands around him to pick him up he stiffened and I backed off.

“Sometimes you just can’t catch ‘em,” is what one dog rescuer wrote to me after I'd bemoaned the fact I hadn’t caught that Jindo.

I looked longingly at passing vehicles willing someone to help me. But I remained the lone loon sitting in the dirt.

The day slipped into twilight. It was hot. The quest became a meditation.

I got back in the car and pondered what to do. I don’t pray but I found myself asking God for help. It wasn’t a deep plea that souls resort to when confronted with a life-threatening danger or the loss of a loved one. It didn’t have the profound weight associated with facing mortality. It was matter-of-fact.

“Look, God, I can’t stay here all night. Either you help me out or this dog is going to end up as roadkill or dinner for a coyote.”

I started the car and waited, hoping he’d come to his senses and jump in, the door still open inviting him in. He didn’t.  I wanted to drive off, but I couldn’t see him. I may have been ready to give up, but I didn’t want to end my quest running him over with my car. Talk about irony.

I turned off the engine and walked around to the other side. He wagged his tail again when he saw me.

I tried one last thing.

I placed one of Tommy’s old blankets on the ground with pieces of chicken jerky in the center and sat beside it holding the makeshift noose. He came up to check out the treats and, just like that, I slipped the noose around his neck, tightened it, folded the blanket around him, and carried him to the front passenger seat floor. Still holding the leash around his neck, I got in the car and shut the door, then climbed over the clutch to the driver's seat.

Oh my god. I did it!

With the pit bull on high alert in the back seat and the Chihuahua mix huddled in the blanket on the floor, I started the engine and, giddy, headed home.

Epilogue (inspired by Haiku Bandit)

hahamongna chihuahua
playing hard to get
cherry eye
not your turn to die

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tommy Enjoys Brunch in Old Town

Last Saturday morning I walked Tommy along Colorado Boulevard in Old Town Pasadena so I could stop in at the newly opened Intelligentsia. As I walked up to the cafe, Tommy jerked to the right pulling me along with him. His target? A brown paper bag filled with crinkle cut French fries.

Gotcha! I caught him a second before he gobbled them up.

I consider it a success when I’m quick enough to prevent Tommy from sucking up food trash left by what seems to be the entire Pasadena population, considering how much of it is strewn about town.

I tied Tommy to the fire-hose contraption, jutting out of the adjacent building and just to the right of the Intelligentsia entrance, and went inside. Tommy registered his discontent by bucking up and barking and then staring into the cafe with his standard quizzical expression, “WTF?”

After I got my coffee I grabbed a table with a clear sight of Tommy, and then went out to give him a bully stick so I could enjoy my fix in peace. Tommy was thrilled, and I got a good laugh watching him. As he gnaws on one end of that thing, the other end sticks out of the side of his wide mouth, which makes him resemble Edward G. Robinson chewing on a cigar.

As I left the cafe, a couple of more dogs were outside. I approached with Tommy and struck up a conversation with the owners, who were sitting inside, holding the dogs’ leashes through the window. Tommy grabbed his opportunity and made a beeline for that paper bag. By the time I caught on, he had already feasted on a good chunk of those crinkle cut French fries.

Darn! You got me that time, Tommy.

Like most dogs, Tommy has a great nose. The problem with that is I never know whether he’s sniffing a patch of grass because he’s on the scent of another dog or if he’s honing in on something like a lollipop or a bone or some crushed Doritos.

During the first few months living in Pasadena, Tommy worked the street like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, sucking up every piece of chewed-up gum in the neighborhood, and there was a lot of it: electric blue, neon green, hot pink. Before long there wasn’t any more gum to be found. Either the gum chewer had moved away or had outgrown the habit. But Tommy’s work cleaning up continued.

After his French fries coup, we continued our walk, and within the course of an hour Tommy had tried, with varying degrees of success, to eat a pile of short ribs, squished cherries, and a flattened brownie.

You can’t stop a dog from sniffing. Dogs sniff. That’s what they do, and we humans have to let them do it. But with Tommy, I must keenly observe his sniffing in order to keep him from eating things that could make him sick. (Tommy may be a macho street dog, but he’s got a sensitive stomach.) It’s a balancing act.

Tommy went toward what looked like a piece of foam on the sidewalk. I thought he’d just sniff and keep walking—even Tommy possesses some discriminating judgment—but instead he ate it.

What?!

This is where the snoot loop can be both good and bad. I pulled the leash up so the loop tightened around his nose, forcing his mouth to shut and point toward the sky. This trick works sometimes. When he discovered a piece of hard, stale whole wheat toast in a neighbor’s bushes, I pulled on the leash so that the toast stuck straight up making it easy for me to wiggle it out of Tommy’s mouth (we repeated the performance with a fried chicken breast, Tommy’s pièce de résistance, on Lake Avenue). But if the food, or food-like substance, is entirely inside his mouth, pulling on the snoot loop to snap his mouth shut makes the offending matter that much more inaccessible.

The foam piece fit this latter category. I loosened the loop and stuck my finger in his mouth but he had already swallowed it.

Darn! I wondered what the foam would do to his sensitive belly. There wasn’t much to do about it at that point so I kept walking, only to get a glimpse of more “foam” up ahead. Turns out it was actually a yellow cupcake.

Having thoroughly enjoyed his dessert, Tommy pranced along the sidewalk sniffing for his next course.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Imagination Sure Can Run–Part One

I like to think I have an active imagination. Unfortunately two recent experiences reminded me that there’s a fine line between imagination and just plain crazy.

The first one happened a few weeks ago.

I share a small backyard with a young couple, who have a beautiful border collie, oddly named Tally (at least I think that’s what I heard during one of the rare conversations I had with the wife). Tally is a calm, well-behaved dog. I’m not sure how they’ve managed that, considering how challenging it is to give a high-energy dog, as border collies are known to be, adequate exercise without a big fenced yard—speaking from experience, of course. But somehow they have. Maybe she’s the rare exception or maybe they spend their days hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains or maybe they take daily trips to the dog park. I don’t know. All I know is that I rarely hear her bark.

That is, until a few weeks ago when I worked from home and listened to her bark and whine all day. I followed the cries into my bathtub to peek through the tiny window that faced the yard. She sat at their back window, directly across from me, her furry face pressed against the glass, panting and whining and then letting loose a high-pitched bark.

At first it was a minor annoyance. But as her distress seemed to escalate my irritation grew to concern. What if she were trying to communicate something? What if she were like Lassie trying to tell the world her owner was hurt or in danger?

I went around back to investigate, walked up the steps and looked through the front window. Tally barked ferociously as any good watchdog would do. I couldn’t see into the side room, so I considered going into the yard to peek through the very window where Tally had sat before I triggered her protective instincts.

What if the wife, probably around 27, had had a heart attack and was lying on the floor unconscious? What if she’d had an accident or been attacked by an intruder and needed help?

Should I stick my face right up to the glass where Tally had just whined? Or would another neighbor see me and think I was a snoop? A busy body? Or just plain ass crazy?

What if I didn’t do anything and later her husband would come home and find her on the floor unconscious? What if she were dead?! The police would question me. I would say I had heard the dog barking all day and then an investigator would ask why I hadn’t done anything. “You could’ve saved her but you didn’t!” the husband would shout.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is.

I contemplated calling the landlord to get a cell phone number but I refrained. Three times that day, I walked to the house to investigate, and each time I stopped short of creeping into the yard to do the full-on window search. Each time I returned to my computer, where I listened to Tally bark and wondered why no one showed up mid-day to walk her. Poor girl.

Sometime after 6 o’clock Tally stopped whining. Voices floated from the house. All was well. The wife, and her husband, had avoided some terrible fate, and I had escaped the embarrassment of advertising my craziness to the neighbors.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tommy the Lap Dog

Tommy’s not allowed on the furniture in my house. Not because I’m philosophically opposed to sharing my couch with him nor because I have such nice furniture (far from it—the cats have made sure of that as my $500 red leather cat scratcher will attest), but because he’s a dog that needs clear and strict boundaries.

But at Veronica’s house, Tommy is allowed to indulge his inner lap dog.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Family Portrait

Tommy, his human, and cousin Zoe

When I found a home in Pasadena I had the great fortune of moving directly across the street from a woman who has since become my hero, Veronica Ferrantelli, founder of The Dog Rescuers. Sure, I guess you could say I saved Tommy; Veronica, on the other hand, has saved hundreds of dogs. The pack at her house is an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of dogs, rescued from high-kill shelters or some other horrific fate. Veronica fosters them until they’re adopted or transported to shelters far from LA County where they’ll have a much greater chance of finding loving homes.

Zoe is one of three permanent members of her pack.

The other night I called to see if I could stop by to pick tomatoes from her garden, an invitation she’d recently extended. “Come on by!” she said. And then I asked, “Can I bring Tommy?”

She hesitated. “Why don’t you come alone and bring Tommy by later?”

The full pack was in the yard. And so I went and picked tomatoes, without Tommy, while ten dogs wandered around the yard keeping me company. Ten dogs!

I shudder to think what would happen if Tommy’s testosterone-fueled, high-strung, bully energy were to enter the fray. And I don’t intend to find out. Before I arrive with Tommy, Veronica puts all the dogs into their respective dens in the house, except for Zoe, who has the grace and maturity to keep Tommy in his place.

Zoe is noble and kind. She is also playful. She and Tommy do a flirtatious dance together—the play bow, the run and chase. If Tommy gets too riled up, Zoe warns him with a growl and a nip, and Tommy backs off. Zoe is no pushover.

Unfortunately when I went by to pick tomatoes I forgot my camera, but here’s a picture from a few months ago that shows the house of doggie love.



Veronica used to have two dogs: Zoe and Cooper, the handsome copper dog in the forefront. She now counts little Lola (far left) as a permanent member as well. Lucky Lola!

Notice there is no Tommy in this picture.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Dangerous Girl

On a recent balmy evening, Tommy and I strolled down Topeka Street around dinnertime. There was a lot of activity—kids playing, neighbors out conversing—and such a pleasant summer atmosphere, until I heard a big hacking noise and then a spit come from across the street. I kept my gaze focused directly ahead so my displeasure didn’t register with the neighbors. (I find that often the most neighborly thing you can do is to keep your opinions to yourself.) But as I walked by, I snuck a peek to get a glimpse of the offender walking toward his car. Just as I did a booming voice came from the same yard.

“What kind of dog is that?”

The voice came from a man seated on the porch and mostly hidden from view behind tall bushes. I could see he was leaning forward, looking at me and waiting for an answer.

“A pit bull mix,” I yelled back.

With a jazzy cadence, he said “Girl, you dangerous.”

I laughed and kept walking, and he called after me, “You dangerous!”

Spitting or no spitting, I love the comments from the neighborhood peanut gallery Tommy so often evokes.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Regular Love Fest

Uncle Ray, my mother’s brother, was visiting a friend in Marina del Rey a few months ago, so we arranged to meet at the Rose Café in Venice for brunch. I brought Tommy along so we could walk on the beach afterwards. When we finished brunch, Uncle Ray and Aunt Sylvia came out to the car to meet him.

I opened the Mazda hatchback door, and Tommy jumped up to put his front paws over the back seat, where he was sitting, to face the action. One ear up, one ear down, he welcomed Uncle Ray with his irresistible, exuberant self. Uncle Ray laughed and moved closer to scratch him behind the ears and stroke his head, actions akin to winding up an Energizer bunny. I held Tommy’s collar to try and restrain him while, with the force of a bull, he pulled to lick Uncle Ray right on the kisser.

Instead of recoiling or turning away, Uncle Ray closed his eyes, pursed his lips and moved right in on Tommy, who proceeded to slobber all over his face. Uncle Ray smooched Tommy right back, repeatedly, cooing all along. It was a regular love fest.

I come from a long line of crazy dog people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tommy Talks Like We Do

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I was in bed just waking up when I heard a faint knock at the front door. I quickly made myself presentable and worked my way through the house, passing Tommy in the kitchen, who was on high alertone ear pointed to the sky, brow furrowed, tail straight out behind him.

At the door I was greeted by my adorable neighbor, a 4-year-old Frenchman.

“Ilyas, what are you doing here?” I rarely get unexpected visitors but a 4-year-old Frenchman traveling solo was a first. I glanced around for his mom or dad but they were nowhere in sight.

“Does your mom know you’re here?” He gave me a distracted nod as he stretched around me to peek at Tommy, whose tail sliced through the air like a pendulum. Clearly this guest was here to see someone other than me. “Do you want to say hi to Tommy?”

His eyes lit up and he nodded, with fervor this time. I may have even heard him say “Mais bien sur!” But perhaps I imagined that.

During the first few months of life with Tommy, I took a beginner obedience class at the Pasadena Humane Society with Penny Scott-Fox. Tommy learned the basic commands: sit, leave it, down. (The down command took a while. Tommy’s body would lower as he followed the treat to the floor but then his rear would pop up. Penny called him a popper. Eventually, after many, many tries he stayed down.)  

Obedience class was great but it soon became clear Tommy needed individualized attention focused on behavior modification. At Penny’s recommendation I started working one-on-one with Janine Pierce of J9's K9s, and that’s when Tommy learned the command that made home life with him bearable: Go to your bed.

Tommy gets ecstatic when visitors arrive. Left to his own devices, he would jump up at their face, bite their shoelaces, slobber all over any exposed skin, and jump up again, throwing in a few nips for good measure along the way. (I’ll have much more to say about Tommy’s “nips” later.)

While many dogs jump up, and some even nip, it can be a real problem when that dog is a pit bulland he does both. I’ve done a lot of work with Tommy, but I have only one trick up my sleeve for managing him when a guest comes to the house.

“Tommy, go to your bed,” I stated firmly as I escorted Illyas toward the kitchen.

Tommy loves hearing this. He ran and leaped into the air and landed on his bed, turning to face us to wait expectantly for his treat. With Ilyas by my side, I went to open the cabinet, but Tommy couldn’t contain his excitement. He got out of bed and ran toward us.

“Tommy!” I said, much louder and firmer this time. I held out my arm and pointed to the bed with military command. “Go to your bed!”

Tommy turned and leaped into his bed again. And then Ilyas said, “How come he talks like we do?”

I wanted to be clear I understood his question. “You mean because he goes to his bed when I tell him to?”

Ilyas nodded. What a great question, and I have to admit my heart swelled with a bit of pride at the answer.

“Because I taught him to.”

Janine called it interspecies communication, and then she’d say “isn’t that cool?” And I have to say, yeah, actually, it is cool.

Lest you find my pride a bit immodest, let me assure you that for every prideful moment there are at least two to humble me. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Saving Hahamongna: the Wisdom of those Before Us, a Gift to Future Generations

Tommy and I take frequent walks in Hahamongna and see all walks of life enjoying it when we do--horseback riders, young families hiking, people walking their dogs, and kids playing frisbee, not to mention the birds and other wildlife that thrive here. The area is a rare natural habitat, one of the few in Southern California that has not been destroyed. I feel fortunate to live in a city that has so far been committed to preserving this natural environment. It's a shame that the community is now in a position of having to fight to save it, but Hahamongna is worth fighting for, so fight we will.

At the moment I'm visiting my sister and her family in central Vermont, a state committed to conserving the land. You see the wonder of that commitment in the rolling green mountains, the winding dirt roads, and the acres of small farms. I've been visiting them here for over 20 years, and each time I return I'm relieved to see that, although it has grown, the natural landscape has not been destroyed. The beauty that brought people here in the first place has been maintained.

How will Pasadena look in 20 years? What will the next generation think of the city? Will people choose to live here because of a couple of soccer fields and large parking lots that provide easy access to those fields? Or will they choose to live here because the city had the foresight to preserve natural open spaces for wildlife and people alike to enjoy?

The word "Hahamongna" means "flowing waters, fruitful valley" in the original native language that was spoken here. Many years after that language was no longer spoken, Einstein wrote about man's "delusion of consciousness," in that man considers himself separate from the whole of the universe. He said we must widen "our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole [of] nature in its beauty."

Let's be guided by the wisdom of those who lived and enjoyed this area long before we did and make decisions for which future generations will thank us. Instead of paving over the land, let's commit to a sustainable future where all people in the community can enjoy and cherish this natural habitat. If we don't, this open space will be gone to us forever.

Please visit these blogs and websites to learn more about saving Hahamongna:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tommy Returns Home to Find Ramona in His Bed

When Tommy is home Ramona the cat sneaks around the house keeping a low profile so as not to excite the wild creature with the high prey drive. But when Tommy's not around, she rubs against his Kong Wubba and his purple teddy bear. Lately, she even sneaks into his bed.


Tommy does not know what to make of this. Speculation is growing she's secretly in love with him.

Friday, June 25, 2010

“It’s Not That Bad Though.” Really

My high school boyfriend is in town to perform his one-man show “Back to Babylon” as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. It consists of hilarious and touching portrayals of several characters from the 70s based on people from my hometown of Babylon, Long Island.

We spoke on the phone a week ago Tuesday during the Lakers’ final game with the Celtics. When he asked if I were watching the game, I said “no,” that I didn’t have a TV, which made him laugh.

I got rid of it last year when, after I’d made a vow to start writing again, I found myself wasting hours watching reality TV instead. “Top Chef” had redeemable qualities but when I couldn’t peel my eyes away from “Real Housewives of New York” I knew something had to change.

Was I working on a screenplay?

“No.” I hesitated before adding, “I’m writing a blog about my dog.”

He laughed again and said he wished he had time for a dog.

Gregg has a lovely wife and two kids. I have a wild pit bull and two cats.

“Back to Babylon” is a surreal trip down memory lane for me, let me tell you. I saw it twice this week with friends. Afterwards, they had many questions about that time in my life.

I rarely think about my 17-year-old self but this week I've been making inevitable comparisons between the life I imagined I would have when it was still stretched out before me and the life I’m living now.

But, I've never had much of a plan. I’ve never been one to map out my future. I have a tendency to go with the flow and react to what’s put in front of me. This can work against me as I sometimes find myself wondering where the time has gone; why I don’t have the things in life I thought I wanted; why I haven’t achieved the goals I’d vaguely set for myself.

It can also lead to interesting detours, as when, after finally dragging myself to Brooklyn Bagel Bakery one Sunday morning in January 2008 because I’d heard they had the best bagels in L.A., I passed a pit bull running in the opposite direction down Beverly Blvd and I did a u-turn to meet up with him in the parking lot of Tommy’s hamburger place.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Sometimes I get blue. When the main character in “Back to Babylon” veers toward complaining about his life, he snaps out of it with his signature line, which he states in between gulps from his bottle of Budweiser: “It’s not that bad though.”

And it really isn’t.

There are two more opportunities to see “Back to Babylon.” Go check it out and marvel at Gregg's inspiring performance. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Vicious -- Continued

I shouldn’t have used “vicious” in an earlier post’s title without finishing the vicious part of the tale. A reader may have thought I was characterizing Tommy’s behavior at Farnsworth Park as vicious but that’s not what I meant.

I’m not sure what to say about that wild behavior but it’s not vicious.

Janine’s assistant once said, “Tommy does everything with exuberance!” She was one of Tommy’s biggest fans. I’m pretty sure Janine would not have chosen that word to describe him though. But that’s another story…

Last weekend’s theme was exploring neighborhoods to check out houses for sale. Saturday night was beautiful Northeast Altadena. Sadly, it’s pretty much out of my price range.

So Sunday afternoon I walked Tommy down El Sereno in Pasadena. I guess you could say it’s the ‘hood.

We passed a couple of young guys who seemed very interested in Tommy. They mumbled to each other as they eyed him, and I caught the comment, “Man, he must be vicious wearing that thing.”

And so I had to turn and give them the Snoot Loop spiel.

“It’s not a muzzle. It’s a Snoot Loop. It’s like a halter that horses wear…”

“Oh, yeah?”

They were intrigued, so I continued the explanation. Then I said with a smile, “He can still bite with it on.”

They both busted out laughing when I said that. And that made my day.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Interlude

This is an excerpt of an IM exchange I had with a coworker today:

sc: wanna see a funny picture?

e v: YES

e v: always



e v: ha

e v: partying out too late

sc: tommy is a party animal

e v: learned it from his mum!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Vicious

When I first took Tommy in, I quickly learned he had major issues. I had no idea of the challenges ahead of me and how Tommy would totally take over my life. I’ll write about many stories over time, but for now I just want to mention a trainer, Janine Pierce of J9's K9s, who, when I told her I was thinking of finding Tommy a new home, suggested I keep a daily mood calendar, using simple smiley faces or frowns to mark the good days and the bad. The idea was that I would eventually, hopefully, see that the good outweighed the bad.

I never did keep a mood calendar nor did I find Tommy a new home, obviously (although I did make a lukewarm attempt to do so—more on that later).

This weekend was a mixed bag. Here are the highlights, both good and bad:

As I drove up Santa Rosa Avenue in Altadena Saturday night, Tommy hung out the back seat window, his front paws on the armrest so that his chest bulged out into the breeze. An elderly couple on the side of the road, the man with a cane, stopped walking to watch us drive by. The woman, with a big smile on her face, waved as we passed.

I felt like a one-car parade with the pit bull mayor.

I parked on Poppyfields Drive, and we walked. It was a beautiful night. Twilight stretched longer than usual, the San Gabriel Mountains black against the ever darkening blue night sky.

Somewhere people were singing 60s tunes. I followed the music up to the Farnsworth Park Ampitheatre. A woman at the entrance smiled as we approached and gestured for me to enter. I kind of lingered, not convinced that bringing Tommy in would be a good idea. She came toward us, cooed over Tommy and started to bend down toward him. Bursting with excitement, he tried to lick her feet, to charge into her arms. I held his collar to restrain him.

But not tight enough. Tommy popped out at her face like a snake. She reflexively turned her head so nothing happened, thank god, but it freaked her out. Understandably.

Pit bull in the face? Bad.

Usually I try to explain that Tommy is in training (always), that he needs to be seated and calm before you pet him, but with the music playing and her desire to pet him even after seeing how wound up he was I thought it would be okay.

Sigh... so much for highlights. I didn't even finish all the points, high and low, of the weekend and now I'm too tired to continue. Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is Tommy a “real” pit bull? Depends on who you ask

What’s a “real” pit bull, anyway? I've read that it isn't a real breed, that “pit bull” is a term to describe a group of breeds.

For a while, I wondered whether I should stop referring to Tommy as a pit bull. When I was immersed in my trial-by-fire education about these dogs after taking Tommy into my home, it seemed the politically correct name was “American Staffordshire Terrier.”

But I’m sorry: when someone asks me what kind of dog Tommy is, I’m not going to say “American Staffordshire Terrier mix.” That’s eleven syllables!

Compare that to “pit bull mix.”

Three simple syllables.

Rolls right off the tongue.

I suppose it can conjure up images of dog fights and gangs and deadly attacks. But I’d rather work on changing the perception of what a pit bull is and can be than distance myself from the maligned stereotype that induces so much fear.

Back in the 70s when I grew up, Tommy would just be a mutt. On the other hand, I don't recall seeing any dogs running around Long Island suburban streets that looked like Tommy.

So, what’s a “real” pit bull? Here are some sites with their version of the answer:
Pit Bull Rescue Central
Official Pit Bull Site of Diane Jessup
Bull Dog Breeds
American Kennel Club - American Staffordshire Terrier

Monday, June 14, 2010

Screenwriter and Mom? Nope. Pit Bull Blogger

After voting last Tuesday, I walked Tommy around Caltech and pondered what to eat (food often occupies my thoughts on these lengthy walks).

“Mmmm... That pint of vanilla Haagen-Dazs in the freezer would go great with warm apple pie.”

I turned down California Blvd toward Pie ‘n Burger.

I don’t like leaving Tommy outside tied to a post, but I’ll do it when I'm desperate and I’m comfortable with the neighborhood; a window gives me a line of sight to keep an eye on him; and it will only take a few minutes. Fortunately Pie ‘n Burger fit the bill.

While I discussed pie options with the waitress, Tommy waited patiently outside. (Well, actually, at first he was quite impatient: he barked and rose up in protest—an unnerving sight for the other patrons—but then he settled down.) I bought pieces of apple and boysenberry, retrieved Tommy, and then headed up Lake to make a loop back to my car.

I peeked inside Magnolia and felt a pang of longing when I saw a good crowd inside. A couple of women in strappy dresses sipped cocktails at the bar, and, I imagined, flirted with interesting men. The vibe looked relaxed, just my kind of place. I've lived in Pasadena over two years but I've never been there. Wouldn't it be nice to be sitting at that bar all squeaky clean, wearing a summer dress and heels? Drinking a ginger-cucumber-watermelon martini and hanging out with my own species, preferably of the opposite sex?

In my worn sneakers and baggy hiking pants, I carried my bag of pie up Lake, the pit bull at my side.

I used to aspire to be a screenwriter, to get married and have a baby. Instead I ended up single without kids, writing a blog about my rescued pit bull. How’d that happen?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tommy the Zen Master

For a couple of weeks in May, I was overwhelmed with grief over the Gulf oil tragedy, breaking out in tears every time I saw one of those heart-wrenching pictures of an oil-soaked bird. I spent my days poring over information on the web trying to understand the politics that led to the catastrophe and that played out in its wake. The whole thing was, and still is, unfathomably depressing. I couldn’t think of much else, so when I was invited to a party over Memorial Day weekend, I welcomed the chance to get out of the house and out of my head.

The party was great fun but on the drive home we started talking about the devastation in the Gulf, and by the time we pulled up in front of my house I was in a dark place again. But my spirits lifted slightly at the thought of Tommy greeting me in the kitchen. He didn’t disappoint.

His pit-bull tail whacked the kitchen table leg with a steady beat; he smothered my bare legs with sloppy kisses; and then, after performing the perfect downward-facing dog, he crawled back into bed.

He cracks me up.

Tommy, the lucky dog, doesn’t know anything about the tragedy in the Gulf. He just knows how good it is to be alive, to be sleeping on his dog bed in the kitchen, to see and smell his human walking through the door, to be rewarded with a a chicken jerky. Oh, what joy!

It’s a gift to see the world through his eyes, if only for a moment.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It’s Not a Muzzle; it’s a Snoot Loop

Minoru Drive gives off a sense of hyperrealism with its affluent homes, manicured lawns, and the San Gabriels as a backdrop. It feels like a film set on any day but today it was for real.

I got to the street just as the goofy cop in his Pasadena car led a procession of film trucks. As he drove by, I could hear him say "So you found your way over here?"

People buzzed around like bees, some carrying plates of food from craft services. I walked Tommy in the middle of the street, lined on each side by production trucks.

“Does he bite?”

At first I wasn’t sure why he was asking. That’s a common question when someone wants to pet Tommy, but this guy was walking in the other direction. Then I realized why he asked.

“It’s not a muzzle; it’s a Snoot Loop,” I called after him.


I can't tell you how many times I've said those two sentences together. I went on to explain it helps to control his pulling and it’s similar to halters used on horses.

The next day I was buying lunch at Connal’s on Washington Blvd., Tommy by my side, and I got asked the same exact question.

“It’s not a muzzle; it’s a Snoot Loop,” I said again. And this time I remembered what my friend Kim suggested I say.

“He can still bite with this on.”

I laughed as I said it so it wasn’t taken as a threat. One day I’ll write about all the other things Tommy can do while wearing the Snoot Loop.

So, I never did see Will Ferrell. Or Steve Carell. But I did see the back of Bubble Boy's Dad's head. How's that for a celebrity sighting?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Bubble Boy’s Dad

The no-parking signs had lined the streets for days alluding to the production’s arrival. I tied Tommy to the tree in the front yard so the kitties and I could have some peace and he could lounge in the sun and welcome the crew. Every 20 minutes or so I went outside—to rub his tummy; to throw around a tennis ball; or to play tug of war with his favorite toy, the Jolly Ball Romp-N-Roll.

A security guy, who shuffled around some traffic cones, said it was a Will Ferrell movie, which only added to my excitement. But the trucks never came. After work Tommy and I set out around the neighborhood to find them, just for kicks. Film productions add a little dazzle to these otherwise hum-drum suburban streets.

We found some action on North Hill Avenue, just above New York Drive. I caught sight of a guy sitting on what looked like a Hollywood tour bus with the open seats on top, except this was the size of a van and there was only one seat. Cameras, crew, and equipment buzzed around him. A Pasadena cop—bald, about 6'4" with a menacing look—approached. I thought he was going to tell me to get lost but he was having fun.

"No, that wasn't Will Ferrell. That was some guy I’ve seen a million times but I can't remember his name," he said. "Bubble Boy’s Dad. That’s who that was."

I said I’d never seen Bubble Boy, so I’d have to look on imdb.com.

"Bubble Boy’s Dad. That's who that was."

He got a big kick out of saying it, and I have to say it made me laugh, too.

The security guy had led me astray. The goofy cop set me straight: The film starred Steve Carell, not Will Ferrell, and was the same production that had been filming for weeks on Minoru Drive. Tommy and I headed in that direction.