Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A perfect weekend

This weekend marked the first that blessed the bay area with two whole days of beautiful weather. Naturally, we took advantage of it.

Saturday we walked Xochitl up to Bernal to frolic in the grass like a little bunny rabbit. She loved it.

xdog in bernal

Xochitl is going through a phase where now she's barking at any dog she sees, which is totally awesome in a place like Bernal which happens to be an off-leash dog park. After a few trials and errors, she quickly learned that the presence of a new dog on the horizon meant treats magically appeared on the ground. That worked long enough to get her over the hump and stop caring about the new dogs, since there were many of them. After that, she figured out to just follow us on the trails.

I went to work for a few hours, came back, and took a nap.

That night the front house had a party. Normally a front house party consists of a crowd that begins in the street, spills out the back, and stumbles into our house at 3 am looking for the bathroom.

But this weekend, probably due in part to the untimely good weather and the presence of spring break, the crowd was pretty tame. The second keg wasn't tapped until about 2 am (which is normally when folks are screaming for blood because the second keg went dry), and the new fence proved to be a monolithic deterrent that successfully kept the drunks out of our yard. We were able to have actual conversations with friends and all the windows and doors survived. They may not have been able to recoup the cost of the booze through the cover charge, but it did mean there was plenty of Pabst left to make that Sunday even lazier.

The next day Aaron took me out on the BSA. To understand the enormity of the previous statement, you have to hear the back story...

Last spring we drove up to Enumclaw to rescue the BSA. The 1969 single stroke motorcycle had been one of his dad's favorite toys, and Aaron remembers hopping on as a child and going for rides up the logging roads around their house (hey, it was the '70s!). Several decades ago the BSA was retired and sat lifeless and broken in the garage. A few years back, Aaron's younger brother Craig decided to "fix" the old bike while on a short visit home. Well, he managed to take it all apart, but never bothered to put it back together. When we got up to the farm, we were faced with an assortment of parts scattered around the garage and a couple old manuals to guide us. We pieced it together and brought it back to San Francisco.

Fortunately Aaron's landlord happens to be the premier old bike expert in the Bay Area. Even with Dennis as an invaluable resource, it's still taken nearly a year to get the bike working, and this weekend was its first time out in the city. Isn't it pretty?

starting the bsa

(Aaron looks stoic because starting the thing is an art in itself and takes a huge amount of concentration)

We puttered around for a long time. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. Not because Aaron is a bad driver or because I'm scared of motorcycles, but because all the controls are reversed (it's an English bike) and Aaron had told me that, during practice rides, he'd repeatedly mixed up the clutch and brake when his reflexes took over. Fortunately, this ride was without incident (except for maybe stalling a few times).

We finished out the afternoon in Dolores Park which was perfect except for Xochitl's amazing display of her nonexistent recall.

edsingers in dolores

Next week we begin a dog training class that promises a "Rocket Recall." We'll see.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What a difference two months make

It's been exactly two months since Paco died but it seems like much longer. It's like a whole lifetime has passed.

Today I am two things I never thought I would be: a store owner and a small dog person. Let's tackle these one at a time...

I cannot even begin to explain what a relief it's been to create the new store. Finding out we got the space just days after Paco died picked me up out of my despair and forced me to create something in Paco's name. Here is the result (please ignore the mop bucket on the floor, this was the evening before we opened... also ignore the fact that Paco Collars products are prominently missing from the shot, they're behind you, er, behind the photographer):


It's funny because I've never aspired to have a store. In fact, a few years ago a friend offered to have me inherit her retail space while her business moved to a larger location and I declined. I didn't want to be stifled by the hours, the public eye, etc.

But that was then. Now I feel this opportunity came at the right time. I think we, as a company, are ready to take that leap and the retail space we've made is a total refection of who we are. It's weird, but it feels like a second home. Even Xochitl has her little produce crate in the window from which she sunbathes and watches people go by all day long. Which leads me to my next point: I am a small dog owner.

Now, when we got Xochitl she was supposed to bridge that gap between Paco and Pirate, the cat. But with Paco gone she's now taken the role of primary dog, and the experience trips me out beyond belief. I mean, I'm a "small dog owner" now. I walk her around, worrying more about people stepping on her than running away in fear (which they should, actually). By necessity, I have to dress her up when it's cold. It's true, Paco had an extensive wardrobe but that felt normal. Now it just feels like I'm dressing up a doll.

I also have to deal with a temperament that's totally foreign to me. I'm used to unflappable, people-loving pit bulls but little Xdog is wary of strangers and likes to bark at random things. We're tackling each of these issues with much success, but it's a full time job, especially given the seeming randomness of each act. For instance, she won't even flinch at a wheelchair going by but will bark at someone who just gave her a treat. And let's not even get into children... she *does not* like them. At least she can walk by a stroller now, something she was unable to do without raising a major fuss before.

But she's totally great around other dogs... go figure. Guess you can't have it all.

a bug and a mug snug in a rug

Monday, March 16, 2009

Xochitl's Crappy Achievement

What is so important about today, you ask? Today marks the 4th day Xochitl (So-Chee) has *not* made a potty mistake (knock on wood).

Part of the reason for the brag is because Xochitl was/is such a hard dog to potty train. A dirty dog from the beginning, she's never had an issue about, say, peeing on her bed and then laying on it. Or peeing in her crate, even when it's barely larger than her and she's fed her meals in it. The Flokati rug is just one big wee pad in her eyes, and if it's concrete and indoors then it's fair game (sorry, Home Depot). Real wee pads are to be sniffed while the ground nearby is the chosen dumping ground, and grass is for frolicking in.

Probably the worst incident happened a few weeks ago. Aaron had worked a long day and was feeling incredibly run down and irritable. As you do with a grumpy man, I gave him space and allowed him to go to bed early while I continued to stay up. The light in the bedroom turned off and a split second later I heard a cry.

"Ah! Someone shit in the bed!"

No fingers were directly pointed, but I was pretty sure he didn't mean me.

As we changed the sheets we started laughing. First at the image of Xochitl burrowing in between the sheets and wriggling to the bottom of the bed only to lay a turd, and second because I don't think you could have written a more ironic ending to a crappy day.

After that, "Soche the Roach" lost her bedroom privileges.

I've never seen a tougher nut to crack than the Roach. We tried every trick in the book, watched her like a hawk, and she'd still squeeze out a mistake. Even when she was 99% at home, she's refuse to generalize. But finally, persistence, patience, and dog treats won out. This week something clicked.

At home she's got the routine down. If she wants to go potty, she'll go tearing out the cat door and go in the 1'x2' self-designated pee spot. At work she'll gaze longingly at the wood chip mulch yard next door and that's my cue to leash her up and run her out. She's starting to expand, too. On walks she now recognizes the cue, "Go potty," and will instantly start searching out the perfect spot.

Sure, she's a puppy so there's mistakes to be made, like last night. Aaron has just mopped the floors so we were marooned in the couch in our socks. Xochitl went out to go potty, then came tearing back in. Both Aaron and I were hypnotized by trashy television (VH1's "Tour Bus of Love" is amazing) so it was the smell that hit us first. I looked down to see Xochitl next to me on the couch, both back feet encrusted in a poo. There were clumps of poo next to her on the couch as well as a dirty trail that lead from the door. And there sat the little girl, so happy and playful.

Without thinking I screamed and reached for her, which, of course, lead to a game of chase. All over the freshly mopped floors she ran, spreading little brown footprints all over the place. I eventually managed to wrangle her and wash her out in the sink while Aaron tended to the floors.

But even though it was the most poop ever smeared around the house, it still counted as a successful Day 3 in the road to perfect potty training.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sad about Paco

Today I woke up crying. I really miss Paco. The more dogs I look at, the more I realize what a unique dog he really was.

I never told him, but when Paco was alive I'd occasionally cruise Petfinder. It was harmless, of course, but sometimes I'd find a cool dog and I'd start cursing Paco's existence. "If I only didn't have Paco, then I would totally own that dog," I'd say.

It was the strongest when I met Hector, which coincided with Paco's knee surgery. Like a bad affair, every day I'd leave Paco crated at home, say my goodbyes, then go pick up Hector and take him to work or for a walk around the lake. I'd drop him off before I got home, but Paco always knew. Jealously he'd sniff me up and down, his pupils getting large and the whites of his eyes showing. I would try and explain myself, "but he's giving me something you can't. If you could walk then it would be different and I wouldn't have to see other dogs."

But now that Paco's gone and I have the opportunity to choose any dog in the world, not a single one appeals to me, not even Hector. I'll try and visualize myself with each dog I see, and I don't like the result. It just doesn't seem right. And then I start to miss Paco even more.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Puppy Mill Wars

So Paco Collars has a company policy that we do not allow stores who sell puppies or kittens to carry our products. It's been a policy forever, but today it was finally put to the test.

First came the inquiry e-mail:

"We are a store called Pawsh Puppies Inc. in Chicago and would like to carry
your products. Please email us a wholesale catalog and pricing information.

So I sent them our standard form letter that includes a link to our catalog, which in turn outlines our company policies, including the one that states:

"-- we do not allow stores who sell animals to carry our products (puppy mills=bad)"

The e-mail then appears to have been forwarded on to someone with a different e-mail address than the original writer and the response is:

"We are going to carry live puppies for sale that we buy directly from quality breeders, nothing to do with puppy mills at all.
So we can’t carry your products then?"

"Send me the link to the breeder kennels and let me check them out. "

"Sure. They are the best around.

Go ahead and click it... I know you want to!

So, after some careful deliberation, I wrote back:

I'm sorry, but that would violate our policy.

They are a puppy mill. No reputable breeder would have three litters in a month, sell puppies to a store at 8 weeks of age, or make up their own dog breeds. Not to mention there is no proof of OFA testing, any titles or achievements.

They may be the best at what they do, but it is still not in the best interest of the animals and we cannot support that.

-- ana poe

It's funny because back when we first made the policy I never actually thought we'd have to defend it, but now I am glad we had it in place. If we can make one store open its eyes then it's worth the lost revenue.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


This is what happens when you let me and Carolyn loose at Target.

First, you try on stupid hats...

beer hat

... oggle things meant for children...

cow boots

dino boots

... and then you come home with underpants for your dog.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Blind Date

Yesterday we piled into the Mercedes, Xochitl assumed her favorite spot in the car, and we headed across the bridge and out of town.

cargoyle (that is, a car gargoyle)

The reason for the trip was to go meet "Casper", a dog we spotted on Petfinder last week. I've been cruising the site somewhat obsessively the past two weeks and he was one of the few profiles that invoked the response of, "That's him!" (and the only "that's him!" that actually turned out to be a male dog).

On paper and in pictures Casper was perfect. With a face somewhere between Paco and Honky Tonk, he stood on long legs and was pure white. Not normally awestruck by white animals, this guy broke my prejudices and forced me to acknowledge his sheer beauty. As a friend said, when I sent the picture along, "He looks like an inverse of Paco!" The description told the tale of a dog who loved everyone, including other dogs, and enjoyed car rides.

I began e-mailing furiously, though I understood there may be a delay since the rescue center was moving to a new location that exact weekend.

But by noon the next day I couldn't wait any longer, so I called. The resulting phone conversation was scattered, which was to be expected as they were still moving their operation, but I managed to explain our wants/needs/desires in a pet dog and left with a string of promises to photograph and cat test the dog.

Confident we'd found a true contender, I finally spilled the beans to my friends. I kept perusing the internet and visiting shelters, but suddenly every dog was a comparison to Casper. I knew it was bad, but I couldn't help it. Still awaiting pictures, we planned a trip to Fresno that weekend.

The drive down was so exciting. I exchanged texts with friends and Aaron and I made bets ("Okay, whoever can name-that-band first gets to rename Casper"). Located near the Fresno river, the landscape was beautiful in that Central Californian agrarian style. The orchards went on for what seemed like forever, and then they ended and there was the house.

Instantly I could see why we had never received pictures of Casper. The rescue was essentially a solo operation: there was one woman and thirty dogs. The chain link enclosures were small and the ground had turned to mud from the recent rain. The dogs were barking like mad, every one obese from lack of exercise, filthy from mud and, sometimes, feces. We walked the gauntlet to Casper's pen and there he was...

It's like when you go on a blind date and it turns out their profile picture was taken ten years and ten pounds ago. This was not the dog from the picture.

As we spent time with him out on the lawn, it was evident this wasn't going to work out. Yes, he was pent up, that's normal when you spend 23 4/5 hours a day in a small pen. However, that doesn't excuse a hard-mouthed correction.

Case in point, after we put Casper back we toured the rest of the dogs. I found one I fell in love with, though he would never work out in our house (too much prey drive). We took him out for fun anyhow. This dog had about 4 times the drive of Casper, was about 8 times as smart, and when he put his mouth on me a) it was gently and b) he cut it out when I told him to. By the way, this dog has papers if you're interested:

red smilin'

We left Fresno a little disappointed but also relieved. After the visit we had a much more firm understanding of what we want, what we don't want, and what kind of pre-adoption circumstance (ie. foster) is more favorable. Casper was instrumental in assisting those conversations. Even though he didn't come home with us, we still did play the "what if" game and fulfilled the bet...

"I'd name him 'The Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man'"

"No, Baby Beluga"