Would you ticket a dog for using public transit?

There are a lot of dogs, and bicycles in San Francisco. I've seen both on BART. When you live in a big urban city, using public transportation makes a lot of sense. You can travel a great distance fast and cheap, but you have to give up personal space and share the bus, train or trolley with others. 

I like this part. I enjoy experiencing the sights and sounds of it all, even when it makes me uncomfortable. It's real life. It's also temporary. When I read in the NY Times about dogs riding the subway in New York illegally, I thought about the dogs I've seen here on Muni.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com
"Aren't you the nice dog..." on the J Church, San Francisco, CA.


If the dog is well-behaved why should it be a problem?

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15 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Getting A Dog

Whether you're lonely, are overwhelmed by the cute dogs dressed in snuggly coats walking down the city street, or maybe it's the dogs dressed as Yoda at the Star Wars premiere, before you jump into pet pool grab a hot chocolate and consider these important questions. 

Bringing a dog into your life can change you for the better forever, it did for me. Being prepared before you make the leap will set you both up for success, and if you decide you are ready to add a dog to your life, please adopt one from your local shelter or rescue.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com


Before you get a dog, ask yourself and your family these 15 questions:

  • What do I expect from a dog?

So often we have expectations about what we think life will be like with a dog and we set ourselves up for disappointment. Asking yourself this question will help you both in the long run. 

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Why we should care about old dogs

When you think about it, we are not so different from dogs. And as I've experienced with my aging parents in the last years of their lives, there are overlapping priorities, behaviors, and desires between older people and older dogs.

November is Senior Dog Adoption Month, and a good time to draw a few dotted lines between what I learned from parents, and my beautiful senior dog.   

image from www.grouchypuppy.comWhy do senior dogs matter?

When you push past transparent efforts to pull on a person's heartstrings, there lies a much bigger issue, and it's serious. Old dogs are still disproportionately found at shelters. Sometimes they end up there simply because their family passed away. Other times they are discarded. I believe if people knew what they were missing they would seek older dogs out. They would care. My experiences have shown that as a dog ages, they enter a precious stage of offering valuable life lessons to us humans.

What sort of life lessons can an old dog teach you?

I'll start with a big one. Compassion. In today's world, politicians and talking heads are telling you on 24x7 news channels that every homeless person is horrible and just waiting to rob you. Yes, crime is real, but no, not every homeless person is bad, just like dogs in shelters are not bad. What is lost under these sensational headlines is the compassion and empathy for homeless people and homeless pets.

Give older dogs a chance to share their wisdom. People of all ages can learn compassion and gain empathy from an old dog. And from my experience, when you take the time to engage at their pace, your days become richer.

Simple needs win.

The older you get the less stuff you care about. Easy walks and laid back days are in order. You are at an age when you value quietude, and a warm soft bed. Savoring quality over quantity is how my dog lived her final years. She showed me every day the value of slowing down and being in the moment. Spending quiet time with her helped me be more present with my mother. I was more attuned to how my mother was feeling, and when she needed to rest.

Hat trick.

Shorter visits, earlier nights and smaller meals make up your day. Routines become more important as we age. I loved how my senior dog knew exactly when she wanted to go for a walk each afternoon, and I loved how my dad went to the same restaurant every Thursday. They both reveled in their favorite routes. I think my mom verbalized what my dog could not about preferring smaller more frequent meals.

We humans are not so different from dogs. All of these points I bring up are things I experienced with my own senior dog, and both my parents in the last years of their lives. As I move through middle age I'm already seeing my needs and desires shifting, along the same patterns. Being around them increased my empathy a thousand-fold for life as a senior.

Man and dog are social creatures who age, and most don't want to do it alone. People and dogs respond equally to affection and compassion. We all appreciate kindness.

The positive influence from caring about, and for, older dogs is something you don't want to miss! Pass it on!

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My early exposure to dogs left a lasting positive influence thanks to my mother

Where I lived growing up, some girls were horse crazy, some obsessed with dolls, while I was nuts about dogs. Certifiable! I have my mother to thank for the early exposure to all things dog. As an animal lover since childhood, she would take her allowance to spend on riding and grooming horses on the outskirts of Seattle every chance she got. In 1969, after her youngest child began kindergarten, my mother became a dog trainer. She focused all her free time on dog training, showing our family dogs, and other dog-related activities for almost thirty years.

image from www.grouchypuppy.comMy mom recently passed away. Among the things she left behind for me was a scrapbook filled with images from her entire career as a dog trainer in Monterey County. It's impressive! She not only put her heart into her work with her students, but she also stood up in public, writing several letters to the local newspaper about important issues such as dog bite prevention and puppy socialization. 

I remember her teaching evening obedience classes, but with a child's memory. Looking through this scrapbook, I realize now how much she really loved teaching, and how serious she was about setting the dogs up for success. She gave frequent homework assignments, and even used our dogs for demonstrations. She told me how her last dog, Magi, was practically raised in her classes. I never made the connection before but now I see that their special bond is why she understood so well my own closeness with my dog Cleo.

It continues to amaze me the positive influence a dog can have on our life. Knowing how Cleo helped me manage my introverted nature, I can appreciate how dogs helped my mother's similar tendencies. No wonder she was never in a hurry to remarry when she had such a wonderful animal companion. As a doberman, I bet Magi also made mom feel protected at night.

I didn't realize it back then but my mother tried to instill in me, and in her students, the notion that dogs will give fearlessly to you. When you have a dog she taught, it's your responsibility to provide them with a safe and loving environment, and to respect their doggy nature. 

Thanks mom! I'm grateful to my mother for the early exposure to dogs. At an impressionable age, I learned not only how to be responsible for a dog but I also got a chance to experience the power of the human dog bond. That is a gift to any child, but especially so for an introverted one.

When did you discover your love, or special connection to dogs? Did you have a parent who recognized the positive influence of dogs early on?


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How adopting a shelter dog challenged and changed me

I wonder how many people are surprised by the positive influence a shelter dog can have on them. It's Adopt A Shelter Dog Month and since my dog Cleo was adopted from our local shelter, the San Francisco SPCA, I thought I would share what the biggest challenge was and how she changed me.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com


Biggest challenge to choosing adoption of a shelter dog? Fear

For me, probably the biggest challenge of adopting a shelter dog was the fear. I was fearful of the unknown. You have to trust that the people running the animal center, the shelter, and the humane society are making sure the big dogs they offer for adoption aren't going to rip your face off while you sleep. Okay, that is a joke, but it kind of did cross my mind on our first night together because we chose to adopt a big Shepherd-Husky.

But you know what, I learned later on that being afraid is okay because I didn't let it stop me from acting. I am beyond thrilled that I chose to adopt a shelter dog. Look at us together!

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

How did adopting a shelter dog change me?

Choosing to not let my initial fear stop me from adopting Cleo, taught me about the power of trust. I learned how to trust my gut. I learned how to trust my relationship with my dog. I built on my history of love for dogs as a child, and forged a wonderful bond with this girl. Our life together and its many experiences changed how I viewed rescue dogs forever.

When we're ready, I will most certainly adopt a shelter dog again. And again. And again.

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Saying goodbye to our dog taught me how to bid farewell to my father

Saying goodbye to our dog taught me something about how I want to bid farewell to every loved one in my life.

This time of year in San Francisco is especially beautiful. The pink skies in the evening are filled with all sorts of clouds, while the mornings have a slight damp chill as the marine layer slowly pulls back its cover off of the city. Frequently, I find myself rising before dawn so that I can watch the city wake up. The quietude allows my thoughts to roam, most recently toward thoughts of loved ones and death.

image from www.grouchypuppy.comMy beloved Shepherd-Husky, Cleo, died a year ago, and it was tough on us to witness her decline in health. She was a big dog, robust and full of personality, until she wasn't. I saw her, again, and again, meet each new physical challenge, and win. She faced allergic reactions to foods, diabetes, seizures, blindness and dementia. It was a huge blow to suddenly realize that she was fading, that the grim reaper had his grip on her and wasn't letting go.

I had to let go, before she did.

A year before Cleo passed away, our vet told us we would know when it was time to say goodbye to her. He was right.

Watching her closely, getting down on the floor to see what life looked like from her eyes, and just spending quiet time together, I saw her decline. Her body was steadily deteriorating no matter how much I loved her.

Cleo loved exploring the sights and smells of the city. She was the mayor of our neighborhood. From shopkeepers to school children, everyone knew her. She was larger than life!

The look of joy on her face after she had pooped was priceless. Her posture erect, she'd proudly kick dirt back over her deposit, daring the next dog to top it. No wonder people thought she was a boy. More than a few times I took a few handfuls of dirt in the face while I bent to scoop her poop. She would look back at me grinning. I'm sure my laughter fueled her zealous display.

It was heartbreaking when Cleo began losing control over when she pooped. I saw her face when it just rolled out of her and onto the sidewalk. She stopped caring about an activity that had been her signature for years. Now her wobbly stance and loss of control, produced a dispirited expression.

I learned so much about myself and what "quality of life" means from this dog. As she came to the end of her life, I appreciated why we should not dwell on the past, or only focus on the future. She showed me how to be present, and to quietly embrace our time with loved ones.

When the time came to say goodbye to Cleo, I felt that I had done everything I could to be ready. I would only find out if this was true later.

A year has passed and I have the chance to lean on those experiences, to see how they stand up with the recent death of my father.

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What was so special about this dog? One year later

I've been thinking a lot about my dog Cleo. It's been a year now since she passed away. With each day, the grief I have experienced has eased, my emotions less volatile.

I miss her like crazy, that hasn't changed a bit, but I can appreciate more fully that her time had arrived. Having in-home euthanasia performed last year was the right thing to do for her. Even if we weren't ready for her passing, I truly believe she was.

It was like she was waiting on us...like she knew how big her presence was in our life, how significant a part she played in our family. She knew the size of the hole that would be left behind.

My husband and I have had dozens of conversations revisiting various milestones and significant changes in her quality of life in that final year. Each time, one of us recalls a vivid moment that spoke volumes about her declining health. We both saw how the sparkle in her eyes, and the thump of her tail were fading under ever-present exhaustion and stress. 

Now that she has been physically absent from our home for a year, what honestly was so special about this one dog? 

image from www.grouchypuppy.com


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The Five Myths of Having a Senior Dog

Three years ago, while looking across the room at my old dog, I had five fast responses to anyone fearful of loving a senior dog pop into my head. Reading through them this weekend, I still think they hold up and make good examples of why you should never let your fear of heartbreak prevent you from having an old dog in your life.

After our Cleo passed late last year, I have had many encounters with older dogs and each time they made me laugh and shake my head at these myths. 

Some people think having an old dog is the opposite of fun. I beg to differ with them. 

Check out these five myth-busters:

Myth 1. They're boring.

Fact: How can you be bored when you have this face around keeping you in stitches?

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

Myth 2. They're expensive.

Fact: We eat the same foods as she does, only minus the kibble. Even her pills are delivered via high-grade liverwurst that we share.

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My vacation included cleaning sleepy eyes, offering affection, and sausage bits to stray and pet dogs in Turkey

Going on vacation should be fun. When you have a dog, if you cannot take them with you, leaving them behind can be tough emotionally. It's also not fun if your separation is distressing for both of you. When you love a dog like I do, and your furry best friend is aging rapidly, you choose to stay with them every chance you can rather than leave them, even for an hour. You can question my relationship with her and call the depth of my attachment unhealthy, but I can look back now and say with confidence that I squeezed every ounce out of our limited time together.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com

Up, Up, and Away!

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Stray street dogs in Istanbul can track animal lovers

A tagged stray dog hangs out in Istanbul. Most of the street dogs I saw in Turkey wanted to be near people. At one point it seemed as if they were tracking me, a known animal lover. These loose dogs showed up at every place I went, and didn't hesitate to come close. Could they smell my desire to clean out their eyes or give them a soft pet?

Istanbul's street dogs seemed to be content either observing the flow of pedestrians, or napping in the sunshine. They were calm and sweetly passive to feet stepping very close, or in this case letting me sit near him on the bench to chat for a minute. 

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

Most of the dogs I saw in Istanbul were somewhat healthy looking, considering they lived outside and fended for themselves. This is a busy, crowded city. I was glad to see most people here either ignored the dogs, or were pleasant to them. Given the amount of cars and buses on the streets, I expected more aggressive behavior from people towards the loose dogs. Sure they honked at dogs walking in the road but that was all.

I was also kind of amazed to watch how the dogs navigated the crowds of tourists. The dogs I saw didn't spook easily and had a level of confidence in their behavior that told me the majority of them must be getting their needs met somehow.

I hope whatever they are doing in Istanbul is spreading to other Turkish cities and rural communities. The majority of dogs may not have a home but they didn't appear neglected, or abused, as I saw in some of the smaller towns.

My big struggle during this trip was deciding how to respond when I came across one of these dogs. What would you do if this happened to you on vacation in another country?


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How many dogs of Instagram are there?

I used to think I was crazy because I loved taking pictures of my dog. Years before Instagram I used my pocket Sony digital camera to grab shots of my dog's antics or sweet moments snoozing on the floor. After getting an iPhone, I jumped early into using the cool filters and frames of Instagram.

Seeing moments like the one I captured in this photo a couple months ago, I realize that not only am I not crazy but I'm quite normal, at least in San Francisco.


A photo posted by Sharon Castellanos (@city_girls) on Feb 5, 2015 at 11:54am PST

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Nine ways an old dog shows that they love you

It has been such a gift to have a dog grow old with me. Adopting her as an adult made our experiences interesting, and after our years together, I'm convinced that senior dogs rule. 

Spending time together I learned about her likes and dislikes. We discovered her favorite, over-the-moon, reward. Hint, liver or sardines, in either order, or even better, together.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com


Living with my first old dog had me experiencing life in a new and unexpected way, giving me a point of view that helped me better understand my aging parents.

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My dog is living and sentient, not a wagon wheel coffee table

The time has come for every state to let go of defining dogs as property. Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally, when Carrie Fisher is fighting with Bruno Kirby over a wagon wheel coffee table? That ugly table is property, the blue plate in Billy Crystal's hand is property, a dog is not.

image from blog.oup.com

Resolving pet custody disputes. Should a dog be considered property, if we are finding more court cases of people getting awarded visitation rights? 

Case law from the United States shows that two distinct tests have emerged to resolving pet custody disputes: firstly, the application of pure property law principles as discussed above; and secondly, the application of a ‘best interests of the animal’ test which has similarities to the ‘best interests of the child’ test used in many countries to determine the residency of children in disputes between parents. On the whole, the courts in the United States have used the property law test and rejected the ‘best interest of the animal’ test. However, in a growing number of cases the courts have been reluctant to rely solely on property law principles. 


The pivotal scene of "that's mine, this is yours"


How do you feel about dogs being legally defined as property, like a toaster?


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Why do older dogs sleep so much?

While visiting my 82 year old father recently, he said naps were his favorite thing to do these days. I thought about that and remembered my love of power napping in college. Who else loves naps besides 82 year olds? Older dogs and babies, that's who. And power napping? Beside students, I'd add shift workers and puppies.

Think about it for a minute.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

Why do older dogs sleep so much? Probably the most likely answer is that they burn fuel fast and need to recharge. Also, like that rechargeable battery, the older they get, they stop holding their charge as long.

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Senior dogs give love even when you don't ask

Last weekend, my husband and I were walking in Napa before breakfast. As we passed by the fairgrounds, I slowed down to watch a man slowly walking by the entrance with his pair of Shelties. They were beautiful dogs and in the distance their fluffy bodies reminded me of my beloved Cleo. I smiled at them and seeing our interest, the man made his way in our direction. Nudging my husband, I whispered to slow down. Hopeful that he was friendly and wanted to engage with us, I was thrilled when the stranger steered his dogs directly towards us.

He told us how he noticed our interested faces across the parking lot. I half-listened to him and immediately spoke directly to the dogs. They were soft and silky, playfully sniffing us and leaning in for some pets. They swirled around our legs, very happy and comfortable with our affection. The man told us the dogs were seven and nine years old but from their energy level you'd never have guessed. 

image from upload.wikimedia.org
How beautiful are Shelties?     Photo credit: Jenny2513

That pair of senior dogs knew what they were doing. These Shelties were giving us some much needed love, even though they didn't have to. You know, it's not the first time I have noticed that older dogs seem to know stuff that we don't, like when to offer affection to passersby. It happened the week prior as I walked to the store in my neighborhood.

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