Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I’m not the only one.  There are others out there who have felt my disgust, outrage, and humiliation.  I’m not the sole owner who has experienced a dog who loves to roll in shall we say, “unsavory substances.”  Heck, let’s be real and call it what it is — poop!  Any kind will do; animal, fowl, human, or aliens from outer space makes them happy.  And the ultimate achievement for our canine friend is to find something dead to drop down on.

 My Scottish terrier McDuff’s greatest joy other than therapy dog work was rolling in anything he could flop on that was sure to freak me out  The first few times caught me by surprise.  But after the messy and smelly clean ups from his thick double coat, I learned to be on guard during our walks.  I write about what McDuff did the night of his obedience school graduation in a chapter from my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog.

 Why do they do that to us?  Well, dogs descended from wolves and still retain behavior of their wild ancestors.  Wolves roll in animal carcasses or the feces of animals they are hunting to mask their smell.  And they also roll in stinky things to communicate with their pack.  It tells others what they have been up to. 

 Rolling in smelly stuff is perfectly normal behavior for dogs and they should not be punished.  But you don’t have to live with it.  There are things you can do to discourage your dog.  I kept McDuff on a short leash so I could jerk up and prevent his attempt to drop to the ground.  You can also make it unpleasant by squirting them with water when they start to do it, or by shouting to distract.  Once they get the idea that you don’t like it, they will probably stop.

 I know this isn’t a pleasant subject but someone has to tell it like it is.  Hope this sheds some light on what can only be described as “Yuck!”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mandela's Hero

Have you ever wondered who is a hero to a hero?  Nelson Mandela was a man admired, respected, and a hero to many.  He marveled at an eleven year old South African boy, Nkosi Johnson, and referred to him as an “icon of the struggle for life.”  They both are heroes in my book. 

 Nkosi Johnson and Nelson Mandela were South Africans who fought battles in their country.  Mandela fought against the brutal oppression of Apartheid the better part of his life.  Nkosi warred against the discrimination, stigma, and ignorance directed towards those infected with HIV/AIDS during his short lifetime.  He fought especially hard for the children orphaned by or inflicted with the deadly disease. 

Mandela joined Nkosi’s war against HIV/AIDS after his son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS in 2005 just four years after the death of Nkosi at the age of twelve.  Mandela had no idea when he heard little Nkosi Johnson keynote speech at the 13th International AIDS Conference at Durban, South Africa, in 2000 that his world would be touched by the dreaded disease.  He founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation for AIDS research and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund to assist children orphaned by AIDS.  Nkosi's Haven founded in 1999 provides care for HIV/AIDS infected mothers, their children, and AIDS orphans.
 Nkosi is listed with Nelson Mandela among SABC3’s Greatest South Africans.  He was honored by the KidsRights Foundation as one of 7 Children Who Changed the World.  Gail Johnson, his white South African adoptive mother, accepted the International Children’s Peace Prize from Mikhail Gorbachev posthumously on behalf of her son in 2005.

 Nelson Mandela is my hero and so is Nkosi Johnson.  They both changed the world!    

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I like pigs.  Dogs look up to us.  Cats look down on us.  Pigs treat us as equals.
                                                                Winston Churchill
 Pigs have gotten a bum rap and I’m here to set the record straight.  Pigs are clean, intelligent, and much more like us than we care to admit.  You’ve all heard, “lazy pig,” “pig out,” ”stink like a pig,” “male chauvinist pig.”  Well, pigs have a defense that most people haven’t taken the time to find out.
 Contrary to what most people believe, pigs are extremely clean animals.  Pigs don’t have sweat glands to cool them off.  Rolling in mud keeps their body temperature down in hot weather.  They don’t have a choice and would probably rather roll in mud than their own waste while confined in filthy pig pen.  Actually, they are excellent swimmers and prefer water to mud.  For lying in the mud for long periods of time trying to keep cool in the heat, they are called “lazy.” I bet you don’t know that pigs from birth keep their bedding place separate from their elimination place. Newborn piglets will leave the area where they nurse to relieve themselves.  Pigs are not only clean, but they’re smart, too.

Pigs are extremely intelligent animals.  In the animal kingdom, pigs rank No. 4 in intelligence behind chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants. They quickly master the Mirror Self-Recognition Test, an indicator of self-awareness and advanced intelligence in animals.  Experts consider pigs more trainable than dogs or cats.  It’s not uncommon to see pigs in circus acts now. 

Whether you want to admit it or not, we humans have a lot in common with pigs.  The anatomy of a pig and a human are very similar.  That’s why pig heart valves are used in human hearts.  They’ve been available for more than 30 years.  Just think of the number of lives that have been saved by the use of pig heart valves.  There is a worldwide shortage of organs for transplants.  Scientists are researching genetically engineered pig organs for human transplants in the future.  Pig hearts, lungs, livers, gall bladders, and the digestive system are very similar to that of humans, only smaller.  You’d think that apes and chimpanzees would be more like us than pigs, but not so.

Pigs don’t have sweat glands so because they roll in and spend a lot of time in mud to cool off in hot weather, they’re called dirty and lazy.  Pigs are Number 4 in animal intelligence behind chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants.  And a pig’s anatomy is similar to yours and mine.  Remember all of that the next time you hear a pig slandered.  Did I set the record straight?


Monday, February 18, 2013


If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die
I want to go where they went
                                                          Will Rogers

Proof of Heaven written by renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander answers the question in his fascinating book. A New York Times Best Seller, it tells of Dr. Alexander’s miraculous recovery after a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis. His physicians gave him a 10% chance of recovery and living in a vegetative state if he managed to survive.   Dr. Alexander writes of a near death experience (NDE) in extraordinary detail.

One thing that he wrote in his description of flying over a brilliant heavenly landscape took my breath away. He wrote about seeing a dog running and jumping among people and like the people, it was full of joy.

In my book Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, I write about an incident after the death of my Scottish terrier therapy dog that I was hesitant to include. I held McDuff in my arms and watched the life ebb out of his eyes on Halloween morning, 2003. He returned to me a few months after I put him down to shake me out of my prolonged and overwhelming grief as I cried for him in the mid-night hours.

Therapy dogs and their owners are extremely close, but there was more between us. McDuff was a Spirit Dog, and we shared an unusual bond. Many time I witnessed his uncanny effect on people and other animals during our nine years together.

One thing I know without a doubt. McDuff’s spirit went somewhere and it came back from somewhere. It doesn't concern me whether whether anyone else shares my belief. There is life after death — even for our beloved pets.

Here is my poem, "Never Again," from Life with McDuff:

Never again will I see those wise mystical eyes,
Eyes I loved so well burn into mine,
Eyes that created joy and comfort, healing and calmness
Amusement and laughter, and tears of frustration;

Never again will I witness your tender tongue convey
Love and unconditional acceptance,
The tongue that brought smiles
To the face of the sick and disabled;

Never again will you be there to lick the tears away from my face,
If ever life beats me down to the ground;
Never again will I feel the comfort and protection of your furry back
Against my leg as we lie sleeping in bed;

Forever more will I hold in my heart the life lessons you taught,
How to forgive, love unconditionally,
Look beyond outer appearances,
Enjoy life instead of fighting and resisting it,
And to help myself by being of service to others;

Farewell, my teacher, my friend, my companion
The joy and blessing of having you in my life
Far outweighed the pain of losing you;
Farewell my McDuff,
Until we meet again, and I gaze into those eyes once more.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

College Students Are Going to the Dogs

Colleges all across the America are going to the dogs.  Tufts, UNC, Oberlin, Harvard and Yale are just a few institutions of higher learning where students have discovered that therapy dogs can relieve the stress and strain of college life.  After trying massage, yoga, pizza parties, and other activities we won’t mention to reduce pressure, they hit the jackpot with furry, four-legged stress relievers.
 Scholars at Harvard and Yale libraries can check out resident therapy dogs instead of books.  Many students miss the pets left behind and the comforts of home.  More and more colleges and universities have pet-friendly dorms now.  Therapy dogs and other pets provide a connection to home.  Stressed out, especially when studying for final exams, college students can unwind and forget their studies and problems when petting and interacting with the dogs.

The calming and therapeutic effect of therapy dogs is no secret.  They visit hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, schools, and libraries.   Therapy dogs have been called upon after crisis situations like 911, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and recently after the tragedy at Sandy Hook School at Newtown, Connecticut. 

A chapter in my book, Life with McDuff: LessonsLearned from a Therapy Dog, tells how I became a therapy dog volunteer.  If you own a dog who likes people and other animals, loves to be petted, and has basic obedience training, why not consider becoming a therapy dog volunteer?  See my web site for links containing information about Therapy Dogs International, Therapy Dogs, Inc., Reading with Rover, and AKC Canine Good Citizen Test.
Pass the word!  Today’s college students are going to the dogs.

Friday, January 4, 2013


The dog in this video interacting with a Down’s syndrome baby just knows. She knows how to offer love and acceptance. She knows that this baby is special. Even though not a trained therapy dog, she just knows. How many times have you sat mired deep in despair because of some real or imagined problem and a furry head comes to rest on your knee, eyes borrowing deep into yours, and a tail furiously wagging “it’s going to be alright?” Or, what happens when some unbelievably good fortune comes your way. You shout and jump for joy, and guess who jumps with you barking and spinning around in excitement? Dogs just know when you are happy, and they know when you are sad. My Scottish terrier therapy dog comforted me many times. He instinctively knew how to reach out and ease me through the storms of our life together. I write about it in my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog. The baby in the video experienced what we dog lovers have witnessed time after time. Dogs just know!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook Comfort Dogs

I know first-hand about comfort dogs, or therapy dogs as they are more commonly known. As the author of Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog,a book about my Scottish terrier therapy dog, I’ve seen the comfort and joy they bring to hospital patients, nursing home and assisted living residents, and school children struggling with reading problems. McDuff provided his special brand of therapy to me during the most stressful times of my life and to many others as well. Traumatized children at Newtown smiled at the sight of the therapy dogs and ran to them to give hugs and pats. Grief-stricken parents’ countenance changed and softened seeing the children able to forget the nightmare at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, if only for a short while. The effect of therapy dogs is nothing short of a miraculous. After 911 and Hurricane Katrina, therapy dogs spread comfort and relief from stress and tension to rescuers and families under unimaginable pressure. You don’t have to be a certified volunteer with a registered therapy dog to offer comfort. Retired special educational teacher Michael Cragin knows that. He and his English bulldog, Truman, offered comfort at Newtown the only way they knew how. Michael and a sign that said, “My Bulldog Gives Hugs,” sat at the back of his SUV. People gathered around to pet Truman and ask his name. Teenage girls began to stop crying and started smiling while they petted him. He provided a brief respite from the heartbreak and sorrow. There’s an outcry for stricter gun control laws after this latest incident of mass killing. The controls in effect now didn’t work on Adam Lanza. He wasn’t patient enough to endure the waiting period when he attempted to purchase a gun. It’s moot anyway because Lanza already had access to plenty of guns in his own home. Guns are found not only in his home. There are hundreds of millions of firearms in the homes of Americans across the country. Even the ATV and Department of Justice hands them out. Anyone familiar with “Fast & Furious?” Instead of treating the symptom, why not treat one of the problems? That is the lack of insurance coverage and public aid for the mentally ill in America. You only have to look at the photos of the perpetrators of recent mass murders to see that they are not of sound mind. Unfortunately, basic health care is not affordable for many in this country. That includes treatment for the mentally ill. Good can come out of evil. Perhaps something will be done about the accessibility of weapons, especially semi-automatic guns, and providing treatment for mentally ill people to prevent tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If not, we can only expect more heartache and horror.