Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trudy & McDuff

I write about my friend, Trudy, in Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog. She had two Lhasa Apsos that she was crazy about, but one day she said to me, “I love Jasmine and Bandit, Judy, but they’re not like McDuff. McDuff is special.” Other friends of mine felt the same way. I’m a dog lover, and I’ve liked other people’s dogs. But I never loved someone else’s dog the way they loved McDuff. I write of those special relationships in my book.

Sophisticated Lhasa Apsos and rambunctious Scottish terriers don’t mix. A half hour into a holiday visit to Trudy and David’s home with McDuff, Jasmine and Bandit begged to be put in the basement. They wanted no parts of that crazy, high-energy Scottie.

Trudy and I became close friends when we worked as legal secretaries at the Columbus, Ohio, prestigious law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. Some of my dearest friends still work there. Even though I moved on to other jobs, and moved out of state, we have never lost touch. They have supported and encouraged me down through the years. A person is blessed to have only one true friend in life. I have been blessed with many.

My dear friend died of leukemia at the age of fifty-three. Even though I had moved from Ohio to Nevada, we talked on the phone and e-mailed nearly every day during her long and courageous battle. We discussed life. We discussed death. I miss her to this day.

Trudy’s husband, David, is an editor on Life with McDuff. He is the first person who read the completed manuscript. I know she is aware of the success of the book and looking down with a smile on her lips saying, “Only Judy.”

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Spirit Dog McDuff

McDuff was a spirit dog. Native Americans and other cultures believe in spirit animals, or totems, possessing special powers. An animal that comes to an individual and acts as a spiritual guide in the physical and spiritual worlds. It offers power and wisdom to that individual throughout a lifetime and beyond. McDuff certainly fit that description.

I felt a strange connection when I went to the kennel to bring the eight-week old Scottish terrier puppy home. Something eerie happened when I picked him up and looked into his eyes. Throughout our nine years together, I witnessed unusual occurrences among McDuff, people, and animals time after time.

A fifth grader struggling with reading went from a D average to the honor roll after reading to McDuff for twelve weeks. Five individuals with horrendous mental and physical disabilities responded to him in amazing ways.

A repeated pit bull attack that should have killed him left him totally unharmed. At the touch of his nose, I saw him calm a terrified out-of-its mind wild duckling. And, a small child’s hysterical fear of dogs evaporated after a brief exposure to him.

McDuff returned to me in the wee hours of the morning to snap me out of the debilitating grief I experienced after putting him down in 2003. Two years after his death I received a Christmas card from a close friend who loved him dearly. She was dying of terminal lung cancer and wrote, “I keep McDuff’s picture in front of me, and just know he is in my arms comforting me and tears fall. Maybe I will see him soon.”

I write about Spirit Dog McDuff and how he miraculously touched my life and the lives of many others in the book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Life with McDuff and the Henderson Writers' Group

I sat in a chair placed against the wall to accommodate the overflow crowd in the too small conference room at the Las Vegas-Clark County Library. As I listened to the members of the Henderson Writers’ Group (HWG) seated around the center table, thoughts flashed through my mind. You’re in way over your head. These people are writers and published authors. You’ll never belong with this group. But I didn’t stop attending the weekly meetings held in Henderson and Las Vegas.

Each week I listened to the gentle and informative critiques of writers who read from their works and soaked it up like a sponge. Most of it was over my head, but I didn’t get discouraged. Even though the thought of reading something I wrote in front of a group of writers terrified me. When I asked for comments from a friend about the chapter I intended to read at my first critique, he said, “It sounds like an essay.” I still tease him about that.

I encourage every fledgling writer like me to find and join a writers group. Without the guidance and encouragement of the HWG, my first book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, would probably still be in the incubator. The expertise and experience of fellow writers will benefit you in many ways. My eternal gratitude to the HWG members who took me under their wings and hatched out a published author.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010



I’ve owned many dogs in my lifetime, but none like McDuff. Scotties are a breed apart. Their appearance, intelligence and stubbornness set them apart from the other breeds. They have attitude — and plenty of it.

Just the way they walk with that peculiar gait, those protruding eyebrows, flowing beard, and extra-long, erect ears commands attention. And Scottie owners know that they get a lot of that.

Scottish terriers are often described as “dignified.” A neighbor saw me walking him one morning and struck up a conversation. From then on, he referred to McDuff as “the professor.” I didn’t have to ask him why.

I once heard a Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show announcer say, “The Scottish terrier is the only breed of dog that knows it’s smarter than its master.” McDuff’s off-the-chart intelligence combined with supreme stubbornness and frustrated me to tears. I write about the ways he outsmarted me in my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog.

It took me a while to realize what was going on because I thought, he couldn’t be that smart; he’s just a dog. But I soon found out, often to my amusement or dismay, that I had been outsmarted by a canine.

My friends at work clamored for “McDuff Stories” and he provided plenty of them. They howled at his exploits and my frustration. I write about many of them in Life with McDuff.

McDuff was special enough for me to write a book about him. And it is doing quite well. One of the blurbs on the book cover is, “Think Marley and Me, but with an intelligent dog.” That sums it up nicely.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Looking back, I see that growing up a coal miner’s daughter in Beeson Works, a coal company patch town near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, had its perks.

Fragrant fresh air drifted down from the majestic Summit Mountains giving the clothes swinging in the breeze on the clothesline the most pleasant smell. Cold as ice mountain spring water gushed from a pipe jutting out the rocky side of the mountain beside a winding two-lane road. Families took bottles to fill with the best-tasting, cleanest water on earth during the summer. Tall green trees, so thick in places that you couldn’t see the sky, made you feel air conditioning on even the hottest, humid days.

The Summit Mountains abounds with historical sites from the Revolutionary War. Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Braddock’s Grave, and a lot of “George Washington slept here” places just to name a few. Kids in the surrounding area returned from school outings with their minds teeming with the exciting, historic battles of George Washington, the French, and Indians. Old taverns with museums containing Conestoga wagons and other artifacts on the National Road built in 1806 (later U.S. Route 40) proved fascinating.

Neighborhood gardens in Beeson were communal property. A tempting red, ripe tomato from anyone’s garden enticed me to pick and devour it while warm juice dripped off of my elbow. Too bad if I had a cut or scratch on my arm. Ouch!

When my playmates and I ran out of mundane things to do and craved danger and excitement, we explored the abandoned coal mine. Peering into the darkness, taking hesitant steps while holding onto each other, and then running away screaming in terror from the imagined danger and perceived close call.

Kids from Beeson Works back then were labeled as poor. Too bad those who affixed that tag on us didn’t realize how rich we were.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Do you know that Glossophobia, fear of public speaking, ranks right up there with the fear of death? It’s actually number one of the ten top human fears. Symptoms of speech anxiety occur in three categories: physical, verbal, and non-verbal. And the “fight or flight” reaction is triggered in the body. I am all too familiar with the butterflies in the stomach, trembling voice, shaky hands, mental blocks, panic and stress before I speak in public.

When I was a senior at Uniontown Joint Senior High School (now just Uniontown High School), an English class assignment was to choose a topic and give an oral presentation to the class. I was the only one in the class unable to get up in front of my classmates and speak. Needless to say, I got a failing grade.

Now as the author of Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, I speak at hospitals, retirement and community centers, assisted living facilities, book signings, Toastmaster and book club meetings. I educate people about animal assisted therapy and animal assisted reading programs like Therapy Dogs International and Reading with Rover. Through the book, I want to motivate and encourage seniors, retirees, and baby boomers with dogs to volunteer their services.

One of the valuable life lessons that my Scottish terrier therapy dog, McDuff, taught me was that by being of service to others, you bring contentment and happiness into your own life. I try to pass that along. That shy student in Miss Ely’s senior high school English class has come a long way.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


McDuff was a party animal. Nothing pleased him more than going to a holiday party at one of my friend’s house or holidays like Halloween and Christmas. He taught me a valuable life lesson.

Halloween was his favorite holiday. Not only did he get a new rat, but mobs of trick-or-treaters descended in the night. His favorite toy was a large, black, rubber rat with a super long tail that I could only find in the stores at Halloween. I had to buy him one every year because the poor thing was on its last leg –- literally.

One year McDuff was invited to the office Christmas Party. Needless to say, I was apprehensive, but my boss insisted that I bring him because everyone had heard so much about him. McDuff had a ball wolfing down hors d’oeuvre and mingling with the guests.

The life lesson I learned from McDuff was to get out and enjoy life to the fullest. Party hardy and have a good time.

I put McDuff down on Halloween, October 31, 2003. Each year my heart aches when I realize he won’t be sitting by the door eagerly awaiting the costumed kids. Then I remember what he taught me about life, and the sadness disappears. He’d want me to have fun and be a party animal, too.

Sunday, June 20, 2010




I cried when I watched the news reporting the coal mine explosion that killed 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch coal mine on April 5, 2010. There were tears of frustration. It brought back painful memories from childhood.

There were 600 safety violations in less than 18 months at the Upper Big Branch mine. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited in a newspaper article on April 25 that a “backlog” impedes enforcement of mining violations. That backlog is caused by the tactic used by the coal mine company owners who have their lawyers aggressively contest violations in order to thwart enforcement. And the few enforcements are set so low monetarily that it amounts to a slap on the wrist. Unfortunately for coal miners today, the coal barons of old, with the assistance of MSHA, still rule.

I was raised in a company house in Beeson Works, a coal company camp town near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. All nationalities, Russian, Greek, Swiss, Italian, Polish, African-American, and Czechoslovian, lived together in that tight-knit mining community. After a death in the mines, neighbors prepared food to feed the grieving families and relatives. They supported and comforted each other the same way the coal miners do today.

My dad, Fred Jones, loaded coal deep underground at the Kyle Mine in southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1940s and 1950s. He died in 1987 from Black Lung Disease. A tall, massive man withered away to skin & bones.

But when I was a pig-tailed little girl, he was my hero. Handsome, big, strong, courageous and known and loved by everyone. He taught me things that will always be instilled deep inside. Be on time, work hard, make your own way, pay your bills on time, never eat a meal without saying the blessing, and lend a helping hand. My love of animals came from him.

This Father’s Day I remember him with love and an abiding respect for all that he was and all that he passed on to me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The eyes of soccer lovers from around the world are on the players competing for dominance in a South African stadium. The World Cup is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world. Are the viewers aware of another battle being fought in South Africa? This battle involves life and death.

We around the world recognize the names of great South Africans like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but we don’t recognize the name of perhaps the bravest of all. Click on the link to learn of Nkosi Johnson, HIV-positive from birth, who died at the age of 12 in 2001. But not before he and his adoptive mother, Gail Johnson, founded Nkosi’s Haven, an orphanage in Johannesburg, South Africa to look after mothers and their children infected with HIV/AIDS.

Nkosi changed the policies in his country that kept HIV-positive children out of public schools. He bravely challenged people to look at and change their fears of those infected with AIDS. In his speech to the 13th International AIDS Conference, this brave child standing alone on a stage finished by saying, “Care for us and accept us – we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else – don’t be afraid of us – we are all the same.”

Nelson Mandela referred to Nkosi as an “icon of the struggle for life.”

Friday, June 11, 2010


Steven graduated from high school on Tuesday. So what, you think. Lots of kids graduate from high school. What’s so special about Steven?

Steven was a chubby 5th grader with reading difficulties and self-esteem in the basement when he met McDuff and me through the Reading with Rover Program. His self-esteem soared when he went from a D average to the honor roll after reading to McDuff every Saturday morning for twelve weeks at the Paseo Verde Library. I write about Steven and McDuff in the chapter “Reading with McDuff” in my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog.

Therapy dog volunteers like Claire McAvoy with her adorable dog, Coco Chanel, members of Dog B.O.N.E.S., Therapy Dogs of Massachusetts, know the difference a therapy dog can make in a child’s life. They are impacting and changing lives in spectacular ways.

After Steven’s graduation ceremony, he hugged his mother, father and little sister. Then he walked over to me, put his arms around me in a big bear hug, and whispered in my ear, “This wouldn’t have happened without you and McDuff.”

Now you know why Steven’s graduation was special.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

McDuff's Life Lesson

I learned many valuable life lessons from my Scottish terrier therapy dog, McDuff, on our nine-year journey together. I write about them in my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog. The one that impacted my life the most is being of service to others.

McDuff lived and breathed to bring comfort and joy to the elderly, sick, disabled, and school kids with reading difficulties. When I picked up his brown leash for a walk, he perked up. When I picked up his red leash used for therapy dog visits, he was ecstatic and the only time that he submitted to the dreaded grooming without a fight. Even though during the brushing he ate more of the bacon-flavored toothpaste than got on his teeth, he didn’t resist. He knew he had to look spiffy and not offend anyone with doggie breath.

Therapy dog volunteers know the positive effect their dogs have on nursing home and assistant living facility residents, hospital patients, school children, and the many other places where therapy dogs are taken. I don’t have McDuff anymore, but I still volunteer. The life lesson that I learned from him is that you get back so much more than you give when you help others. Whether it’s at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals or Paseo Verde Library, I know that when I help others, I help myself. McDuff taught me well.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Life with McDuff Blogs

My friend Annie of Desert Muse Publishing has motivated me to start blogging. There's no excuse for someone with the discipline it takes to write a book for two years who cannot compel herself to write a paragraph a few times a week. Another friend Linda Lou has taken blogging to an art form. She blogged her way across the country from Nevada to New York recently. If I blog about my Scottish terrier therapy dog, McDuff, I'll never run out of material. He was mystical, stubborn and hilarious enough for me to fill a book. Even though I put him down on Halloween morning, October 31, 2003, through my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, he is still with me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Life with McDuff Book Club

I'm looking forward to the first meeting of the book club in which Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog will be the first featured book. The Club was organized by Linda Smith and consists of Courtroom Clerks from the Clerk's Office of the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. I retired my position as Courtroom Clerk in December of 2006 to write Life with McDuff. Many of my colleagues supported and encouraged me throughout the writing process. My book launch in November was a joyous occasion shared by many friends and former colleagues. Writing is a lonely process. It helps to stay connected to positive people during the years it takes to write and publish a book.

I appreciate the fantastic feedback I've received from readers of the book. It's nice to know that Life with McDuff has touched so many people. Foreign independent bookstores worldwide have picked it up. It is one of the Top 5 Domestic & Pet Books at Borders in Melbourne, Australia, and a Featured Book at Borders.com in the United States.

Yoko of Tokyo, Japan comment after reading: "As I read page after page, I realize that the difference in nationality doesn’t matter, only individuals. I’ve learned a lot from Life with McDuff because I found a lot of common things in the story with only exception that I’ve never met a therapy dog or animals. The McDuff story is impressive, encouraging and inspiring!!"

McDuff is "still on the job."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Judy and McDuff: Soul Mates

My story entered in the Angel Animal Network "Dogs and Women Who Love Them" True Story Contest was one of the second place winners chosen by Allen and Linda Anderson. The Grand Prize Winner was "K-9 Major, Unchained Fury" by Marilyn Walton. The other second place winners were "The Blessing of a Wheelchair-Bound Dachshund" by Barbara Techel; "Working Girl" by Teresa Ambord; "Euri, The Miracle Worker" by Bobbi Leder; "Buddha Boom!" by Sage Lewis; and "Miguel's Legacy" by Rosanne Nordstrom. It's an honor for "Judy and McDuff: Soul Mates" to be included in this winning group.