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.