Saturday, December 31, 2011


Even though I live in Henderson, Nevada, it’s almost impossible to tell where Las Vegas stops and Henderson begins. In my book about my Scottish terrier therapy dog McDuff, I describe how Scotties are “a breed apart.” The same thing applies to Las Vegas. There is no city like it in the world.

Where else would a friend invite you to a “party,” and you end up attending her surprise wedding? Even her mother didn’t have a clue. No bridesmaids, best man, or other nuptial trimmings. Gourmet cupcakes for everyone replaced the traditional wedding cake. Everything was so exciting, so unforgettable, and so Vegas.

Where else could you attend a variety show at a senior center and see participants ages 65 to 85? Okay, that might not be so unusual. But to see a performer in a nun’s habit announce after taking a long, slow look at the audience, “I’m not a nun, and I’m going to get out of this habit.” She began to strip as “The Stripper” blasted throughout the room. She didn’t have a pole, but made real good use of that chair on the stage. Only in Vegas!

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is not true. No matter where life takes me in the future, the memories of beautiful friendships and exciting times I’ve experienced in Las Vegas goes with me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

McDuff's Secret

It’s believed that the bond between a therapy dog and its owner is stronger than ordinary. Perhaps that’s because they partner and share in bringing happiness and joy to others. My Scottish terrier therapy dog lived and breathed to bring comfort and smiles to the elderly, sick, and disabled. I witnessed the life and the future of a fifth grader with crippling reading difficulties change because of reading to McDuff in the Reading with Rover Program.

My life was changed most of all because of Spirit Dog McDuff. I wrote a book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, about my nine-year journey with him and how my life and the lives of others were impacted, even after his death. He taught me many valuable, life-changing lessons. The most important, and the one that has influenced my life the most, was his example of serving others without expecting anything in return. I had to literally drag McDuff across the parking lot to the car after therapy dog visits.

He taught me the secret contained in being of service to others. The secret I learned from him is that you get something beautiful in return when you volunteer to help others. You discover that you help yourself, too, emotionally, physically and mentally. You are not giving; you are getting. And, you get back far more than you give.

I speak to inform and educate seniors, retirees, and baby boomers searching for something worthwhile to do in their spare time about animal assisted therapy and reading programs like Therapy Dogs International, Therapy Dogs Inc., and Reading with Rover. It’s not hard or expensive to brighten up a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital by a visit with your dog. It takes little effort to sit quietly nearby while a young student reads to your dog. Believe me, it can change lives — theirs and yours.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dumb Animals

I bet you’ve heard the term “dumb animals” before. There’s a perception that animals are dumb and that we humans are superior in every way. Well, I have news for you. Animals and birds are not dumb. Oh, I know some of you may disagree. I know I did at one time. That was before I learned about Alex and Chaser and before my first-hand experience with McDuff, a Scottish terrier therapy dog as smart as he was stubborn.

The December 2011 issue of National Geographic Magazine contains an article entitled, “Minds of their Own. Animals are smarter than you think.” In it we are introduced to Alex, an African grey parrot, and Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a psychologist from Brandeis and Harvard Universities. Dr. Pepperberg bought Alex from a pet store when he was a year old. She studied and work with Alex all of his life until his death in 2007 at the age of thirty-one.

Alex learned one hundred fifty words and could categorize them. He counted up to six and had a basic understanding of the abstract concept of zero. Alex knew colors, sizes, and shapes. When shown a blue paper triangle, he told Dr. Pepperberg the color, shape, and after touching it, what it was made of. He understood the difference between big and small, same and different, and over and under.

Alex picked up one liners from the lab workers like “calm down,” and “good morning.” He expressed frustration and boredom. When Dr. Pepperberg put Alex into his cage for the night in September 2007, he looked at her and said, “You be good. I love you.” Those were the last words she would ever hear from him. She found Alex dead in his cage the next morning.

In her research paper, “The Alex Studies,” Dr. Pepperberg provides ample proof that parrots are smarter than we’re led to believe. Dumb bird? Not Alex. He wasn’t parroting, he was thinking.

And then there’s Chaser, a black and white border collie with a vocabulary of over 1,000 words. John Pilley and Alliston Reid are the Wofford College psychologists who worked with Chaser for the last three years. John owns and trains Chaser and Alliston comes up with the experiments. Chaser knows 1,022 proper noun names for various objects. She understands that objects have names and knows that they may have more than one name. She can combine names and commands.

Pilley and Reid published their research in the Journal of Behavioral Processes. Through their work with Chaser we know that the learning capacity of a dog is greater than we originally believed. Pilley, who is retired, says that Chaser is so eager to learn that he has to go to bed at 8:00 p.m. just to get away from her.

Chaser is a celebrity with numerous TV appearances, YouTube video, and newspaper articles. No way Chaser can be called a dumb animal. And from my personal experience with a Scottie with off-the-chart intelligence and you won’t believe stubbornness, I know animals can outsmart us.

Dumb Animals? Here’s Kurt Vonnegut, Jr’s take on the subject: “We are impossibly conceited animals, and actually dumb as heck. Ask any teacher. You don’t even have to ask a teacher. Ask anybody. Dogs and cats are smarter than we are.”

What’s your take?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You Have a Story to Tell

When I began to write Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog on January 1, 2007, I knew the entertaining stories about my life with a mystical, stubborn beyond belief, and hilarious Scottish terrier would appeal to others. Before deciding to pick up a pen, or sit down at a computer and let the creative juices flow, you should know something. To become the author of a successful book about your life, you must have a compelling story to tell; one that will capture and hold the interest of readers from beginning to end. No matter how well written, a book about the life and times of the Bulgarian snail probably won’t capture the attention of large audience.

Each one of your lives is unique and contains stories that only you can tell. Perhaps about your childhood, good or bad, a heartbreaking romance, dysfunction family, or even about a special relationship with an extraordinary pet. Whether you know it or not, you have a story to tell.

Life with McDuff is about my Scottish terrier therapy dog, but my life is in it, too. I wrote about a domestic violence incident and a life-saving brilliant white light and the bitter divorce that followed. One of the valuable life lessons that McDuff taught me came during that turbulent time. He taught me how to forgive and get on with life.

I wrote about my mother’s home invasion, lengthy hospitalization in the Intensive Care Unit, and the heartache of disconnecting life support. Asking one person to decide when or whether another person lives or dies is a lot to ask. A precedent-setting jury trial with cameras in the courtroom, AP and local television news coverage, and reporters waiting outside the courtroom with bright lights and cameras followed.

After the loss of my job, I told about the cross-country trip from Columbus, Ohio, to Henderson, Nevada, with my son and McDuff. All of those events happened within a year’s time period.

McDuff was with me every step of the way during those hard times providing his special brand of therapy. When life literally beat me down to the ground, he was there to press his furry body against mine and lick the tears from my face.

McDuff’s outstanding therapy dog work in Las Vegas and Henderson landed us on television and the front page of newspapers. Nine years of my life on a journey with an extraordinary dog provided my compelling story. Look at your life. Do you have a story to tell?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What the Heck Is a Therapy Dog?

What the heck is a therapy dog? I asked that question the first time I heard the term. Later when I became a certified therapy dog volunteer and wrote the book Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, about the nine-year journey with my Scottish terrier, I answered the question many times.

Wikipedia’s definition of a therapy dog is “a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas.” Therapy dogs were used after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Therapy dogs come in all sizes, breeds and mixture of breeds. The most important characteristics of a therapy dog are good temperament and the ability to get along well with adults, children, and other animals.

The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test for therapy dogs can determine if a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises, move around on unfamiliar surfaces, are not frightened around people with canes, in wheelchairs, or have unstable ways of walking or moving, and can get along with children, the elderly, and other animals.

Therapy dogs and service dogs are often confused. Wikipedia’s definition of a service dog is “a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities including visual or hearing impairment, and also to help people with mental disabilities including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and severe depression.” People are most familiar with guide or seeing-eye dogs, but service dogs also assist in day-to-day activities like pulling wheelchairs, or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, service dogs must be allowed to go anywhere their handler goes, including restaurants, schools, buses, taxis, airplanes, stores, and any other public place. Medical detection service dogs alert people with epilepsy, diabetes and hypoglycemia, and life-threatening allergies to substances like peanuts. Psychiatric service dogs assist people with panic disorders, PTSD, anxiety attacks, and severe depression.

Good temperament, health, physical structure, as well as intelligence and trainability are a must. Any breed or mixture of breeds can be used as a service dog, but Golden and Labrador Retrievers are often seen.

What should you do when you meet a service dog? Do not pet, make noises or call to it while it’s working. However, you may ask the handler for permission to pet a dog that’s not working. Do not feed a service dog. Talk to the handler, not just to the dog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Inventions: Did You Know?

Did you stop at a traffic light today? Garrett Morgan developed the original traffic signal that ultimately was replaced by the red, yellow, and green signal now used. He also developed the gas mask first used by the army in World War I.

Turned on a light? Lewis Howard Latimer invented an improved process for manufacturing light bulb carbon filaments.

Did you know that you have Jan Matzeliger to thank for the shoes you wear? He developed a shoe lasting machine that attached the sole to the shoe in one minute and revolutionized the shoe industry.

Seen a refrigerated truck hauling frozen food lately? Frederick McKinley Jones invented the first automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks and mechanical refrigeration system for trucks and railroad cars.

Ever heard the phrase, “the real McCoy?” Elijah McCoy invented lubrication for railroad engines that was prized above all others. Hence the question, “Is it the real McCoy?”

Did you put Cascade in your dishwasher? If so, you can credit Dennis Weatherby.

Did you know that the Super Soaker used in the water battle by your kids or grandkids was invented by Lonnie Johnson?

If any of you can remember back before computers, did you apply and blow dry an application of liquid paper correction? Betty Graham came up with it.

Did you know that all of the above inventors of PATENTED inventions are just a few that have one thing in common? THEY WERE ALL AFRICAN-AMERICANS!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mary Burton, The Golfing Granny

Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog isn’t the book I was going to write. It just got into my head and refused to leave until I told the story of my journey with a mystical, stubborn, and hilarious Scottish terrier therapy dog. The book I intend to write is about my grandmother, Mary Burton, The Golfing Granny, and the other exceptional women on the maternal side of my family.

At the age of 47, my grandmother sat patiently waiting for her husband to get home from the golf course. Determined not to spend another day as a “golf widow,” a bag of new golf clubs sat by her side. When my grandfather saw her seriousness and determination to learn how to play the game, he set out to teach her all he knew about golf. One problem though. She was a south paw, a lefty. No problem at all. She learned how to play golf right-handed.

Mary Burton won more than 150 trophies during her 29-year career playing against much younger opponents. She was featured in her home town newspaper, Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun, and newspapers across the mid-west United States numerous times and recognized as the Most Honored Golferette of 1960 by the Mid-West District of the UGA (United Golf Association). My grandmother was inducted posthumously into African-Americans in Golf Hall of Fame at the MGM Grand Conference Center on August 9, 2001, in Las Vegas, Nevada. She won her last golf trophy at the Raymond Memorial Golf Course in Columbus, Ohio, at the ripe age of 76.

Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Althea Gibson, first African American woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour in 1964 and Wimbledon tennis champion, are names you may or may not recognize, but they knew and respected Mary Burton’s prowess on the golf course. She would have been proud of Tiger Woods before his fall from grace. And, he should be proud of her, a true pioneer, and my beloved Golfing Granny.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Therapy Dog McDuff's Life Lesson: Be a Party Animal

In Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, I write about the life lessons McDuff taught me during our nine year journey. Even though McDuff was a dedicated, hard-working therapy dog, he was a party animal, too. He loved being around a crowd, especially during holidays when he got the chance to attend parties.

McDuff was invited to the office Christmas party at a home in upscale Dublin, Ohio. I tried to get out of taking him, but my boss insisted because he’d heard so much about him. After cutting back on McDuff’s water intake during the afternoon and making sure he had “relieved” himself, we set out. I didn’t want the embarrassment of a pee or dog-turd stained oriental carpet on my head.

Making sure McDuff stayed close by my side, I enjoyed chatting with my colleagues. But during the course of the evening festivities, I lost sight of him. “Where’s McDuff!” I exclaimed when I noticed him missing. “He’s out here with me,” a voice from the kitchen answered. “He’s so cute. He drank three big bowls of water, and do you know what he did?” Oh, no! the voice in my head screeched. I knew it! I knew it! You should have left him at home. With a dry mouth, I croaked, “What did he do?”

“He followed someone out onto the patio, went down the stairs to the yard, peed, and then came back into the house. He’s amazing!” Everyone praised him, and he became the life of the party.

The life lesson we can learn from McDuff is this. We may have books and blogs to write, pictures to paint, or photos to take, but balance work with play. Make time to exercise your mind and body every day. Enjoy your family, friends, and the special occasions in life. Be a party animal — like McDuff.

Monday, May 16, 2011

George Dawson's Legacy: Never Too Old to Learn

The chapter, “Reader with McDuff,” in Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog tells about Steven and the Reading with Rover Program. Steven, a sandy-haired, chubby 5th grader with crippling reading difficulties, read to my remarkable Scottish terrier therapy dog every Saturday morning at the local library. He went from a D average to the honor roll after reading to McDuff for twelve weeks. Steven graduated from high school last year and is attending college. His mom told me he has a 4.0 grade point average. Learning to read well changed Steven’s life.

George Dawson didn’t experience Steven’s reading difficulties because he never learned how to read. Carl Henry, a literacy volunteer, knocked on his door and told him about adult education classes being taught nearby. At the age of 98, the grandson of slaves began to learn to read and write. He sat on his porch each morning eagerly waiting hours before time for Carl to pick him up and take him to class. At his 100th birthday party, he could sign his name and read his birthday cards for the first time in his life.

The 7th and 8th graders at the George Dawson Middle School realize the importance of reading because of Mr. Dawson’s legacy. I watched their comments about him and saw his inspiring story on The Oprah Show’s Greatest Lessons. By the time it ended, tears streamed down my cheeks.

In 2000, Mr. Dawson co-wrote his best-selling life story, Life Is So Good. He appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. His life has been profiled on The Discovery Channel, Nightline, People magazine and Good Morning America. Two universities awarded him honorary degrees before his death in 2001 at the age of 103.

George Dawson’s legacy lives on as inspiration to young and old alike. He proved that you are never too old to learn.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Healing Moose

The Healing Moose was well-known before I retired from the Clerk’s Office at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, to write my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog. He started on his journey in the winter of 2002 and is called by several names, Marty, Natasha, Natalie, Willard, and even “Magic Moose.” But, no matter the name or gender assigned, Healing Moose brought smiles, comfort, and moral support to colleagues and their families diagnosed with various cancers and other serious health problems. The Healing Moose represents well wishes, prayers, support and encouragement.

The moose is the official mascot of the courtroom clerks. We all contributed to the stuffed moose collection, and it grew over the years. Have you ever been “moosed?” Upon return to the office after vacation or illness, and for birthday celebrations, you’d find your work station buried under moose. On the computer, printer, desk, chair, file cabinet, everywhere imaginable, sat moose of all colors, sizes, and shapes.

It’s strange the effect a stuffed animal can have. I witnessed my son’s love for Teddy, a large stuffed, brown bear. He slept with him for years when he was a little boy. If he hurt himself playing or cried for other reasons, after I attended to him, I’d say, “Go get Teddy.” Off he’d dash. Teddy never failed to comfort him. One day he got mad at me and took it out on poor Teddy by giving him a swift kick in the rear.

My colleague, Cheryl Case, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Marty Moose went with her to doctor appointments, tests, chemo, radiation treatments, and surgery. He provided his special brand of comfort and helped to reduce her anxiety and stress. Today Cheryl is a Breast Cancer Survivor, my hero, and a source of inspiration. She participates in the annual Komen Race for the Cure and urges others to join her in the fight against breast cancer.

The Healing Moose is back with Cheryl. He deserves a rest and recognition for being a reminder of the moral support, prayers, and encouragement for colleagues, families, and friends.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Therapy Dog McDuff's Life Lesson

McDuff, my Scottish terrier therapy dog, taught me many valuable lessons on our nine-year journey. I wrote about them in my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog. One of those lessons changed the way I look at others to this day. He taught me not to judge others by outer appearances, but to look past their mental and physical disabilities.

McDuff was featured on Las Vegas KVBC-TV news and the front page of the Henderson, Nevada, Anthem View newspaper for his astounding therapy work with five individuals at Opportunity Village Project PRIDE Program. The Las Vegas Review Journal described them as having the most severe mental and physical disabilities in the state of Nevada. Yet, McDuff connected with them in amazing ways.

From the first time that he saw them, he accepted and loved them unconditionally. Me, I wanted to get away from them as fast as I could. In time I came to accept and love them, too. McDuff didn’t judge by appearances. He looked past the outer and into the heart. Because of the example he set, I became a better person.

You can read the book chapter, “Project Pride at Opportunity Village,” about McDuff’s therapy dog work and the lesson he taught me on my web site,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Social Network "Friends"

“It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”
John Leonard

As the author of Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, I’ve been told that I should be on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. I’m informed it would be good for book sales. I decline to participate except on a few business-related sites such as LinkedIn and Henderson Chamber of Commerce. Personally, I believe the amount of time I’d spend connecting with “friends” would adversely affect my marketing and promoting in other targeted areas. However, if you have the spare time and enjoy connecting and reconnecting with old classmates, childhood friends and the likes, by all means go for it.

Tell the truth. Would you really want to be friends with Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, or Paris Hilton? Like so many other things in our culture the word “friend” has taken on a whole new meaning.

To have a few true friends in a lifetime is rare. I’ve been blessed with many. Friends travel fifty miles to sit with you at your mother’s wake; friends stay in constant touch down through the years; friends never forget your birthday; friends encourage and support you even in your hair-brained endeavors; friends help you pack up and move cross country even though they want you to stay; and friends tell you what’s truly important in their lives instead of every mundane thing that they do.

I write about my friends in the book chapter, “Go West, Young Scottie.” Even though I am far away from them, we share deaths, births, illnesses and photos without being on Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. In my opinion, nothing beats unlimited minutes cell phone calls.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Therapy Dog McDuff and The Pill War

I once heard a Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show announcer say as the Scottish terriers majestically entered the show ring, “The Scottish terrier is the only breed of dog that knows it is smarter than its master.” I didn’t understand what he meant then, but that was before The Pill War with my Scottish terrier, McDuff, began.

Why would giving McDuff medication be any different than giving my previous dogs pills from the veterinarian? Just hide the pill in a piece of cheese, wiener, or lunch meat and give it to him. Right? Wrong.

He’d gently take whatever I had hidden the pill in from my hand, chew once, drop it, and repeat the process until the pill fell out. Then he’d eat the cheese, wiener or whatever and walk away savoring every bite.

I told a friend at work about my problem. She suggested I put the pill far back in McDuff’s throat, hold his mouth shut, and rub his throat until he was forced to swallow. It always worked with her dog. What she didn’t factor into the equation was a Scottie with a severe case of lockjaw. He’d seen the pill and knew what I was up to. No matter how hard I pried and threatened, I couldn’t get him to open his mouth. Foiled again!

Someone told me about peanut butter. I gave him a huge glob with the buried pill. He smacked and licked until the peanut butter melted and spat out the pill. To rub it in, he continued to smack his mouth long after he walked away.

Frustrated beyond belief, I called his vet and recounted my many attempts to medicate McDuff. He said, “Put the pill in his dog food.” Why hadn’t I thought of that. It worked! For a week the dog bowl was licked clean every day and the pill gone. Fooled him at last. No way is a dog smarter than I am.

Noticing that the dog bowl next to his water container was cruddy, I decided to wash it. What did I find when I lifted it up? Seven pills neatly lined in a row. He had hidden them between the dog bowl and water container all week!

Calling the vet in tears, I blurted out my finding. He laughed out loud and said, “That McDuff is one smart dog. Come to my office and get capsules to break apart and mix in his dog food.” I did and although I was skeptical, it worked. So tell me something. Why did I feel I had won the battle, but lost the war?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Life with McDuff Take a Bite Out of the Big Apple

Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) nominated Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog for a Special Award and invited me to attend the Awards Banquet at the Affinia Manhattan Hotel in New York City where the winner would be announced. The letter I received from Sue Jeffries, Contest Chair, informing me of the nomination stated, “We had over 200 entries for these Special Awards, so to be in the running is, indeed, a ‘special’ honor!” After attending the banquet and seeing the nominees, I agree wholeheartedly and feel privileged to have been included among them.

Even though Life with McDuff was not the winner, I had a marvelous and unforgettable experience, mainly because of the wonderful DWAA people I met at the committee meeting and folks at the banquet. Sue Jeffries, Chris Walkowicz, Pat Santi, Marion Lane, and Ida Estep were super and some of the nicest people that I have ever met.

Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I believe “dog people” are special, full of love and kindness that spills over from their pets to fellow humans. I met so many of them at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on the two days that I attended. The sight of so many different breeds of champion dogs will always be with me. Hopefully, I will be fortunate enough to attend it again in the future.

Being in New York City was the icing on the cake. I LOVE NEW YORK!!! Everything about it is exciting and enjoyable to me. Riding the subway, eating pizza, pastrami and cheese cake, attending plays on Broadway, and going to museums. The hustle and bustle of the fast-walking residents. Even jumping out of the way of taxicabs to keep from getting mowed down. There’s no place like The Big Apple, and I’ve traveled a lot.