Carmel Dog Tales Presents…
The PAWlitzer Prize Winners,
Special Award Stories
The Winner of the PAWlitzer Prize in Drama…
“Disciples of God”
by Susan Hartzler
Before she died, mom bought me a rescue dog, a living memorial of her love for me. And this wasn’t just any rescue dog. Baldwin turned out to be a Puli, part of the herding group, a high-octane ball of fluff. After I brought him home I realized he needed a job. I learned Pulix are sheep herders from their native Hungary, marveled at pictures of them driving hundreds of sheep from one spot to the other, their dreadlocks flying. I immediately signed up for sheep herding lessons, agility classes, canine freestyle, obedience training and just about every dog sport I could find but my little black mop of a dog needed more. That’s when I discovered Therapy Dogs International.
Baldwin turned out to be an ace student in the classes we took to get certified. When we completed the training to become a therapy dog team, I couldn’t wait see what we could do.
Groomed and dressed in his new doctor’s scrubs costume, Baldwin squealed when we entered the parking lot at County USC Medical Center. He wiggled in the back seat, ready to get to work. Before we even got out of the car something changed. I could tell Baldwin knew therapy work would become my sweet dog’s life mission. Now I knew too.
Baldwin’s first assignment? To visit a special little girl recovering in the play room from a round of chemo earlier that day. She sat there alone, couldn’t be around any other kids because of vulnerability to germs. The seven-year-old looked gaunt and tired, her complexion pale, almost transparent. With a frame so thin from her treatments, her cheekbones stood out, her eyes sunk in.
When Maria saw Baldwin, she took a deep breath and laughed out loud at my Muppet dog which brought some color back into her face. Before I could stop him, Baldwin hopped on the couch next to her and stretched his entire body across her lap. Maria loved it. She rubbed under his chin, he sighed, put his head down then closed his eyes, his breath a steady cadence. Maria inhaled deeply with him, looked better, healthier with every breath.
Baldwin spent an hour in that playroom on that little girl’s lap. Maria stroked him the entire time. Her boney hands moved over him in perfect rhythm, like someone praying the rosary: Hail Mary Full of Grace.
I realized later I witnessed a miracle. This high-energy dog who ran agility courses, herded sheep and played ball for hours lay still doing exactly what this little girl needed. I thanked God for showing me grace in action, combined with mercy, awe, gratitude and unconditional love all wrapped up in Baldwin, my little black rescue dog. At that moment, I understood life is a gift.
The Winner of the PAWlitzer Prize in Humor…
“The Man in My Life”
by Bonnie Folster
He never complains about what’s for dinner. He cheerfully eats anything I put in front of him. He doesn’t care if I watch “Chick Flicks” all day Sunday while some important sporting event is on. He’s been known to lick my ankles when I step out of the shower. And he’s so good looking that strangers comment on his great looks every time we’re out. He’s perfect.
It’s an old story. We met on the internet. I went looking for Mr. Right and found him. His picture didn’t do him justice, it turned out. But I liked what I saw. He had a sweet face, soulful eyes and a reddish, brindle coat. And, yes, he walks around on all fours. He’s a retired racing greyhound. As a racer, his name was Ascot Tie. He answers to “Tie”.
Tie was an indifferent racer. I learned this because you can find all you want to know about a Greyhound’s lineage and racing record on Greyhound-Data.com. I looked him up. Knowing him now, I can parse out the series of events that led to his “retirement”. He raced twice. He won the first race—first place. However, he learned. A.) You can’t catch that thing on the pole and B.) oh, by the way, “Speedy” isn’t really a rabbit. His next race, he “dogged” it. He placed fourth or fifth. And that’s how a dog gets “retired” from the track. No prey drive. No kill drive. He was fired.
Turned out the “loser” was a big winner. A greyhound rescue group fetched Tie off the track in Alabama and brought him north to Michigan. Then he went to prison. The Coldwater Correctional Facility had a “Cell Dog Program” that paired prisoners and dogs in a 16-week program. It was great. Prisoners got some positive experience and credit for doing something good and humane. And I got a well-mannered, socialized dog. Sit! Stay! Heel! Steal!
Now, most days start with me waking up to a warm, snoozing hound curled up next to me on the bed. Then, a walk around the neighborhood. And then a walk to the office. Tie has many fans and we stop to chat, get ears scratched. He’s nicely out-going and has introduced me to several new friends. At the office, he has his area, snoozes, wanders, enjoys attention while I work. We walk home and begin another very nice part of the day. It’s good to have a companion next to you to relax with, have a glass of wine and a bowl of something. Tie supervises my meal prep closely. He does a dandy pre-wash cycle before I load the dish washer.
Then we hit the couch. A movie? Sure. The fact that my companion at the other end of the couch is a dog somewhat limits conversation. Not completely. Let’s face it, my marriage didn’t feature that much conversation on great books, complicated philosophies or astute political observations. On the other hand, it’s always my turn to go for ice water.
A friend told me that H.L. Mencken said, “A dog stirs up the dead air in a house.” Something like that. I’ve never been able to confirm it, but I think it’s true. Any of us living with a dog would say it.
I wanted a companion that would get me out and walking more. I wanted to be sure to notice each day more. (Tie has a wardrobe to accommodate any weather. Rain. Sleet. Snow. He has a heavy coat with a fleece hood that covers him from his rump to his pointy, weasel nose. ) I wanted someone to be happy to see me when I walked through the door. I wanted the “dead air” stirred up. And every day I get an up-close lesson in unconditional love. Tie is the man in my life.
It’s going to take some man to beat my dog.
You know what I mean.
Honorable Mention in Drama…
“MeMe is Here”
by Laura Lamar
How could a beautiful Spring day hold the dreaded promise of being the saddest day of my life? My mom, Laura and I woke early in anticipation or our 200 mile drive to see My Beloved Grandmama, Irene. We were enjoying a lake breeze, the sun was rising,, birds were chirping, and dogs out for an early morning jog were having their tails. Chicago was happy. How could this be? My Beloved Grandmama would draw her last breath in less than ten hours.
After a tearful journey, we arrived to find An t Joan and Uncle Carl comforting Grandmama. I was relieved to see that she was not in pain and still lucid. My mom gently placed me in the bed next to Grandmama and said” mama, look who is here to see you. MeMe is here”. Grandmama free my head and I snuggled close.
While my family regaled Grandmama with stories of their childhood and the learning activities they engaged in together, I softly barked in her ears my own memories of our eight short years together.
Grandmama squeezed my paw when I reminisced about the first time we met on a drive to Aunt Joan’s for a family Holiday. Laura put a soft blanket on Grandmama ‘s lap and I became comfortable for the two hour drive… When we arrived, Grandmama was unable to walk as her legs had fallen asleep. Grandmama explained that she was reluctant to move out of fear of disturbing me. After thirty minutes of leg message, Grandmama was able to walk to the dinner table.
I cried and Grandma a giggled as I recalled our trip to the Farmer’s Market. We enjoyed Crepes and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches under a shady tree. I looked over and saw a group of Down Syndrome children smiling at me. They happily accepted my invitation to join us, and over the next hour we became best friends. After they left, the three of us strolled around the Market. Something smelled delicious, so I wandered off to investigate. While Laura and Grandmama admired Cucumbers, carrots, and onions, I found pies (Blueberry, Ferry, and Apple) stored under a table. Deciding which was my favorite was difficult, but I did my best. Grandmama doubled over in laughter when she saw my entire white face covered in the pies. Close to ninety dollars later and a few admonishments from Laura, we skulked out of the Market.
My family was crying softly and stroking Grandmama ‘s arms and hair. Her breathing was shallow and her skin was cooler. I whispered in her ear “Grandmama, I I promised you long ago that you would not die in pain. When you need to go, do so in love. We will miss you. And I will take care of Laura and her siblings”.
Grandmama pulled me close and turned her face toward mine. She smiled when I reminded her that I was Valedictorian of Tricks Class. She had four children and Nome of them were Valedictorian of anything. To reward my success, Grandmama took me on a shopping spree to my favorite store in Chicago,Tails in the City. Afterward, we had High Tea at the Ritz Carlton. A framed photograph of that wonderful afternoon hung above her fireplace, replacing the portrait of her children as youngsters.
Imagining life without Grandmama was beyond comprehension. She encouraged me, loved me without reservation, and unlike Laura, didn’t chastise me when I engaged in atrocious behavior. Grandmama laughed when I visited her covered in mud after chasing a rabbit. Laura was not humored:Grandmama drew a bubblebath for me in her jetted tub.
My tie with Grandmama was coming to an end. I whispered in her ear ” Grandmama, I love you so much. Please give me a sign that you are in a nice place. I will miss you every day forever”. Grandmama ‘s last words to me which I treasure were “My Precious Love, I will always be with you”.
She was special and she is missed. I am still trying to learn to live without her.
“Time for Mandy”
by Jill Hedgecock
I still couldn’t believe it. Mandy, my sweet, lovable, energetic Australian Shepherd had cancer. Egg-sized nodules had sprouted on both sides of her twelve-year-old neck. Now I had to make one of the hardest decisions of pet ownership: Was it time to let go or should I pursue chemotherapy?
Mandy lay curled up on her pillow, biting her sheepskin koala toy to make it squeak. Her silky black coat shone under the fluorescent kitchen lights. A stump of a tail wiggled a greeting. Brown eyes, cloudy with age, held a single question: Want to play? My decision was made.
The first chemo injection was hard. Mandy had a seizure and I had to rush her back to the vet. But by the following evening, she was her old self. Future treatments went smoothly. The egg-shaped nodules shrank. Her coat thinned, but she was still beautiful to me.
“She’s responded better than I expected,” the veterinary oncologist announced weeks later.
We took trips to the dog park at the Berkeley Marina. Mandy and the kids filed into a portrait studio the following week. Photographs accumulated in mounds on the coffee table until I made room for them on the walls.
My daughters wrapped up squeaky toys and put them under the Christmas tree. Mandy’s nose easily located the packages that were for her. I swear she’d have winked if she could, just to let me know she knew what was inside, but wasn’t going to ruin the girl’s delight in “surprising” her. She smelled the presents, then let them be, tail stub wagging. She would wait. She had time.
More trips to the dog park. And always, always, the joy of fetch in the back yard. A tennis ball was all Mandy needed to make her happy. A full year and five months after diagnosis passed before chicken and even scrambled eggs stayed uneaten in the dog bowl. The day came when Mandy slipped on our hardwood floor, legs splayed out behind her. Her eyes, adoring brown eyes, held shame. She was ready. I wasn’t. I would never be.
I wished someone else would take over now. But this was between us. She was my dog. I helped her up.
“Okay, girl,” I said.
I took her to Dr. Harris, who’d been gone during Mandy’s cancer diagnosis and had given Mandy regular exams since she was a pup. Mandy had always liked this kind, older doctor with a grizzly gray beard and compassionate blue eyes. Mandy’s hind end attempted to wiggle when Dr. Harris entered the exam room. Her limited greeting confirmed how ill she felt.
“You did right by this dog,” Dr. Harris said. “You are doing the right thing.”
His eyes bore into me until he was sure I had heard. Then he squatted down to pet Mandy. I lay down on the floor next to her. My throat tightened. My heart crumbled and separated into pieces, flying in different directions, like marbles scattering across linoleum.
Mandy panted and leaned against me. Her tongue grazed my cheek. All I could manage was a hoarse, “Good dog.”
But these were the words in my heart, the words I wanted to say: “I’m gonna throw the ball for you, girl. This time don’t bring it back. This time keep running. I don’t know what lies beyond. But this is what I think. I believe you’ll find a glistening, green meadow that goes on and on. No ticks or fleas live there. Tennis balls will fly through the air so you can chase them. Bones and chunks of beef litter the ground. No kibble here. Or maybe a little, in case you’re homesick. And, if I can, someday I’ll come visit you.”
I hope Mandy felt my love and not my pain in those final moments. I hope she understood how much I cherished her and the extra time we had shared. I hope we will be reunited in that green meadow that is now her home.
I have Bailey now—a tailless sweetheart that is part Australian Shepherd. Sometimes I whisper in her ear about her black tri cousin in the hopes that when its her time to explore that green meadow she’ll know to find Mandy and tell her how I still plan to come and visit her someday just like I promised.
Honorable Mention in Humor…
“Sweet Lady and Me”
by Barbara Rady Kazdan
She took me to Good Doggie classes, where an ugly, pug-faced man – I called him Bully – tried to get us dogs to train our owners. I played along because of the treats. I sat, stayed, waited to be called, then raced over to my Sweet Lady to collect a cookie (I’m a sucker for bacon-flavored). One day, Bully made us and our humans line up single file. We had to weave in and out of the line, without stopping to get in the face or sniff the butts of the other dogs. On our turn I was doing just fine, thank you very much, until this puny Pekingese tried to sink her teeth into me. Did I snap back? No. In the Good Doggie way, I walked on by. But did I remember? Oh yeah. On that pesky little Peke’s turn, when she got to me I bared my teeth in my mad dog imitation. Set her straight. After that, Bully had the gall to call me aggressive. Me? Happy go lucky, great with kids, even cats, me? He sent us to a fenced-off area, like I had fleas or something. The nerve! We never went back.
Guess I showed them who was training whom. I taught Big Guy to let me ride shotgun, window open. And sneak table food to me. Next I helped Sweet Lady scrap the “no dogs on furniture” nonsense.
One day, Big Guy left in a screaming loud truck with flashing lights. He never came back. Since then I’ve stuck to Sweet Lady like glue. I even follow her into the bathroom. Every time.
I’ve trained her well. No Stupid Human training manual necessary. I just taught her what I need and expect. Take meal time. I like company when I eat, so I’d stop eating and follow her if she walked away before I finished. She’s a grandma, right? She’d freak out if I didn’t eat. She got with the program.
During TV time, she thinks I hit the remote by accident, but I can’t stand shows with eardrum-piercing sirens or beeping noises.
After I moved in a guy dug up the yard, and put an extra collar on me – what, one wasn’t annoying enough? I found out fast that stepping from our driveway into the street had shocking consequences. Sweet Lady takes that collar off before our walks, but I stop on the driveway and won’t budge, so she drives me out to the street. I’m a 55-pound sheepdog. When I pull my weight she’s no match for me. So that’s how we roll.
She’s learned some tricks herself. If I won’t go out before bedtime she rings the doorbell; I’m a sucker for that. Someone might be outside! I don’t bark when people come over; I can’t wait to meet them. The UPS man gives great tummy rubs. Fix-it guys stop working to play with me.
Family visits are the best. Everyone hugs a lot. I stand on my hind legs to get in on it. The kids cry, “Let’s do another group hug, Grandma!”
For me, a dog’s life is great. Sweet Lady takes me everywhere. At yoga I play with the teacher’s dogs. The people fuss over me, especially Ed – he gives super back rubs. The hairdresser keeps milk bones for me. I have to “shake” before she hands one over – hey, small price to pay.
I tolerate Candy Man, a nice guy, but a bit of a perv. He checks my heart and ears before getting up in my business, get my drift? I put up with it because he gives me tasty tidbits after he gets his jollies.
Don’t tell my friends but I wimp out when the sky cracks open and makes deafening noises. Sweet Lady puts my squeezy-tight coat on me and holds me on her lap. But when she’s sleeping, her lap disappears, so I sit on her chest. She wakes up and pushes me off. Go figure.
When she gets her purse – a sure sign she’s going out – if she says “You’re going,” I trip over myself with joy. But if she says, “Just Mommy,” I slink off to the living room. I’m sad when she takes her suitcase along – but then Annie feeds me, plays, and sleeps over. (She calls me a bed hog.) Just like I’d never run away, Sweet Lady always comes back. No worry. I trained her well.
“Old Dogs Walking”
by Kristine Jepsen
I am not new to dog ownership, as evidenced by the ages of my companions, Roubin (14) and Freckles (11).
However, we are all new to the etiquette of walking in town, which requires leashes and poop bags and moving in tight formation along sidewalks.
I should also disclaim that I was not born a ‘dog person’ — I’ve been heavily encouraged all these years by my husband, who grew up with dogs lolling under the bedcovers, luxuriating in a doggy-breathed cocoon. He cannot imagine a home without shed hair and milky dried paw prints everywhere.
And so I find dog-walking an entertaining case-study — especially in winter, with the great jostle at the door, snapping of leashes to collars and jamming of hands and feet into outerwear and fumbling with a pocketful of poop bags.
None of this happens quickly, despite the frenzy. There’s stepping on each other’s feet, noses to crotch, noses pressed to interior door, then noses pressed to glass of storm door, then — JOY! — entanglement as we maneuver down the front steps.
TIP # 1: Do not wait until you must juggle shed mittens and multiple leashes to wriggle open filmy doggy poop bags. It’s SO MUCH EASIER to open them before you leave, in the warmth of your home, than to scritch at them with frozen fingers, out in the elements.
As I set out one morning, in Lion/Witch/Wardrobe snowfall, I had a patentable idea: Why not make a mitten with multiple layers of doggy poop bags already smoothed open over the fingertips? Just scoop and tie off the outermost baggie. Simple!
So I tested this: I put my three fuschia baggies over my mitten and marched proudly down the snowy blocks.
Brown Dog: “Attention! Approaching neighbor-dog’s favorite tree-marking spot. Engage!”
Gray Dog: “No way. Squirrel at 10 o’clock….”
JOINK! [Equal and opposite recoiling effect.]
Brown Dog [dribbling]: “I say! How many times must I pee on your leash before you notice I’ve STOPPED?”
Gray Dog: “Oh, right. If you’d stop your tap-tap-dancing, you’d see what you’re missing.”
Within another 20 feet, Brown Dog begins a stiff-legged foxtrot, then assumes full kangaroo pose, eyeballs shifting with embarrassment to meet mine every few seconds. Oh, the scrutiny!
He also has a habit of skipping another 12 steps or so from the first deposit to eek out the finale, then raking his feet, straight-legged, toward the site, fluffing up snow or leaves or grass to hide the evidence, it seems.
Gray Dog: “I don’t know why you do that. [Rolls eyes.] I can still totally see it.”
Brown Dog: “Yes? Well, gopher lumps, you leave!”
I ready my baggie paw and….success! One baggie, tied off. Two still intact.
But now my baggie-mittened hand is clutching leashes, the baggies slithering over each other, while the now-used baggie occupies the other hand.
TIP #2 If walking two dogs, tether both leashes with one hand, between hip-level and chest. This keeps leashes taut enough that dogs cannot step over them, hobbling themselves as with…..hobbles.
When Gray Dog halts on the next block, I can see where this is headed. Two dogs + two baggies + field-testing of Baggie Paw = too much. I pin the leashes underfoot, swaddle my mittens between my knees and make short, if chilly, work of the remains.
When I turn ever so slightly in the direction of home, Brown Dog, wizened by winters too cold for his short pelt, rockets past me with breathtaking speed.
Gray Dog: “Already? Not the Poor-Freezing-Me bit again?”
Brown Dog: “IIIII haaaaave ttttttwenttttyone wwwinters onnnn yyyyou. Nnnow mmmarch!”
We lurch back down our street, one dog straining, the other braiding trouble between her leash and my load, but finally we’re clattering onto the porch.
At the door, I no longer have to hold leashes. Both will wait for me to unsnap the leads, dust the snow from their backs and thunk snow out of their soles, one foot at at time. This takes longer with furry Gray Dog, whose snowshoe-like rafts can harbor icebergs.
Brown Dog: “Ha ha! The great advantage of my sleek red coat!”
Gray Dog: “Beat you to the couch.”
And in they go, leaving me to pry the lid off the canister in the alley and let fly the spoils of our adventure.
By the time I get inside, both are snoring, a friendly little puddle forming on the floor where Gray Dog’s paws loll off the cushions.
Special Award for…
“Every Dog Has His Tale”
by Lindamarie Rosier
It is difficult to understand why a family would adopt a six-pound, chocolate-brown terrier mutt just to beat and starve. This little one was left outside in the cold, in the rain, and in the heat of the day, with no shelter. For months, this tiny fur ball was subjected to such abuse until her cries became so wrenching that neighbors called the police. Coco’s bruises and sores healed at the SPCA. What remained, however, was fear and lack of trust towards all strangers. Tragically, those scars will never fade away.
There are also big-hearted people in this world. One man is an unsung hero. He stopped traffic on Highway 1, putting his own life at risk to save a seven-week-old puppy who was deliberately thrown out of a vehicle. The SPCA named the cute buff-colored Norwich Terrier “Tuffy” but his name should have been spelled “Toughie” as he survived and almost made a full recovery. Tuffy was brain-damaged as a result of his head hitting the asphalt.
Depression is a terrible disease. It breaks the heart to see a dog in the depths of depression. A lot of love and TLC was given for days at the SPCA until “Atlas” trusted enough to come out of her cage. Atlas was a one-year-old stray… not just any stray, but a sweet, well-behaved, beautiful Husky-Malamute. She was not chipped. A chip would have given her a chance to be reunited with the family she greatly missed.
Atlas was adopted into her new forever home in Carmel, but it took weeks for her to feel part of the pack. It wasn’t just Mom and Dad’s love that comforted her; it was little Tuffy who nestled up close to her. With his simple mind and playful spirit, he never gave up on Atlas to be his new friend and a full member of the family he so loves.
In celebration of their new lives, all three dogs were rechristened. Chanel was added to Coco’s name after a human who was also abused. Tuffy’s name became Cartier after the designer Coco Chanel’s photographer, Cartier-Bresson. And, a name befitting the new princess on the block? It had to be Prada, after Micuccia Prada, Mario Prada’s youngest granddaughter… very smart and very sweet.
Words cannot express the bond that is so special, so strong, between these three rescued fur children. Yet everyone can feel the joy, the fun, and the happiness they share simply by watching their actions and interactions. Days at the beach are pure bliss. Coco Chanel loves to run and fetch, Cartier loves to jump in the sand, and Prada loves the cold ocean waves. Once back on the home front, exhausted, they snuggle up to one another so closely, one would think Mom and Dad just purchased a new fluffy rug!
Three stories, three happy endings, three unwanted animals whose lives were turned around and joined together by the SPCA. What could be more perfect?
100% of the proceeds from the PAWlitzer Prize and Awards Ceremony will benefit the SPCA for Monterey County, and The Birchbark Foundation.
The SPCA for Monterey County is your nonprofit, independent, donor-supported humane society that has been serving the animals and people of Monterey County since 1905. Online at www.SPCAmc.org
The Birchbark Foundation offers assistance grants to financially qualified animal owners in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, who are unable to cover some or all of the cost of their pet’s medical care. www.birchbarkfoundation.org
From the PAWlitzer Prize Awards Celebration, Oct. 14, 2017