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Few things scare me more than the unpredictability of crazy/drug-addled people.

Yesterday, I was walking my four Westies across the street that runs between two sections of Roseville’s Central Park. There is a clearly marked cross walk, though I never assume people will stop for me. I would have kept waiting, but a nice gentleman who was heading north (approaching on my left) stopped and waved us on. I got to the midpoint of the road and saw a red muscle car driving pretty fast from my right, heading south. I slowed and watched him cautiously to see if he was, indeed, going to stop. He slowed just enough for me to know he’d noticed us. I made the dogs run with me the rest of the way across the four-lane road.

As soon as we were almost to the other side, the driver of the muscle car gunned it and started to speed past. Just then, the nice, middle-aged gentleman who’d originally stopped called out to the aggressive driver, “Slow down!” and proceeded to drive on, northward. The next second, the muscle-car driver spun around in the middle of the street and took off in pursuit of the driver who’d admonished him.

My heart just sank and I became physically sick to my stomach from the waves of irrational rage that came off that muscle-car driver. Everything happened so quickly, I knew I wouldn’t even prove a good witness should something bad happen. I never even glimpsed the aggressive driver’s face and could only say his car was red (and yes, for fear of being labeled sexist, I am assuming he was a male). Big help. And they’d both driven off and out of my sight in seconds, which I admit I was a bit grateful of because I imagined him coming after me and my dogs if we had been eye witnesses to whatever he planned to do. Paranoid? Maybe, but you didn’t see and/or feel this guy’s actions. I couldn’t put anything past him.

I sent out prayers of protection to the probable victim of the hothead’s road rage. I felt sick for a good 10 minutes after the encounter though I have no idea what, if anything, happened.

I cannot know if the second driver’s aggression stemmed from mental illness, drug use/abuse, or a character flaw. All I know is that his hair-trigger temper was making him a time bomb and that even if nothing too bad happened as a result of his giving chase to the polite-to-me driver, he’d surely blow at some point and make victims of those around him.

People like that are so scary because of their unpredictableness. Those who know that person must walk on eggshells all the time, and I pity the stranger who inadvertently offends the unhinged person’s sensibilities. I realize that with this god-awful Recession, a lot of people are under terrible pressure that can make them snap when it’s least expected, too. I can only hope and pray this man’s emotional explosion dissipated before he hurt someone else.



OK, I just have to rant here, my popularity amongst strangers in cyberspace be damned.

I was out walking my four Westies yesterday along a path adjacent to the Mississippi River, and we encountered three adults and a 2–3-year-old girl. I could see from the “I’m ready to pounce” body language of the kid that she was, well, ready to pounce on my dogs. With Blanche, a.k.a. Miss Congeniality, or Ambrose, our Mr. Mellow Playfulness, that might not be a problem. And face it, these dogs ARE phenomenally cute (see the following photo), so I understand the attraction. However, having learned from painful experience that Keely does NOT like kids and barks at them angrily if they move fast past her, and that Oliver even bites ME if I try to grab or pick him up, I knew this could be a recipe for disaster. 

Ambrose, Keely, Oliver and Blanche

I was pulling my pack away from the pouncing child and trying to explain the folly of this situation to the adults, who all wore vapid, “Isn’t my kid cute as she lunges at this stranger’s unfamiliar dogs” looks. I told them, trying not to overtly blame the actual offending party—the kid, “These dogs are all rescues, so sometimes they have issues about being grabbed.” Still they stared, though a little bemused by my supposed ruination of their kid’s fun. I went on to say, “I’m sorry, but even though it might be safe with this one (Blanche), this other one has even bitten me when he’s startled.” My face registered the expression that said, “I’m protecting YOUR kid, guys! I’m doing YOUR job here!” Again, these idiots said nothing and did nothing to either protect or correct or plain old teach their kid a thing about asking permission first before approaching someone’s dogs and, even then, approaching them slowly and calmly—never pouncing.

Now don’t get me wrong, my dogs are not “dangerous animals.” In fact, they’re amazingly well-behaved on walks—people comment all the time about this—and they’re all awesome when reasonable adults (and even sometimes kids) approach them to pet them. Even Oliver is much less likely to get aggressive while on a leash and out on a walk like this. But we must always remember and respect the fact that they ARE animals, first and foremost. They can be instinctively territorial or self-protective, and that can be expressed by growling or snapping. Thus far, this hasn’t happened with my dogs while in public—in fact, being the alpha bitch, I’M the one who’s most likely to growl and snap at annoying people out of the lot of us—but I for one don’t feel like risking a law suit over a dog bite when it’s clearly the fault of the stupid adults who couldn’t be made to heed my polite warnings and pull their child aside and let us pass. Besides, it’s not my job to teach their child proper behavior, as I had my hands full trying to keep both my pets and her out of harm’s way.

The little troupe of supposed grown-ups looked befuddled by what I’d said and stared at me now as if I’d popped the child’s balloon or thrown her half-eaten lollipop down the sewer drain! (She didn’t actually have either of these things. I’m just saying…) I extricated myself, shaking my head in exasperation, and continued our walk.

A short while later, I passed a group of teen-aged boys goofing around on a foot bridge and had the one with dozens of piercings and metal doohickies protruding from his face—which may be neither here nor there as far as his mental capacities, but it was pretty gross to look at just the same—check out my furry pack and tell me, in case I’d been previously unaware, “You have four dogs.” All I could say was an affirmative, “Um-hum” and keep on walking. Who says our school systems are failing? This teen successfully counted my dogs and articulated that in a complete, albeit simple, sentence.

I thought I heard the faint strains of “Dueling Banjos”* in the background and wondered, too, if there wasn’t something in the water around here.—Sid

*”Dueling Banjos” was a song played in the movie “Deliverance” by an inbred hillbilly, rendered otherwise mentally deficient as a result of the too-small gene pool that spawned him.

I know I have my four Westies to thank for keeping me on track with my daily exercise. But if you don’t have a dog of your own, try getting a part-time job with a dog-walking service such as my friend Cathy Menard’s The Urban Dog. Look at it this way, if you join a gym, they won’t pay you to exercise!—Sid

Dog walkers have 6 feet, 1 goal

Dog walkers are discovering that daily hikes with Fido can help keep them fit.

Mary Shore took her dog Kaylee, for her daily walk on a loop along the river and over the Stone Arch Bridge.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Mary Shore doesn’t have to worry about getting so distracted that she forgets to take her daily walk. Kaylee will never allow it.

Shore, a professor at Luther Seminary, takes a 40-minute walk every day with her spaniel-sheltie mix. Depending on her schedule, sometimes they walk in the morning and sometimes at lunch. But if they haven’t done it by late afternoon, Kaylee “starts running up and down the stairs looking for me.”

Once they get outside, “Kaylee sets the pace, and it’s a brisk one,” Shore said during one of the twosome’s daily treks across the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. “But that’s fine. It’s good for both of us.”

She’s far from the only one exercising with her dog these days. There have been a flood of recent studies confirming that people who own dogs exercise more than people who don’t.

A recent Michigan State University study found that dog walkers exercise an average of 30 minutes a week more than non-dog-owners. And a University of Calgary study released in May said dog walkers keep walking even when it’s cold, although they might shorten the length of their trips.

The benefits carry beyond just the time the walkers are with Fido. A California study found that dog walkers spend an extra 19 minutes a week walking without their four-legged companions. And a University of Missouri project of residents of an assisted-living center who volunteered to walk dogs at a nearby shelter found that their overall walking speed increased 28 percent over the 12 weeks of the study, said Rebecca Johnson, lead author of the study.

“They also developed a more confident stride and better balance,” said Johnson, who is also co-author of the book “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” ($16.95, Purdue University Press).

Getting an exercise buddy is a long-proven way to maintain a workout regimen. And when it comes to exercise buddies, man’s best friend is always ready for the job.

“A dog actually thinks that exercising is fun,” said Phil Zeltzman, a veterinarian who co-wrote the book with Johnson.

A wagging tail is a great motivator for getting people moving. Just ask Michael Belaen.

In addition to working for the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, he’s also going to law school. But when he gets home from work, the rest of his schedule is put on hold because his dog is waiting anxiously for its daily walk around Shady Oak Lake.

“My girlfriend and I both rely heavily on our cockapoo, Maya, to make us healthy,” he said. “She definitely makes sure that we get our exercise in.”

Do it together

Going out with your dog is healthier for the pet, too, said Zeltzman. One of the myths of dog ownership is that leaving a dog in a fenced-in yard fulfills its exercise requirements.

“Dogs are pack animals, which means that they don’t like to exercise alone,” he said. “Dogs are excited to be outside, so when you let them out, they start running around. That’s all most people see. But if you keep watching, you’ll discover that after about five minutes, the dogs quit running around. They just sit there. They’re not getting any exercise.”

Beyond the health reasons, studies about dog-walking have found all sorts of side benefits, Johnson said. For instance, neighborhoods with a lot of dog walkers tend to have less crime.

Then, of course, there are the obvious advantages: Dog-walking is a low-impact activity that can be adjusted to suit the limitations of both human and pet, it can be done just about anywhere and you don’t need special equipment or a gym membership.

It also can serve as recuperation. When she was diagnosed with lupus and fibromyalgia in 2007, Ann Bouvette’s doctor prescribed 60 minutes of Bella a day.

“Bella is a mutt, but she’s the best dog around and has been a big part of my recovery,” said Bouvette, who lives in Clear Lake. “Bella loves our walks and knows that we are going when I put on my sunscreen, long-sleeve shirt and floppy hat. Having her get so excited for a walk helps me to get excited for it, as well.”

No one is recommending getting a dog just for the exercise benefits. Having a pet is a commitment, Shore underscored.

“Both my husband and I had dogs when we were kids, but we talked about this before we got Kaylee” two years ago, she said. “I was specifically looking for a dog that I could walk with, but owning a dog is a lot of work.”

Johnson said that a dog can do one thing that no piece of exercise gear can ever accomplish, no matter how sophisticated or expensive it is: Give you complete and unconditional support.

“Your treadmill doesn’t love you,” she said.

Today, I’m heading out to my sister Diane’s place to help her out after her second surgery on her wrist. She broke it last summer and had a plate and screws put in. Her carpal tunnel tendon was then squeezed by scar tissue and her hand was numb. They did a carpal tunnel release yesterday, and she’s feeling better. Yippee!

But she recently stepped up and offered to foster a young boxer named Sassy for a friend who is between houses, and therein lies a problem. She can’t let Sassy out in the backyard the same time as her two older dogs, Corky and Bruno, because the rambunctious youngster runs roughshod over them and has already hurt them unintentionally because she has 40+ pounds on them. That’s where I come in. I have to go there and give Sassy some much-needed exercise to tucker her out so she’ll be a bit more manageable for Diane. I also have to open cans of food because my one-handed sister can’t manage that either. 🙂

Only problem is I haven’t walked my own dogs for several days because of the slush-and-muck state of the sidewalks. (We’re in Minnesota and the snow is beginning to melt into puddles of yuckiness—NOT my favorite time of year. It’s gorgeous when it’s all white with new snow and when the snow is soaked up and grass begins to grow again. Between times…ugh!) My sweet little white dogs develop blackened under chassis every time the walk with me, and trust me it takes a LONG time to bathe and dry FOUR Westies. I’m feeling quite guilty for walking a complete stranger dog while my own pack goes stir crazy in our house. I may have to break down and let them get filthy anyway. I do, after all, believe in the adage: “Dirty dogs have more fun.”

Oliver, Blanche, Keely and Ambrose beg me to walk them.

Actually, a favorite T-shirt of mine from the Dog Perk reads “Dirtiness is next to dogliness.” Yep, I’ve talked myself into it despite the fact that my hubby and I spent most of last Sunday cleaning the dogs and grooming them with an electric clipper and my amateurish attempts not to create divots in their fur. They look rather pretty again, a far cry from their season’s-long ragamuffin appearance beforehand. I was so enjoying them being clean, soft and fresh-smelling, re-filthifying them is not an easy decision. But I can’t exactly explain to them that they aren’t going to be walked until mid-May! I’ll have a mutiny on my hands. All right, all right, I’m getting my walking shoes now…

Oh what a responsible dog-mom does for her babies!—Sid

I know it’s a hot button to bring up the teachings of “The Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan. People seem to either love him or hate him and his philosophy, and I’m not going to open that whole discussion here. What I am here to say, however, is that I used his techniques today and spared myself and my three Westies—Blanche, Keely and Ambrose—from falling victim to an attack by a charging rottweiler mix.

Here’s what happened. I was walking my pooches along Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis when I saw coming toward us a 20-something man and his two big dogs, a huge white Pyrenees Mountain dog and a rottie mix. His two dogs nearly overwhelmed him with their bucking, barking and general “I want to kill those Westies” behavior.

FYI: A Pyraneese Mountain Dog (not THE dog in the story)

A Rottweiler mix similar to the one in the story.

My dogs, to their credit, stayed quiet and calm. (I’d like to take a moment to brag about my dogs if I may. I’ve received several comments from strangers, while we’re out on our walks, who have noted what well-behaved Westies I have. This was not always so, and I thank Mr. Millan for his dog-walking tips that have taken 95% of the squirrel-chasing chaos out of our strolls.)

Anyway, back to the story. We steered clear of those aggressive dogs and went on our merry way. Some time later, on our return trip, however, I saw we were going to cross paths with them again. I casually took my dogs several yards off the sidewalk to give them a wide berth. The Pyrenees went ultra ballistic this time, which I found worrisome, because the dog had to weigh well over 120 pounds. But what really startled me was the 70–80-pound rottweiler mix—who broke free of its collar and came charging at us!

The young man hollered fruitlessly to recall his dog, as he was still struggling with the Pyrenees. Normally, I’d have screamed bloody murder to see my dogs and myself under attack, but something clicked in my brain and I immediately thought WWCD? (What would Cesar do?)

I stood with legs firmly planted, pulling my dogs (who were surprisingly calm and still during this) somewhat behind me. I used a visualization technique to see myself as the pack leader protecting my pack from this intruder. The energy I sent out was filled with pure “You will NOT touch my pack!” authority.

I then used a loud, assertive voice to yell sharply, “Hey! NO!!” as I pointed down to the grass for him to drop there, and I—with heretofore never experienced complete confidence in a crisis—stared down this bully breed. With his hackles still raised from the attack, that rottie stopped dead about four feet away from us and dropped to the ground. His owner, still 20 yards away, continued to call to the dog ineffectually. I gave the rottie one last “NO!!” when he looked like he might challenge me, I added a final “Don’t you even think it!” look and calmly walked away with my astoundingly balanced pack of Westies.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the term “Minnesota Nice,” which refers to Minnesotans’ typical tendency to be hyper agreeable/passive so as not to upset anyone else, despite how detrimental such behavior may be in certain situations. In that split second, I said to myself, “Screw Minnesota Nice! I don’t give a ‘bleep’ what this guy thinks of my tone being used on his unruly dog. One of us humans has to show them who’s pack leader, and it obviously isn’t him!”

How empowering!

I’d never been prouder of my dogs or myself—in relation to my dog parenting. Had I not watched a gazillion episodes of “The Dog Whisperer,” I am certain I’d have screamed and tried to flee as the charging dog bore down on us, no doubt redoubling his predatory instinct. I shudder to think what the result would have been of that strategy.

(My certainty arises from past experience. I actually had that very thing happen several years ago when a neighbor’s pit bull broke free and came charging, clearly hoping to make me and my former Westie, Ludwig, her lunch. It didn’t help that the owner hysterically screamed for us to “RUN!!!!” as her pit bull went into attack mode because she knew she’d be unable to stop her dog. I barely got the two of us into our yard and shut the gate when Jasmine, her 10-month-old pit bull puppy, who was normally friendly, at least to humans, crashed into it and kept leaping and snapping at us until her owner came by to subdue her with a broom!)

That was a pretty traumatic experience for me, but thanks to Cesar Millan, I no longer automatically lump all the bully breeds into the “BAD DOG” category. I bawled when I learned of his pit bull Daddy’s death. But, I do harbor a great resentment toward owners of those breeds who either encourage aggressive behaviors in their dogs or simply don’t take seriously their responsibility to properly control and train them—for the sake of other people and their pets, as well as for their own dogs’ sake. To those people, I say,  “BAD OWNERS! BAD OWNERS!!”

Now, I just hope that young man I encountered today starts some kind of training course to get better control of his two clearly potentially dangerous, dog-aggressive canines.

Just yesterday, as my hubby and I were walking our three Westies (Blanche, Keely and Ambrose) around lake Nokomis in South Minneapolis, Minn., I told him that, while it bothered me somewhat that in order to walk the dogs somewhere where there were well-maintained paths—meaning not as treacherous, slippery or plain slush-filthy—as our streets and sidewalks around the neighborhood (this is Minnesota in winter, folks, despite a lovely January thaw), driving to one of our abundant lakes or parks seemed a smaller price to pay than a gym membership.

Then, today, in the Jan. 17, 2010 issue of the Parade supplement  in our Sunday Star Tribune, I saw a short article called “A Happy Way to Get Fit” by Allison Takeda. In it, the author makes the very same point. She wrote, “When it comes to getting active, you may be better off investing in a dog than a gym membership.”

It makes me feel brilliant and insightful when journalists psychically key into an opinion I just voiced!

A study in Great Britain, involving a survey of 5,000 people, found that people with dogs exercised up to six hours more per week than those who work out at a gym or on their own simply by virtue of adding up the shorter bursts of activity, such as a 20–30-minute walks with their dogs done twice a day on average plus a longer walk a few times a week. It all added up to about eight hours a week of physical activity vs. two–three for those who visited a gym.

With pets, there’s a sense of responsibility involved. Pet owners care that their companions stay healthy and are willing to put themselves out to ensure this; that, and they don’t want to find puddles on the floor when they come home from work. Whereas, who among us hasn’t found it incredibly easy to find excuses not to head to the gym? (And I used to be a fitness coordinator and aerobics instructor myself back in the day!)

What’s more, the study cited enjoyment as a key element in what kept people moving. A vast majority of dog owners, 86% according to the article, said they enjoyed spending time walking their pets, whereas only 16%  of the gym-goers claimed the same enjoyment. Looks like people prefer walking Westies to visiting the weights room, Newfoundlands to the Nautilus machines, and Airdales to aerobics classes, huh?

What fun! I got to write and record a radio commercial for my dear friend Cathy Menard and her business, The Urban Dog, pet-sitting & dog-walking service in the Twin Cities area. It’s being aired on Air America radio (AM 950) here in Minnesota and can be heard archived on The Pet Playground radio show with Sage Lewis, the Creature Teacher.

My cohort on the commercial is our mutual buddy, John Leininger. Give us a listen.]

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