The Dog Knight Rises

Last weekend I fulfilled a longtime dream… I dressed Leo in a Batman costume. I was inspired by Super Cooper’s Instagram page. The costume from Petsmart is a 2XL and it’s a little snug. Maybe after a couple of photoshoots, I’ll cut off the cape for Leo to wear separately and sew the Bat symbol from the front onto his ThunderCap.

We took the Caped Crusader (and his sister, who doesn’t care for costumes) to the Dog Days of Summer event to raise money for the Whatcom Humane Society. He impressed us by jumping in the bobbing-for-tennis-ball tank. But then he had trouble getting out. Kind of an embarrassing moment for the Dark Knight.

If you’re wondering about the sticker on Leo’s head, it’s a “fifth paw” bindi from Tails-a-Wagging. They give them out every year and give a prize weeks later to the dog who keeps it on the longest. Both our dogs’ bindis fell off by this morning.

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I is for Isis, the most beautiful name

Every year that I do the A to Z Challenge, I will be for Isis.


My beautiful doggie, Isis, was named for the Egyptian goddess and protector of health, marriage, and wisdom.

Whenever you hear about the other ISIS, think about how many women and girls (and dogs and cats and ferrets) are named Isis in the world, and consider using the term ISIL like our president does.

I’m enormously proud of my book about Isis, called Bark and Lunge. I also think I made a prophetic decision to change the original subtitle, which was The Isis Story and used to be in the URL for the book’s website.

While that change was for the best, I still sing out her name with pride and wear it tattooed on my foot.



G is for Good Job


J.K. Simmons in Growing Up Fisher. I hope he told his doggie costar “Good Job” once or twice. From Dogster.

Have you seen Whiplash? Remember what J.K. Simmons’ character says about the phrase “Good Job”?

I’ll let J.K. tell you, using some colorful adult language, so I can stick with my goal of using all positive language.

I rather enjoyed Whiplash and this scene sums up its theme. Maybe that is how a great artist becomes One of The Greats.

On the other hand, I believe that to raise a Great Dog, the two most beneficial words are “Good job.”

Leo jumped onto this raised dock in a parking lot with just a little encouragement, and you bet I cheered him on.

“Good boy!” I gave him cheese. Mia hopped right up beside him and was happy to be rewarded with her rubber ball.

Would throwing a cymbal at Leo’s head help him jump onto the next metaphorical dock he encounters? Or will he remember how good it felt to make his people so proud they smiled and cheered and gave him cheese?

For the A to Z Challenge, I’m using all positive language in my posts. Find out how I discovered the benefits of positive reinforcement training in my book, Bark and Lunge!


After checking out some of the other A to Z Challenge bloggers, how about visiting some Wordless Wednesday blog hoppers and telling them “Good Job”?

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When famous people die

After Kurt Cobain killed himself, one of my mom’s college students said she was so distraught that she couldn’t turn in her assignment.

As a college student myself at the time, I thought that was a pretty shoddy excuse. I mean, light a candle outside your local record store, listen to Heart-Shaped Box on repeat, but do your damn homework. It’s not like you knew the guy. He was a tortured artist after all. His untimely death was sad, yes, but hardly a shock.

Heath Ledger’s death a few years ago, on the other hand, was shocking. Like Cobain, he left behind a young daughter. He wasn’t a known drug addict, but if the stories are to be believed, I can see how he could have accidentally overdosed on prescription drugs.

I learned of Michael Jackson’s death while checking my email in the Tokyo airport. I may have said, “Oh my god” out loud. Unexpected, but not beyond belief.

Brittany Murphy. Corey Haim. Lots of stars die suddenly.

"Glee" Cory Monteith

Last Saturday night, I got into bed feeling bummed out about the state of a world where a young man can be killed legally for wearing a hoodie (Even if Trayvon Martin did pummel George Zimmerman and smash his head on the sidewalk, didn’t he have a right to stand his ground?). Another news alert popped up on my iPod: Glee actor Cory Monteith found dead in a Vancouver hotel room.

I actually gasped. I know I said “Oh my god” out loud. Just a few days earlier, out of nowhere, I told Rob about Monteith.

“He checked into rehab for substance abuse. What kind of drugs could he possibly be taking? Why would he need to go to rehab? Couldn’t he just kick it on his own, Charlie Sheen style?”

Obviously, I didn’t know what I was talking about. My ignorant assumption was based on his squeaky clean appearance. The fact that he was dating costar Lea Michele, and she was standing by him, proud of him for taking this step. I had googled him to see what he was being treated for. Vicodin? Maybe cocaine? I couldn’t exactly picture him shooting heroin at a Glee cast party. Or smoking meth while Lea warms up her vocal chords. I couldn’t imagine him being a serious enough alcoholic to warrant a stint in rehab.

Is that why I’m particularly broken up about his death? Is that why, when I saw the news alert yesterday that the cause of death was a lethal combination of heroin and alcohol, my insides clenched from the tragedy of it all?

I’m a Glee fan, yes, but Finn Hudson was never my favorite character. If they’d written him off the show for other reasons, I wouldn’t have cared. I am a Lea Michele fan, though. That girl can sing anything.

I found myself hoping the couple had been having serious problems, as though that might make the loss easier for her. My heart breaks to think that at the time of his death, she thought everything was going great, that her boyfriend was clean, and she’d talk to him later that day. I guess it would be worse if they’d had a terrible fight, and that’s why he decided to get some heroin.

Either way, how does a person begin to get over it?

At one of the lowest points in my life, after Isis died, Glee made me smile. Lea Michele specifically. Her performance of Firework, which I later downloaded, filled me with just enough optimism to know that I would feel whole again.

FIREWORK – RACHEL | GLEE from christianjn on Vimeo.

Here she is singing with Monteith. Probably not a song that will cheer anyone up.

Companion piece to Bark and Lunge

Leo reads Mia a story

Leo reads Mia a story about a brave German shepherd named Maggie.

Just finished Suspect, Robert Crais’ best work!

Obviously, I’m biased, because it’s about a German shepherd.

My mom introduced me to Crais’ Elvis Cole detective novels many moons ago. I’ve read them all and the standalones as well. They’re terrific.

This one really spoke to me. Not just because it’s about a dog. I’ve read a loooot of books about dogs the past several years. I have extremely high standards for dog books.

Suspect is the yin to the yang of my memoir about Isis.

bedtime story2

Remember the other day when I said I should be reading stuff that contributes to my growth as a writer? I was all set to read Dora: A Headcase when I got a box of books from my mom in the mail.

Both my mom and my stepmom told me I’d love Suspect, because it’s about a dog, so I thought I’d just whip through it before I got back to my “serious” reading.

Remember the other day when I said that whatever I’m reading is what I’m meant to be reading?

Suspect is about a cop who lost his partner in a shootout, and a military dog who lost her handler to an explosion in Afghanistan.

Some of the chapters are written from the dog’s point of view, but not in a cutesy way. Crais nails the way German shepherds feel about their people. (I know, because Isis told me.) He also depicts so accurately what it is like to live with a German shepherd, what it’s like to drive with one sitting astride the console between the seats, scanning the view out the front windshield.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are an extremely entertaining and compelling pair of detectives, but I can’t say that I relate to either of them. Cole is the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Detective,” after all.  He’s a trifle cocky. And as much as I love Pike, he’s kind of a sociopath. So it was refreshing to read about inexperienced K9 Officer Scott James.

I didn’t think this book would have anything to do with my work revising Bark and Lunge, but oh, how it does!

Do you ever read a book and think, “That character is so totally me, if I had superpowers”? Or “if I were a princess” … or “if I were a spy”?

Maggie, the German shepherd in Suspect, is so totally Isis if Isis had gone into the service. All of the things that Isis did that were scary, we see Maggie do as part of her job. I loved reading another author – a  suspense author – describe a German shepherd barking and lunging at a suspicious person, and how it feels to be on the human end of a German shepherd’s leash.

Crais also does a masterful job conveying Maggie’s body language and how she alerts to smells. Early on, I wished there were pictures. I wanted to see Maggie beyond the silhouette on the cover. Turned out, I didn’t need photos, because she is written so well. (Also, I just imagined her looking like a cross between Isis and Mia).

bedtime story3

What a tribute to German shepherds. I hope this is the first in a series of Scott and Maggie books.

Movies that make you believe in God

My people like our Christmases dark, especially when it comes to the movie portion of our celebration.

An all-time favorite Christmas Day screening was Quills, starring Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade. Two years ago, Black Swan was my favorite Christmas movie.

During the past week at my mom’s, I read Gone Girl (Marriage can be a real killer) and watched the entire last season of Dexter (America’s Favorite Serial Killer).

So I consider The Life of Pi to have been a rather mainstream choice of Christmas movie. After all, its premise is that Pi’s life story “will make you believe in God.”


Warning: I am not about to spoil the ending of the movie as much as this interesting post, but if you haven’t read the book and want to remain spoiler-free, skip the next couple of grafs. I don’t think what I’m about to write will actually ruin the MOVIE for anyone, but I’m more sensitive to spoilers in books, it seems.

I didn’t like the ending of The Life of Pi when I read it. It felt like an “it was all a dream” cop out. Armed with this information when I saw the movie, I saw an early clue that Pi might not be a completely reliable narrator.

Our hero describes the day he got his classmates to start calling him by the nickname Pi. We see him writing the decimal out to a bazillion places on a chalkboard. I thought to myself, “No way he memorized ALL those places. He’s exaggerating.”

Which might lead one to believe that he exaggerated other parts of his tale.

Cut to the ending, when Pi asks his listener which version of a story he prefers: the whimsical and improbable one, or the more likely, sadder one.

Everyone likes the improbable one better, right?

Pi says, “And so it goes with God.”

Interesting. Both stories tell of overcoming incredible adversity, but the improbable one goes down better. Like all those stories in the Bible? Like, probably Noah didn’t really have an ark with two of every animal on it? Is that what Pi is saying?

In any case, Pi’s story didn’t make me believe in God. (It’s a really good movie though. Friends of mine worked on it. You should see it.) I said to my mother, “I don’t think there’s any story that can make a person believe in God. People who already believe in God already believe in him.”

The next day, we saw Les Miserables and as the credits rolled, I whispered, “That story kind of makes me believe in God.”


Warning: For some reason, I assume that anyone who wants to see Les Miserables already knows who lives and dies, so there be spoilers ahead. 

Consider the following lyrics:

“My soul belongs to God I know, I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on.”

I mean, wow. That’s powerful. So we know that Valjean believes in God, and without that belief, he never would have overcome his horrible adversity. For sure I believe in Valjean’s belief… but does that make me believe in God?

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Again. Wow. GoodReads tells me that’s straight from the source material.

But really, here’s what does it. As miserables as their lives are, people’s prayers come true!

Fantine tells Valjean, “My daughter’s close to dying. If there’s a god above, he’d let me die instead.”

Guess what happens?

Then, Valjean sings of Marius, “If I die, let me die. Let him live. Bring him home.”

Guess what happens?

(It’s a really good movie. You should see it. I like Hugh Jackman as Valjean as much as I like him as Wolverine. Anne Hathaway is breathtaking in closeup singing I Dreamed a Dream in one take. Amanda Seyfried sings like a Disney princess.)

You know what else these movies have in common, besides God? Yep. Tigers.

Vampires should have fangs

Look, teen vampire romances and me, we go way back. Like all the way back to the original.

The Lost Boys.

(I’m totally, unapologetically Team Kiefer. Then and now.)

I know my horror genres. Hell, I took a class at USC toward my degree about Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy in film. (Best class ever.) I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and I attended lectures discussing the resurgence of the vampire genre to reflect society’s fears about AIDS.

Then there was Buffy. My favorite television show of all time. The best representation of a female superhero I’ve seen. A tortured romance between a human (with superpowers) and a vampire. A romance that could never last. None of this happily ever after because we’re both vampires so now we can live together forever bullshit.

Yeah, I’m talking about Twilight. After the first movie came out, I listened to the first book and a half on audio, and then gave up because they were so badly written, but I stuck with the movies. I just had to see how it ended.

I’ll come right and say it, I thought Breaking Dawn Part 2 was the best film in the series. Finally, Bella gets to do something other than sit around and watch boys fight over her. And you know what? She looked really hot as a vampire. I liked watching her rail against Jacob for imprinting on her daughter, and I liked the epic battle scene, which I’ve since learned is not in the book. Further evidence that the books suck.

Honestly, everything wrong with that movie is a problem created by the source material. Twilight has the worst vampire mythology ever. They don’t burn in sunlight, they have reflections, they don’t have fangs, they barely even struggle with cravings for human blood. Why call them vampires? Just make them some immortal mutant race, or something. Especially if you’re going to give them each distinct X-Men superpowers. This one can read minds. This one can see the future. This one inexplicably has electricity coming out of her hands.

About a year ago, I started watching The Vampire Diaries, and I’ll challenge anyone who calls it a “guilty pleasure.” It’s legitimately an awesome show. It kicks Twilight‘s ass because Elena has a personality. She thinks for herself. She doesn’t want to be a vampire, even though it would mean being with her hunky boyfriend 4-eva. Also, vampire heartthrobs Stefan and Damon actually struggle with what it means to be vampires. Plus they have fangs and cool veiny eyes when they feed.

My first ever vampire Halloween costume. My makeup was a nod to The Vampire Diaries, but now that I think about it, the red velvet hooded dress would be appropriate at a Volturi dinner party.

SPOILER: Elena became a vampire at the end of last season. I was pretty sure the first episode of the season was going to have her sitting around with the Salvatore brothers, doing a lot of talking about what this means, and how she feels and whether she should feed. But no, the episode quickly put all the characters into jeopardy with actual consequences. Fine storytelling, in my opinion.

The Vampire Diaries did find a way to cheat the whole vampire allergy to sun with magical “daylight rings,” which, whatever, I guess if you want to have vampires go to high school, they have to be able to go out during the day. But that just gives me that much more respect for Buffy, which managed to keep vampires reflection-free and in the dark.

So. Final thoughts on Twilight, and let us never speak of it again: I really wanted to see Bella eat that rock climber. Then I was sort of hoping she’d bite her baby.


If Madonna isn’t too old for this sh*t, how come I am?

The past few years, every time I go to a big concert (which is like, once a year), I think to myself, “Maybe I don’t need to be spending hundreds of dollars to sit really far back in a stadium and watch a performance on a video screen.” I had thought it would be awesome to see Lady Gaga live, but really, we were too far away to feel like we were really seeing her live.

Plus, there’s so much sitting and waiting in uncomfortable bleacher seats. I would love to be able to show up an hour after the scheduled start time and miss the opening act, but there’s always that fear, “What if this is the one concert where the main act hits the stage within an hour of the start time?”

After Lady Gaga, I didn’t have a burning desire to see any concerts until Madonna performed at the Super Bowl last year, and tickets to her show went on sale very soon thereafter.

I’d never seen Madonna live. I still regret never seeing Michael Jackson on tour. What if this is my last chance to see Madonna?

So we got tickets, and months later planned a trip to Italy and Russia leaving the day after the Madonna show in Vancouver. Not the best timing, but these things happen.

Once again, I found myself sitting in very nearly the back row of the arena, waiting for hours for the show to start. HOURS. Madonna herself didn’t hit the stage until 10:30. Perhaps if I ever go to another concert, I should bring my Nook Tablet with me. I would have enjoyed myself more if I’d been able to read during opening act, DJ Martin Solveig.

With these crotchety thoughts running through my head, I started to feel really old. Although, really, the chicks sitting behind us probably weren’t much younger than me. They were drunk and loud, all decked out in their Madonna best, and honestly, they didn’t seem to be having any more fun than me as we waited.

Finally, the show began, and within a few songs, I was horrified. I mean, I’d heard the song “Gang Bang” from her new album, and thought it was pretty tasteless, but I was not prepared to watch her prance around a motel set wielding a shotgun, singing, “Bang Bang, I shot my lover in the head” while projections of blood splattered on the massive screen behind her.

AP photo

The article I link to above describes Madonna using a “fake gun to shoot a masked gunman and images of blood splattering on a large screen behind the stage.” Masked gunman? Uh, no, the lyrics are about shooting her lover in the head. Without doing too careful an analysis of the lyrics, that sounds premeditated to me. Maybe if I understood the story a little better, I’d see the entertainment value? Or is it social commentary?

While all this is going on in front of me, I’m full of self-doubt because I find it so offensive. What’s happened to me? I’ve always loved violence in my entertainment. Wild at Heart was my favorite movie the year I was 14. I loved everything about Inglourious Basterds, including the gratuitously balletic, blood-spattering shooting death of woman. I find everything about Natural Born Killers entertaining.

And yet, I thought The Dark Knight Rises was too dark… Madonna’s gun-slinging dance routine creeped me out.

Am I going soft in my pre-middle age?

The MDNA Tour took a turn for the better after that brutal “Gang Bang” number. I calmed down once she changed into her cheerleader outfit. Overall her dancing was incredible, and she sounded pretty damn good too. I wished she had done more of her “classic” numbers, because I enjoyed those more than the techo-dance tracks of recent years, but again, that’s probably because I’m getting too old for this shit.

Find strength in what remains behind

Last night, after a very inspirational writers conference, I watched an episode of It’s Me or the Dog that left me rather emotional. Not that the family in question underwent any moving transformation or anything. This crazy woman had rescued four dogs. One was “aggressive” and fought with another. Trainer Victoria Stilwell helped by having them walk the dogs side by side.

Side by side. That simple.

I cried after the episode because we never were able to walk Isis and Leo side by side.

I’m in a fragile place, because I’ve reached that place in the memoir. The last seven months of Isis’ life were very difficult for her and me both. I decided to press pause and go back to the beginning. Hey look, Isis is still a puppy and we just got her. Yes, that’s a much better place.

Before I went to bed, I flipped a few channels to find something a little less heartwrenching. What’s this? Splendor in the Grass is on TCM! I’ll just watch a few minutes

… Or the rest of the whole movie.

Does any movie better capture teen romantic angst? Seriously. My ribs constricted against my internal organs during several key scenes in this movie, just as they had when I first watched it, like, 20 years ago.

In the movie, Natalie Wood goes nuts after Warren Beatty dumps her. And he dumps her because he really, really wants to have sex with her, but he can’t because she’s a “nice” girl.

Granted, I have a sophisticated enough understanding of mental illness to recognize that not all girls go nuts after boys dump them. Surely Deanie Loomis (Wood’s character) had some predisposition toward a psychiatric episode. But what if she’d been allowed to have sex with Bud? Could she have married him and not gone crazy?

Either way, I cried for the second time last night. And then I went to bed.