By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Dash, doing what he does best

Dash, working hard

This is a special day in our house – Dash the Wonder Dog was born three years ago today.  It seems like just yesterday that we brought him home…and that we had a life.  Since he adopted us our every waking moment has been devoted to his care, feeding and entertainment.  As you can see from the picture (left) his job is to lie contentedly on the couch and be cute; our job is to fawn over him.  My husband, who was adamantly against getting a dog for the past 25 years, will now not leave Dash alone for more than four hours at a time.  Golf games have been sacrificed so he can stay home with the dog. He makes me feel like I am Joan Crawford if I schedule activities that take me away during the day AND at night.  Next he’ll be accusing me of using wire coat hangers.  Truth be told, it’s been a great three years and as I reflect on  what we’ve learned from dog ownership it boils down to a few good lessons.

The sniff test

The sniff test

First  – we humans could learn a lot from dogs about assessing new people.  We usually utter something like “the jury is still out” when asked about someone recently met.  We pause, we take our time in forming an opinion, we seek advice from others.  Dogs, on the other hand, get right to the heart of it. They sniff butts.  One good whiff can tell them if the new acquaintance is friendly, sociable and what they had for dinner last Tuesday.  They make instant judgements that I’m fairly certain are right on the money.  The scene at our local dog park is like watching speed dating – one good sniff and the dogs either form a friendship or move on.  I’m certainly not suggesting that we sniff butts, although it might be as illuminating a way to pick a President as our current debate system.  But I do think that dogs are on to something – we should trust our initial impressions.  Usually our gut is a pretty good predictor of who we might want to be friends with and who is to be avoided like Louisiana in July.

Elizabeth Brown

Elizabeth Brown and Dash

Second – we have been amazed by the people we have met just because we have a dog.  Every time we take Dash out, which is often, people stop to pet him and talk with us.  In fact my test for whether I would want someone as my friend is not the sniff test but whether they smile when they see Dash.  People who walk right by or who, worse yet, go out of their way to avoid him, would definitely not make my Christmas card list. But other dog owners in particular do stop and while the dogs are sniffing, we generally have some short conversation about how great our dogs are.  We commented last month after one such encounter up in Mammoth Lakes that we have met so many nice people because of Dash.  And even though some of the conversations are very short, the cumulative effect is that our lives are happier because of them.  One that particularly stands out is Elizabeth Brown, who we met in Tahoe two years ago.  She was visiting from England with her parents and grandmother.  She was bored to tears (as she told us) until she saw Dash.  She was so excited to hold him that she asked if she could have her picture taken.  We made sure she asked her parents for permission since we didn’t want to end up on the Sexual Predator list in our neighborhood, and once that was granted we snapped the picture (above).  I know that Dash made her trip more enjoyable and to this day we smile when we see the photo.  We can thank Dash for hundreds of small meetings that have truly enriched our lives.

A true friend

A true friend

Finally, I harken back to a phrase that I heard 30 years ago when I had a cute little mutt – “Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am.” It goes without saying – and every dog owner knows this – that there is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog.  Really, most of the time I don’t deserve the excitement Dash expends when I walk into the room. We all could probably take note from canine behavior – always happy, intuitive to every emotion, kisses on command, and loyalty.  The other day I was in our local pet shop and they had a new supply of the Life is Good tee shirts – the ones with cute dogs and great slogans.  My favorite was “Be Your Dog”.  There’s not a chance I can be that good, but surely it’s a worthy goal.

Since this is my last post before Thanksgiving I’d like to take a moment to thank all of our subscribers and wish each and every one of you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  We truly appreciate your continued support of our weekly attempts to entertain.



Riley to the Rescue

by Bob Sparrow


Riley as a puppy

Here it is, that shoulder season between the end of summer and the start of the holidays. It’s actually the best time to travel, weather is still good and kids are back in schools so the crowds are down. But as I sit here on a beautiful Southern California day, I have no immediate travel plans. I stare out the window, and then I stare at my dog, Riley, wondering what to write. I say to her, “I really haven’t been anywhere of interest lately, so what do I write about?” She tilts her head and looks at me as if to say, “What the hell are you asking me for, and by the way, isn’t it time to feed me?” Oh yes, I have a dog, not as famous as my sister’s ‘wonder dog’ Dash, but ‘my best friend’ nonetheless. In fact, the comparisons to Dash are . . . non- existent, the contrasts however are abundant. To wit:

Girls & Dogs

Daughters Steph and Dana (aka Riley) holding dogs (Riley is on the far right)

Dash is a purebred, purchased from a registered breeder; Riley is a mutt, a mixture of a Maltese and Shih Tzu, or for short, a ‘Multi-Shit’ – which she does, wherever and whenever she wants! She was purchased from somebody selling dogs in their front yard. Dash’s name come from royalty, the name of Queen Victoria’s dog; Riley’s name comes from the fake name that our daughter, Dana gave when she was single, to guys she didn’t want to hear from again. Dash has never barked; Riley barks at every moving thing – which is why we don’t feel the need for an alarm system. When presented with a paper plate of food, Dash would elegantly partake, often leaving some, just to be polite; Riley would wolf down the food and start chewing up the plate while looking around for more.  Dash is trim, in shape with a shiny coat; Riley is over-weight and proud of it and usually needs a bath. With Suzanne and Al both retired, Dash is doted on; with Linda and my working and traveling schedule, Riley probably has some separation issues.   Dash has perfect teeth; Riley has a missing front tooth in her massive under bite. Dash is in management; Riley takes a lunch pail to work.


Lunch-mouth Riley today

They say when dogs are looking into your eyes that they are really hugging you – when Riley looks in my eyes it’s usually because I’m late feeding her. Dash is Suzanne and Al’s first dog; Riley is our last. I’ve always had a dog from the time I was a kid. ‘Boots’ was my first dog, I taught him how to climb a tree with me, then there was ‘Rags’ then ‘Smokey’, who wandered on to the school grounds when I was teaching and was never claimed by anyone, so I took him home. I even had a dog when I was in the Navy stationed in Japan named ‘Xoon’, I think he only spoke Japanese. We’ve been a two-dog family for the past 25-30 years; Igit, Shasta, Kola, Pepsi, Simba and Riley. Simba passed away earlier this year and Riley seemed to have mixed emotions; she surely missed her sister, but also probably thought, ‘Hey, more food for me’.   When we buried Simba in the back yard, with the rest of our dogs, we decided that we wouldn’t get another one, that our travel schedule is such that it wouldn’t be fair to another dog, and maybe we just didn’t want any of our dogs outliving us!

OK, Riley, you helped me write the blog this week, thank you! I guess I’ll have to give you a treat. She gave me that look like, “Yeah, sure, whatever, now where’s the treat?”




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

DashRecently some ingenious neuroscientist published an article in the New York Times with the astounding news that dogs experience love just like people do.  I don’t know how much money was spent on this study but I think it’s pretty safe to say that most dog owners could have spared him the time and expense of the “investigation”.  We KNOW that our dogs love us.  And we didn’t have to train them to sit in one of those blasted MRI tubes to figure that out.  But it got me to thinking … maybe I can get in on this dog behavior study trend and make myself a little extra cash on the side.  As it happens, Dash the Wonder Dog, will turn one year old this month so I began to reflect on all of the “newsworthy” discoveries we’ve made over the past few months.  Purely in the interest of science, here are my observations:



I know – you read all the time about how good dogs are for getting people out to exercise.  True, a dog forces you to get up off of your duff and take it outside.  But that’s about the extent of the exercise at our house.  Dash will lead me as far as the end of our driveway and then screech to a stop.  Apparently there is a VERY interesting bush that needs to be examined and re-examined every day.  And peed on.  As we progress on the “walk” I take 20 steps forward and 15 steps back.  There is not a leaf that goes uninvestigated.  And he has all the airs of a snotty French waiter – a little upward tilt of the head and a big sniff – as if he is trying to assess the “bouquet” of the urine left by previous dogs. Once home, he is exhausted and I head off the to the gym.


In the past year I’m sure we’ve met close to 500 people that we would otherwise have  just walked past.   Most everyone wants to stop and pet Dash or at least they give him aDash with Abby smile when they look at his face.  We have met Judy Blumberg, the Olympic figure skater, and Edward Villella, the famous ballet dancer, because they wanted to talk about Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  More importantly, we have met countless warm and wonderful people who I happen to belive are geniuses because they thought our dog was cute.  We have actually perfected  what I call our “asshole test”.  If someone walks by Dash and doesn’t at least crack a smile, they’re obviously an asshole.  Harsh?  Perhaps.  But I’ve got a lot on my plate and I think this is as good a quick filter as any to determine whether someone is worth getting to know.


Dogs are very smart when it comes to figuring out which “parent” to go to achieve the desired result.  In our house, I’m the one Dash looks plaintively at when it’s food or treat time.  And usually I’m the one who has to draw the line when it comes to discipline.  Dash has slept in a crate by my side of the bed since the day we brought him home, but a couple of weeks ago he underwent some major surgery so the vet told us to keep a vigilant eye on him.  Which my husband, Mr. “I’m Not Sure We Should Get A Dog”, interpreted as Dash sleeping on the bed with us that night.  And the next…and next…and next.  Now when I tell Dash to go to bed he runs over to my husband’s side of the bed and won’t come near me.  As to where this is headed I’ll leave it at this – Dash recently acquired his own pillow.


We humans could learn a lot from our dogs about chilling out a bit.  You don’s see them worrying about whether the house is clean enough for guests or what might happen if the 49ers lose.  Life to them is about sleeping, comforting and playing.  Not a bad way to go through life – not caring one whit that their owner might be the teensiest bit mortified as they “do their business” in the middle of the hardware store.  Certainly I’m not suggesting that we all take on that particular trait (God forbid) but as the bumper sticker says, “A little less bark and a little more wag” would probably do us all some good.

2013-08-07 09.46.59-1 (2)5.  DOGS HELP US TO APPRECIATE EACH DAY

Alas, as every dog owner knows, dogs just don’t live long enough.  Seems to me that some researcher ought to be working on that. It seems unfair that we should have such devoted companions, only to lose them far too soon.  The last time I had to put a dog to sleep I cried for weeks.  Years later just a picture of her would elicit tears.  So I started a tradition with Dash the first night we brought him home.  Just before we go to sleep (and it’s ever so much more convenient now that he is right next to me) I take time for one last snuggle and to review our day.  I talk about the things we did and the people we met.  I tell him what a sweet boy he is and thank him for another wonderful day together.  Because I know that the days go by much too quickly.  At the end of his life, I will know that I told him just how special he is every single day of his life  .

But today we are a long way from that day….today we will play fetch until my arm gives out and I’ll probably put some funny hat on him and stick a candle in his kibble.   And I’ll try to figure out how I can make headlines in the New York Times stating the blatantly obvious…DOGS ARE GREAT!

And we think our subscribers are great too – sign up to get our blog delivered to your inbox each Monday by completing the box to the right.  Thanks!



2013-02-17 10.18.12 Every dog should have a boy….  Erma Bombeck.   I’m sure Ms. Bombeck had a freckle-faced 10-year-old boy in mind when she wrote that.  At our house “the boy” is almost 72 years old.  But it seems that some things are timeless and not bound by the limits of age.

I should point out that “the boy” has resisted my attempts to get a dog for the past 25 years.  Every broach of the subject was met with groans, moans and 87 reasons why we shouldn’t get a dog.  Over many of those years he had a point – we were both working long hours, we traveled a lot, we had white carpeting.

But last summer our kids went on vacation and we offered to dog sit.   When he thought I wasn’t looking, “the boy” would give the dog treats.  And he was perfectly content to sit on the couch with the dog right next to him watching golf tournaments on TV.  Over the course of ten days the dog learned all about lip-outs, soft fades and why Tiger Woods will never win another major.

So, as you faithful readers know (and we do thank you for your subscription!), “the boy” was finally worn down enough by last fall that the moans and groans were uttered with less conviction.  I pounced on the opportunity and put a down payment on a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  He was born in November and we named him “Dash”.  We were finally able to bring him home two weeks ago.  That’s when life in the Watson house changed. Forever.

Before Dash came home, “the boy” wanted it made perfectly clear that I was going to be totally responsible for all feeding, training and (this is critical) poop patrol.  Dash was going to be tolerated and allowed to live with us just to keep me happy.  Yeah, right.

Within 48 hours it became clear that Dash was going to belong to “the boy”.  He didn’t want to leave the house for fear the dog would miss him.  He admonished me for washing Dash’s face with a bit too much pressure.  He got a big stick to take outside to the dog run just in case any wild animal ventured near.  And the baby talk?  Here’s the best example I can provide:  one week after Dash came home “the boy” was watching hockey while Dash and I were in my office watching something educational, like “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”.  When I decided to retire, I took Dash and walked into the family room to say good night.  “The boy” jumped up from his chair, came over to us and starting petting and cooing …”oh, I love you soooo much”, “good-night little sweetheart”, etc. …. to the DOG.  He has not jumped up out of a chair like that for me in 20 years.

So now, after 25 years of wanting a dog, I have to fight for equal time.  At best, “the boy” and I sit on the couch with Dash in between us.  Life is very good at those moments.  And truthfully, I love seeing “the boy” so enamored with Dash.  Dash has brought us a lot of love and I’m sure has lowered our blood pressure by several points.

However, I should stipulate that “the boy” is not so enamoured that he has picked up poop.  Somehow, that is still my responsibility.



by Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Raes five boysMy husband and I have lost our minds. We recently decided to add to our family.  No, we’re not that crazy (or young).   In February we will become parents to a 12 week old Cavalier King Charles spaniel. The picture at left shows the litter at 8 days old. We don’t know yet which one will be ours, but I’m hoping it’s the smart one.  I am aware of the pitfalls of a new puppy – we can say goodbye to sleep, sanity and our clean white carpeting. On the other hand, if “Puppy Breath” was sold as perfume it would be a best seller.

I haven’t owned a dog in 25 years so I thought I should become familiar with the modern dog world. Conveniently, PetSmart was sponsoring its annual Holiday Pet Festival near us this past weekend. It offered an opportunity to see (and pet) dogs, peruse the latest dog supplies and hopefully pick up some tips.  And it was free.  The perfect storm.

The festival was held at West World, which is a HUGE exhibition center where they hold the Barrett-Jackson car auction and other large events. I figured they would cordon off a small portion of it for the dog soiree. But as I entered the building it became clear that I am horribly, crushingly, out of date when it comes to the dogs and the vast array of “stuff” available to them.

Twenty-five years ago my dog had a collar, leash and feeding bowls.  I fed her whatever canned dog food was on sale at the supermarket.  On a good day she got a piece of a hot dog or whatever scrap happened to hit the kitchen floor.  Apparently my  laissez-faire approach to dog ownership would now warrant an emergency call to the SPCA.

The “fesitval” made it clear that today’s dog requires vitamins, special organic, gluten-free food, freeze-dried liver treats, harnesses, and a bed that would have to pass muster at the Ritz.  And though not required, it was strongly suggested that if you love your dog at all you should purchase a dog massage, a day at the doggie spa, blinged out collars and sunglasses.  I won’t even go into the ridiculous costumes being offered but really…some of these outifts would embarrass Lady Gaga.

All in all it was a fun day.  There were small dogs and large dogs, and dogs that looked like they wanted to be anywhere else:

small dogs

large dogs

bored dogs

But my favorite was the dog who decided, right in the middle of the arena, to “do it’s business”.  Big time.  And guess what breed it was?  A Cavalier King Charles spaniel.  I think I’m going to need a bigger shovel.