Archive for June, 2013

Will a Puppy Lemon Law in Illinois Protect Either Puppies or Buyers?

June 27, 2013

I doubt it will be acted on in this Illinois legislative session, but that’s what  lawmakers have proposed in Illinois. Rather than  fund the Ill Dept of Ag & demand they do their jobs—& inspect pet related businesses….it  is up to consumers to not be stupid, as though that has ever worked.  So, the gist of the law is that if you buy a puppy from a pet shop, you must get information on the breeder, and you have the right to return the pup within 30 days if it is not healthy.

How do you determine if a puppy is healthy?  Genetically sound?  A veterinarian can quickly determine if a  dog has parasites or a skin disorder, but the other genetic maladies a puppy may have take much more time to  show up.  A  pet buyer  won’t see evidence of liver shunt, luxated  patellas, hip or elbow dysplasia,  juvenile cataracts or eyelid entropy often until a puppy is at least  6 months old, and then only after expensive tests.

No, the law just  protects the unethical commercial breeders and brokers selling ‘love’.  Several things make this complicated:  some hobby breeders having no integrity, making excuses for genetic defects, the many backyard breeders who don’t consider themselves breeders, dog brokers who don’t take possession of a dog until a client ‘orders’ it and puts down a payment for it, and  the many shelters and rescues that pull from  pounds (open admissions government entities).  You,the public, looking for a healthy puppy, are not protected from them.  You are not protected from a hobby breeder who is breeding for the betterment of the breed, either, but this kind of breeder is much more concerned with his reputation, and his standing among his fellow hobbyists and fanciers, and  as they  are the ones who help  him sell his puppies.  You’ll have trouble finding a hobby breeder, however, as the irony is that both the economy—& the American kennel Club have made it difficult for them to even break even on breeding  genetically sound dogs!

Among the dog showing (and breeding) fancy, there is concern about the lack of market for well bred dogs.  People want dogs of certain breeds, but are unwilling to pay the costs or raising healthy  purebred puppies, or they’ve heard rumors about show dogs, and can’t tell  the difference between a  commercial breeder and  a hobby breeder.  People still trust the Amish, yet they are among the worst offenders  of breeding  pets like livestock.

No, the only option is for fanciers and real dog lovers to get better organized and  become more sophisticated about marketing, and also show our legislators where all the dogs in shelters are coming from….as they are generally not coming from hobby breeders breeding for the betterment of their breeds, but from people who are raising pets as livestock.

One excellent essay that might help people understand how complicated this is,  is Malcolm Gladwell’s article which appeared in the New Yorker magazine called “Troublemakers.” This is the link: .  He addresses breed bans and breed specific legislation due to the many injured by pit bulls, what really needs to be done, but what actually is done regarding enforcement.  Simply brilliant.

2 movies: “Fill the Void” & “Hava Nagila”

June 20, 2013

I don’t usually see 2 movies in a weekend, but the opportunity came up to see  two  which will probably not be widely distributed.    Both had gotten  good critical reviews, and both are  directed by Jewish  women.  Aside from that, and being about  Jewish subjects, they have nothing in common.

To most of the world, we are all Jews: odd, funny, good with money, and hard to fathom why we haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior…yet we assimilate so readily into mainstream America and  inter marrying at an alarming rate.  We  do this because we see no advantage to remaining Jewish in terms if cultural practices. Yet, we  continue to be curious about ourselves as an ‘other’.

First, I want to address Fill the Void, by Rama Burshtein. Burshtein is an enigma herself, being raised secular, in Israel,and becoming a Haredi/ultra Orthodox Jew, along with her husband, who was also raised  secular.  Most Americans don’t understand the  great social divide between the secular and religious in Israel.  It is deep, as  large a chasm as the divide between  Jews and Moslems/Palestinians. The secular  resent the  ultra religious  for shirking military service and their spending time  in prayer rather than supporting their many children, and of course, the  religious  don’t regard the secular Jews as being  Jewish at all, even though they are economically  supported by the secular.

What I  find  difficult is  the notion that a secular woman would choose a life of—not so much subservience to men—but one of so many  physical and social constraints.  The viewer will get some of the gist of this in  Fill the Void.  The main plot of this very well scripted and edited film is that  of the choice a  young girl has to make when her sister dies in childbirth.  She is going to have an arranged marriage.   She is already prepared for this.  She wants to do the right thing and make everyone happy, but  she clearly has been put in a bad position.  Meanwhile, there are several subplots deftly handled by Burshtein.  I found the ending abrupt, but no matter.  It’s a very  entertaining and compelling movie.

You will  remain with questions, however.  If this family is of a rabbi’s, how  do they get their money?  What do all these religious men do?  Not to stereotype, but we in the Jewish community know that the religious men are either bankers or jewelers, for the most part.

Hava Nagila was directed and produced by Roberta Grossman.  This documentary  is about the song that  celebrates  joyfulness;  where it came from (the  Ukraine, apparently), and how it became so popular that even  famous singing  goyem (non Jews) made it  part of their  performing repertoire.  Oh yes:  Harry Belafonte, Glen Campbell, and Connie Francis are among the celebrities interviewed.  Director Grossman does a fantastic job of telling the story and editing the interviews, which include  ethnomusicologists.  She has fantastic footage  of these  formerly famous singers—and others, and the film is edited  extremely well.

I urge any interested in good stories, good films without violence, music, and culture to  rent these from Netflix.

Susie’s Tab

June 13, 2013

I wrote this several years back, and it is based on a true story.  I am not reactive enough to make this stuff up!…..



            I had worked for Susie since I was a teenager.  At the start, I washed her champion dogs and cleaned the kennel.  It was an honor. My parents were not dog people, and this was a great way to learn about dogs, and the fancy.  My parents had gotten several dogs from Susie over the years, and my sister had after she got married.  Susie raised West Highland White Terriers.  Not really my breed, but cute dogs. They make good pets.

            We had known each other over 20 years by this time.  I had just gotten back from Peace Corps, and needed some work until school started. So, I agreed to stay with the dogs while she and her husband, Clay, went on vacation, fishing, for 2 weeks.

            Usually,they went up to somewhere north of Minneapolis, and were unreachable by phone. By choice.  If there was an emergency, they expected me to use my judgment and handle it.

            Also, usually, it was just the adult dogs I had to take care of. Maybe a few unsold puppies and usually she had no more than 10 adult dogs.  All of them were in the kennel.  Sometimes, she had a litter of puppies, but this time, she told me in advance that there would be three litters:  1 was just about a week old. They would have just been born, and she had a whelping pen set up in the dining room.  Not too much of a problem. One litter was about a month old, so I would have to start the weaning process, and one litter was about seven weeks old—needing much more socialization …and they would be a pain-in-the-neck to clean up after, too.   Puppies are cute, right? Except when you spend all your time cleaning up after them and they are biting your shoes and ankles..

            Well, I wasn’t doing anything else, really, and I could bring my retired champion Afghan Hound with me.   Hamid was a typical Afghan.  You had to let him make friends with you on his own time frame, this is somewhat important, as he complicated everything.

            When I walked in, Susie took me aside and told me that a friend had arrived out of the blue, the day before. They co-owned a dog, who was out on a show circuit, and, for some reason, he had to move suddenly, some sort of disagreement with his roommate.   Susie told him that they were leaving on vacation, but he said he’d be out in a few days.

          What kind of adult man, a guy who showed dogs, didn’t have an active checking account?  What kind of guy had enough money to campaign a dog, but not enough to rent an apartment?  Susie told me  his checking account was tied to a trust find and due to a bank snafu he could not access it temporarily.  It sounded fishy to me, but there was a lot going on that Susie had to explain to me.

            Well, what could I do?  Susie walked me into the family room. In a haze of smoke, I could see an old man in shorts.   Derrick was sitting on the edge of one of the sofas, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  “Don’t mind me… I won’t get in your way.  I’m Derrick Nickerson. Susie and I co-own Ch. Downtown Snow Blind, and he’s out on the circuit now.  I’m just an old Jewish  fag (his words), and  I’ll just be around until I get  my Illinois nurse’s license and access to my  trust fund at Harris Bank. It won’t be more than a few days.”

            Derrick said he was 60, but he looked much older.  He chain-smoked (ugh!) and nursed a vodka gimlet.  He told me that he and his partner had a falling out, so, since he and Susie co-owned a dog, he decided to move to the Chicago area from Detroit.    He was also buying a car, a new Porsche.  He was paying cash  for it and blah, blah, blah… 

            Whatever…I didn’t really care, because I had enough to do.  Susie’s set up was not ideal.    She ran all her dogs together, except you had to get all the dogs in and then carry out an in-season bitch. Or, a stud dog that took a dislike to the other stud dog, or one of these nursing mothers, and usually, there was at least one dog that didn’t come in with the pack, so you had to count heads and then go around the kennel to the gate and fetch the recalcitrant dog.  You know how terriers are:  snap first, ask questions later.  I was always amazed that Susie didn’t have more fights in her kennel.  There were a lot of tattered ears, however.  That litter in the dining room, from a bitch she had sold on a breeding contract,  she didn’t want to put with the kennel dogs (not that she had room for another litter in the kennel), really added to the  work load, as I had to carry food  from the kennel across the house.  I also had to schlep a big plastic garbage bag  through the house with whelping box papers full of poop to the trash cans, which were back by the kennel.

            Derrick liked to talk, but he didn’t like to help.  He had one old bitch with him that he’d take out into the yard, but he asked me to prepare her dish when I fixed dinner for the kennel dogs.   He knew I had to prepare  3 dishes with vitamins for the three mommy dogs, and one of the stud dogs also got a special meal, but to him, it was ‘just’ one more special thing. He was always on the phone, either calling Harris Bank,  the department of registration about his nurse’s license, or the car dealer.  The aura of cigarette smoke engulfed him and you could see the haze  across the room from the light of the TV,  which he turned on as soon as he  got up in the morning. The ritual:  light a cigarette. Turn on the TV, mix a gimlet.  Meanwhile, I was either  preparing  dog and puppy food, cleaning up or grooming a dog.

            If things weren’t complicated enough, Hamid really didn’t want to go anywhere near Derrick, and this annoyed him, since he was such a dog lover. Not normally friendly (typically aloof, as Afghans are), Hamid gave new meaning to the term high strung.  Whenever Derrick got up off the couch, Hamid got up and moved to the door of the room, keeping an eye on Derrick.  I told Derrick to ignore him, and for the most part he did, but he couldn’t help commenting on how Hamid got to be a champion.  How did a judge get near him?  How?  The dog was trained.  We shaped his behavior to stand and stay in the show ring.  His own life outside the show ring was typical Afghan.  He had enough friends  I was sort of glad Hamid stayed clear, as I could imagine  Derrick’s tobacco stained hands in  his coat.

            “You seem pretty intelligent, so what are you doing working for Susie?”  Derrick asked onr morning, cigarette smoke blowing out of his nose as he sashayed over to supervise my cleaning of the dining room puppies.

            You mean you can’t be intelligent & take care of peoples’ dogs?  Maybe he had a point.

            “I’ve worked on and off for her since I was 13.  I’m in grad school now, but we’re on break,and I just got back from Peace Corps.  So I said I’d stay with the dogs while she and Clay went fishing.  It usually works out ok.  Usually, there is only one litter, and only one bitch is in season.  This time it’s a little more complicated.”  I was leaning over the whelping pen set up in the dining room, trying to roll papers and put new ones down without losing any of the whelps.  I was also hoping Derrick would take the hint.

            “I’ve known her for over 40 years.    We’ve bred to each others’ dogs a lot. What are you studying?”  He took a swig of a vodka tonic.  It was only 11a.m. and this man was drinking already.

            “Animal behavior.”  He didn’t move except his arms.  One had brought the cigarette to his mouth, and as that went down, he raised the vodka tonic.  He was watching TV and me.

            “So how is it that you have an Afghan and not a Westie?”  he asked, not seeming that interested.

            “Oh, long story.  I actually started with an Afghan and my folks had the Westie, but it’s so hard to keep a Westie in coat. You only have, what?  8 weeks after all that work? And then the dog is out of coat  more time than he is in coat.  & keeping a white dog white?  No thank you.  There’s nothing to an Afghan once it’s totally in specials coat.   You wash it once a month  and boom you’re done.   Plus, the Afghan tends to be quiet.  Westie’s bark at everything. You’re probably inured.”

            “Ahh, yes….”  he said, blowing more smoke into the room.  Two weeks of this.  I was going to kill Susie.

            Man, what a talker.  He knew (a famous dog handler, recently deceased) and he used the guy’s initials in all his dogs’ names (that he bred).  He knew Mrs.Harris of the Harris family that owned Harris Bank.  She’d straighten out the snafu that was preventing him from accessing his trust fund.  Then he’d have money for his Porsche.

             I mentioned to Derrick that I was going to go food shopping, and he asked me to get chicken for him and charge Susie.  He’d settle with her later.  Once, when I mentioned that I was going to take one of the kennel dogs to the veterinarian, as he has unrelenting diarrhea ( which I didn’t know if it was related to stress or bacterial infection), he asked me to take his bitch to Susie’s veterinarian for shots as long as I was going. He had to wait for a phone call.  That was on Susie’s tab, too.  While I was at the veterinarian with the dogs, I don’t know what went on, but, as Derrick said, Hamid went berserk and climbed on every window in the place.  “He’s very high strung,” Derrick said, through the choking fog of cigarette smoke.   Ya think? He’s an Afghan Hound. No news there.  But Hamid wrecked all the screens, and I later had to reimburse Susie, which is why I ended up losing money on that job.

            My sister came over.  Making small talk, Derrick asked Paige what she did.  She told him that she worked for an automobile finance company.  He went on about the Porsche he was going to pay cash for, but the dealer hadn’t ordered it yet, and blah, blah, blah.  Paige looked at me, incredulous.  Paige finally said, “Well, they probably haven’t ordered the car because they aren’t making any money on it.  They only make money when you finance the car”.

            Derrick looked at us, confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.  “If you pay cash, the profit is the salesman’s commission, “  Paige added.  “There is no other profit unless there is a payment stream, which they get when you finance.”

            “I didn’t know that.  That’s interesting. I’m going to call Harris bank again, “ and then he was going to call Springfield to inquire about his nurse’s license.  Paige took me aside and whispered to me, “He’s never stopped smoking.  How can that guy be a nurse?”

            “He’s probably a private duty nurse, like for somebody in a coma, or who can’t complain,”  I  told her.  We both rolled our eyes.

            I prayed that Susie would come back on time, but sure enough, she called to say they’d be late because they were stopping at the casino (they played Blackjack).  Derrick continued to smoke, drink, talk, phone Harris Bank and the State, and spook my dog.  He complained that Susie didn’t own a vacuum cleaner (she didn’t have any rugs), that he didn’t have enough money for gas for his car.  Three weeks of this.  I wondered where he kept the stash of cigarettes, but I knew he was draining Susie’s vodka.

            Susie finally got back late on a Monday night, a week after  her original return date.  I gave Susie receipts and she wrote me a check.  She asked me how it went and expressed surprise that Derrick was still there.  I rolled my eyes.

            We didn’t talk for about a week.  Then, Susie called and asked, “What went on  while we were away?”.  I told her.  She told me that Hamid had torn or punctured every screen in every window on the first floor, and that they would cost $236 to replace, as he had bent some of the frames.  That sucked, because I had only charged her $225.  I asked her if Derrick was still there.  She said he had left quickly the morning after they got back, and she had no idea where he went.  He left an outrageous phone bill.  She called Harris Bank, and they had never heard of Derrick.  Besides that, the day after he left, she got a call from Delta Airlines. They were looking for Derrick because he had a bitch shipped to him, and Susie had to schlep to Midway Airport, an 80 mile round trip, because she couldn’t just leave the dog there in  90 degree summer heat..  She wondered how anyone could ship a bitch in this heat.  She called the owners and told them that Derrick wasn’t there, and she didn’t know where he was, and the dog they wanted to breed to was out with a handler in Texas, not here, and she’d ship the bitch back unbred.  She told the owners of the bitch that she didn’t understand why Derrick had told them to ship the bitch to Chicago. It didn’t make any sense. Too bad.

            I talked to Susie every few weeks.  She never heard from Derrick, but she kept getting bills he ran up for the next month or so.  “He told me would pay to campaign  Snow, and  he just disappeared.”

            About a year or so had gone by.I came home from work, sat down & automatically turned on the TV.  The news had just started, and I was only half listening until I heard the reporter say, “…was picked up for attempting to arrange the murder of his roommate, Derrick Nickerson.”

            What????  The reporter was saying that Nickerson had been shot at and accused his former roommate of hiring a hit man.  His former roommate?  I would think that people would be getting in line to hire a hit man.  The story was that they roommate ended up hiring an FBI informer. What bad luck!

            I called Susie.  Oh, yeah.  The phone had been ringing all day.  Dog club members. 

            Susie said everyone was calling, but she knew that Derrick wasn’t in Chicago.   She had heard via the handler that he had been moving around, and the handler  expected her to pay the bill for showing the dog they  co-owned if Derrick didn’t turn up.

            So, we lived and lived, and I stayed with the dogs about once a year for the 2 weeks that Susie and Clay fished…or gambled.  I asked her if she ever heard anything about Derrick, as the dog they had been showing was now in her kennel.

             “Oh, yeah..  He’s in California. One of my friends overheard Derrick talking on a cell phone at ringside at the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills.  He was saying he had to move suddenly, and he was just waiting for his nurse’s license and the release of his trust fund from Harris Bank.”

I Was Back Where I Started.

June 6, 2013

When I was a teenager, I spent a summer working as a dog bather for a busy dog grooming shop.  It was one of the first in the northern suburbs.  It  was Colin’s of Lake Forest.

I didn’t know much about Colin.  I assumed he was either gay or bisexual, but that didn’t bother me at all. He did not actually groom dogs, although I assumed he knew how.  He was apparently well placed, socially.  I knew he owned an Afghan Hound from Kay Finch (Crown Crest Afghan Hounds—a now deceased, but very well known breeder throughout the 1950’s & ’60s).

He owned this business,  a similar shop in Winnetka, and a kennel in Elgin.  He had 2 main groomers.  He had Joao, a young guy from Brazil, who spoke no English, and Marge Westman.  Marge owned Poodles. A lot of Poodles.  It came out in conversation that she traveled from southern Michigan, around Union Pier, up to Lake Forest every day to groom dogs. The reason she did this is  that she was  showing some dogs, and  let the breeding of Poodles get way out of hand to the point that she had  more  dogs than she imagined she would.  This might have had something to do with her mother minding the dogs (or, rather, NOT minding the dogs), but no matter. She was in real trouble & needed that  much grooming to  pay for dog food.  This was 4 hours round trip.  I could not imagine.

Another girl and I did all the bathing.  There were no Force dryers back then. We fluff dried everything.  Each of us did  8–10 dogs each, They were all Poodles. sometimes there was a cocker spaniel or a miniature Schnauzer, but  mostly Poodles. There were no Shih Tzu, Bichon, or cockapoos back then, and most of the other breeds went back to their breeders for grooming.   I remember Marge was  very angry that one Standard poodle owner wanted natural feet, and  a totally scissored face.   She wondered why the guy got a Poodle if he didn’t want it to look like a Poodle.   The shop was not air-conditioned.  It was very hard work.  I asked for $1 an hour. That was not even minimum wage. I’d fall into bed after dinner, totally exhausted.

At the end of summer, I went back to school, and got other  dog grooming jobs.  I am not sure what happened, but Colin sold the  Lake Forest Shop and the kennel to the people who renamed  the  business Shaggy Dog Shop.  The Wilmette shop got sold to a woman  who  ultimately   left the country and sold (or gave) the shop to her employees, who ran it as a cooperative, and called it The Dog Wash.

Shaggy Dog then got sold to one of their employees, Ann,  the girl I had worked with as a teenager, and she had the shop for over  20 years.  She decided to  sell it when  the economy was starting to erode, but was still ok. Shaggy Dog had at least  4 groomers besides the owner, and was completely booked over  2 weeks ahead. That means they could not take another dog, they were so busy, or they had no place to put another dog in the shop.

The owner sold the shop to a non-groomer:  Diana Principato. Nnice woman, but  one who liked the idea of having a dog business.  Ann told Diana  she had to learn to groom dogs, Diana ignored this advice.  Things started changing.  When Diana took over, the employees has to tell her what to do, and really resented that  Diana would not even bathe or brush out dogs. 3 left to open their own business, and some of the clients followed them.  Diana had to hire other groomers. she still would not learn to do the basic stuff, and worse, her husband was hanging around not adding anything to the business.  I  had been looking for  part-time work, and the girls who left told me to  go see Diana.  The problem was,  by this time, the business was failing.  Diana was in denial.  She had me come up for work  when she knew  there was no work for me.  When it rains, people don’t call to get their dogs groomed.  Worse, since groomers are paid commission,  I wasn’t going to get paid for showing up.

I found other work, and  in the  five or so years since then, Diana cycled through many groomers. Good groomers. So what happened?  In fear that  Diana would not have enough groomers just in case she got busy, she  hired too many. She also hired men to do the  ‘bath’ dogs. They got paid an hourly wage, but  those dogs could have supported all the groomers.  Diana started bouncing checks.

A few weeks ago, Diana  posted to hire another groomer.  I was looking for part-time work.  She was down to a groomer and a bather. This shop, which had always been booked  at least 2 weeks ahead, was now not even booked a day a head.  She felt her problem was that  the  staff would go out partying, get drunk, and come in late. What I discovered is that she wanted groomers  in the shop at 7:45 a.m., whether they were busy or not, so  a client could have a dog by 10:30.  Her groomer was coming in between  9 and 9:30.   Still making money for Diana. I asked Diana, Since you  know she does this, why don’t you bathe and set up the dog for her, so she can finish it when she comes in?”

Diana looked at me with total disgust and responded, “You don’t understand. I’m a CPA.”

“So?  I have a master’s degree. This is a grooming business.”  Then, a client came in, so that was the end of discussion.   However, she did it to me again. Even though she  knew she had no dogs for me the next day, she did not call me in the evening.  She called me after 7:30 , after I had left for work. A 50 mile  round trip for a woman in denial.

The last day I came in  was after the Memorial Day Weekend.  I had called her on Monday night  and told her I’d be in at 8:30 if she had dogs, she told me she did.  I got in a little early, and  she had hired a groom?  Neither of us would get a full day of grooming, but not only that,  she had told me she’d give me a check the Friday before, but  I was not scheduled to groom. So, I asked for my check, and she told me she had 60 days to  give it to me.  I asked her if I could start a dog, and she didn’t want me to every brush it out or do ears and nails until she knew whether it was a bath or grooming dog.  After this length of time,this many years, she still didn’t understand that she was  not paying  groomers to sit around:  that  many dogs you can bathe without  cutting their hair. And, so unprofessional…she brought her boyfriend to work to hang out.  2 adults to watch everyone else work.  We agreed that I’d leave.

Diana thinks that  the reason business is terrible because 5 other  grooming shops have opened near by. She doesn’t believe all those  Poodle  and Bichon owners now have Bostons and French Bulldogs, and can have their maids wash the dogs in the laundry room.  She doesn’t understand her own business, and I don’t think she’ll be able to keep it going another year.