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Category Archives: Aullwood

Let’s talk about the dogs and the bees

An over-the-shoulder look from my classy, yet contrary model.
Because there were two kids standing there she wanted to see.

It was a little like being a kindergartner in a high school art class.

It’s a picture of a bee, I said. I made you a bee. And despite valiant attempts to tamp it down, the declaration is followed by a quick and self-conscious apology. It’s a little blurry.

It’s a very nice bee, said the kind teacher. Now who wants to share their picture next?

Ugh. It’s my own fault, I know.  I signed up for a nature photography class being led by a professional photographer that I really admire*. The guy is an artist with his camera and I was eager to learn how he performs his magic. Get me some new skills and stuff like that to add to my own personal style. 

Introductions should have been my first awakening of what I got myself into this time.  Hi, I’m Donna, I say. I take pictures of dogs.

I know I shared more than that, but I was distracted after looking about the room and just threw out some random facts. Yup, pretty sure I was the most *cough* experienced in life.  Have any of these people even held a film camera in their short lives?  Ever had the chance to fall in love with the chemical smell in a dark room? Dodge and burn an image using an enlarger? I’m guessing, with the exception of the professional fella, it’s not very bloody likely.

Good grief, in my day we goofed around with the settings on the camera then had to wait days upon days to see how bad we screwed up the shot. But today everything is instant gratification, isn’t it?  We decide the destiny of our snapshots with a, well, snap decision. You don’t like the image?  Well, easy ’nuff to delete it. Or post it on social media.  Either one.

But no matter, seeing things with the eye of an artist doesn’t have a thing to do with age or camera settings or even dark room experience. You either have it or you are good with numbers or something. This was apparent at the end of the seminar when we shared what we captured during our time with the flowering photo ops outside.

I took so many shots of this jerk that
I should have named the little beestard.
You know what? I think I will.
I dub this fuzzy fellow Fred MacBlurry**.

One after another, we all handed over our memory cards and declared our favorite shot to put on the big screen to share in front of God and everybody.

Nice composition … I like how you set up the grouping …  Good close up … Wonderful job with backlighting … Um, nice bee.

Yeah, I spent my hour tracking a stupid bee. With a macro lens. At the end of the shoot, I just did a Picard face palm. What was I thinking?  Who tries to take a photo of a moving object with a macro lens anyway?

Well, me.*** 

So sure, in the end I did learn quite a bit about composition, natural lighting and how to work some advanced settings on the Canon. Maybe the most helpful is the new knowledge about taming that on-body flash that I have developed a hate-hate relationship with.

Yeah, and I learned that I kinda suck at nature photography. I simply just don’t have an eye for it.  You know why?  Because I don’t have a passion for the stuff, flower groupings and all that. There’s beauty out there all ready to be captured, it’s just that I don’t see it in my viewfinder. I’ll have leave it to the folk that do.

So I’ll stick with what I know and know very well. That one single subject of canine goodness that I find so rich. The timing was good here, because the next day after the nature photography seminar, Euka and I were working a CCI info table at Aullwood Farm.

Thank dog, I thought. I need a self-esteem boost. With the overcast skies, this is my all-time favorite of outdoor lighting.  A wonderful diffused light that softens shadows, but still allows nice highlights.  It’s gonna be a great day for a doggie photo shoot at the farm, I think.

But that happy thought was popped like a the fragile bubble it was. Miss Euka was in one of her contrary moods.  She rocks an expert level at passive-aggressive naughtiness.  Worse, what she was up to this time wasn’t even a behavior that I could offer a correction for.

In one shot after another, she either squinted her eyes at me, adjusts her ears into a weird position, stretched her neck out or would drop eye contact at the sound of the shutter click. 

Oh, this isn’t the sun in her eyes or the sky is too bright. This is Euka telling me she’s just not in the mood for this nonsense today and can’t we go back to the info table to see more kids?

I’m getting so focused on getting a shot of her with her eyes open, that I forgot about venial sin in portrait photography.

Not paying attention to what’s in the background.

I know, I could crop this down some.  And end up with two stalkerish white tennies behind that lovely outstretched neck.

Or hey, there’s the other option that is the hallmark of digital photographers everywhere. Just set the shutter setting to Continuous.  It’s just as cheap to take fifty photos as it is only one carefully framed shot.

click…click…click…You’ll have to open her eyes at some point, girly girl…click…click…click…Euka! Cookie!…click…click. 

Hah! Got it.



*Photography by Jim Crotty.  Do check out his Facebook page and see if you might appreciate his gorgeous work, too.

** Get it? A play on Fred MacMurray? You know …  Fred MacMurrayMy Three Sons, The Absent Minded Professor (1961), The Shaggy Dog?  Oh c’mon, this has to be reaching some of you, right?  [crickets]  Anyone?  Hello … ?

***Fixation: because just giving up is for sissies.

Can I pet your dog?

Why, yes my ears do feel like velvet, sez Yaxley.

Can I pet your dog?

Yes you may, thank you for asking first.

As lovers of all things dog, we puppy raisers do enjoy meeting other appreciators of our furry companions.  My heart gets warmly stoked when I encounter toddlers with a seemingly instinctual affection for dogs. With a smile and a squeal, they reach out to grab a fistful of doggie goodness. I absolutely love this.

We do come across children with a deep fear of our dogs from time to time. More than just a hesitation to be introduced to something new and different that you might see in a two year old kidlet. I’m talking about the eight year old girl who sees a well-behaved Labrador on a leash and shrinks behind their parent for protection, sometimes accompanied by the trill of a B-movie scream. Whether this fear reaction is nature or nurture, only the family knows.  Certainly an early-in-life mishap with a family dog could sour a kid. Or maybe a nasty experience with the pet of a friend. But I’m saddened when I consider that an ugly childhood experience with dog will block the way to all the joys that dogs can bring to life.

Awaiting his audience. That’s the 4H tent across
the way. Chicks, ducklings, goats & more.

I’m reminded of this when Yaxley and I are volunteering at the Canine Companions for Independence meet & greet booth last weekend.  We’re at the Aullwood Farm Babies Fest and it’s just a glorious day, weather-wise. Yaxley is teamed at the booth with fellow CCI pups in training, TJ and Jorja. They greet their young audience while their puppy raisers educate parents on how CCI works with people with disabilities.

Ask first before you pet, the moms say. Hold your hand out so the dog can smell you.  

Our pups are pros at this thing. Sitting calmly, they will allow all manner of handling by the young folk.

Seeing a father encouraging his son to pet Yaxley, it was obvious the little guy was just not sure about this yellow creature larger than he. With Yax in a Down, my pup is now a warm and fuzzy statue of sorts; he is motionless. In this moment, the world melts away as I take on this all important task of showing this gentle kidlet that dogs don’t have to be scary and mysterious things. And Yaxley, the consummate professional in kid comforting, performs his magic.  After a few minutes, the yellow pup is receiving full body hugs, the tow headed lad’s face pressed against Yaxley’s belly.

And that’s one kid down. But many more are still out there in need of a positive dog experience.

Your dog is just beautiful. I want to pet him so bad, but I know he’s working.

Thanks, he is a handsome fella, isn’t he? Actually, we’re out today to work on socializing and encouraging calm greetings. You may pet him if you like.

When we give CCI presentations at schools, Service Dog Etiquette is always an important thing to cover with the kids. It’s ok to ask if you can pet the dog, we tell the kids. Many people love to talk about their service dogs and what they do. But don’t get your feelings hurt if the person says No. It just means that they need their service dog to be focused right now. It’s not a good time for any distractions to their work. Remember to be polite and say something nice, like OK, have a good day.

CCI’s website has an informational page on How should people behave around an assistance dog?    A good resource for those with questions on can I pet your dog? 

Not a surprise to see Number One on the bullet point list is Don’t touch the dog without asking permission first. Many assistance dog teams appreciate that their companion is a social bridge. A conversation starter, so to speak, to meet new people. But other times, it’s critical that the dog focus on their handler. So, yeah, always ask first.  It’s nothing personal if you get a sorry, not right now.  Oh, and this drive-by petting thing, well I gotta say that it’s not the little kids that do it. In my little bubble of experience, I find it’s grown men that will pat the dog’s rump as you pass each other. It’s not that I’m jealous, mind you. But it’s distracting for the dog, fellas. What if someone did that to you? Oh. Well, um, on to the next bullet point then.

Never feed the dog.  Ah, the power of a dog cookie. Talk about encouraging a dog to lose his train of thought. But we know better about this one anyway, don’t we?  Dunno about you, but I would stop mid-conversation if someone waved a frosted brownie in front of my nose. We all have our weaknesses.

Speak to the person, not the assistance dog.  Hey, eyes up here mister. Again, the distraction factor for the dog, not to mention how ’bout a little respect for a fellow human bean?

Bring ’em on, says Jorga

Don’t whistle or make sounds to the dog. Ugh, why would someone do this?  I was in Tim Horton’s tucking into one of their amazing breakfast sandwiches when I hear a low whistle from a couple of tables over. And not for me, the wolf whistle ship has sailed away a decade ago. It’s for my pup in training under the table. Some hayseed and his grizzly buddy are entertaining themselves by trying to distract the pup. Inga, of course, made me proud by being smarter than the two of them. She turns her pretty head and looks out the window. I give the two of them The Look and properly abashed they go back to their coffee.

Never make assumptions about the individual’s intelligence, feelings or capability.  We’re quick to judge, aren’t we?  Sure, I do it too. Like when I refer to some chowderhead as a hayseed. And I’m ashamed when I catch myself. Not all talents are obvious, some disabilities are invisible.

These pups are pros at being handled.
 Jorja gets a dental exam by a boy scout.

And CCI’s final bullet point on this topic, Don’t be afraid of the dog.  A CCI dog is bred for temperament, carefully tested and selected for appropriate behavior. These dogs are not mere pets with a passing grade in basic obedience. A CCI assistance dog has been socialized by their puppy raiser in different public venues for a been there done that attitude. Then professionally trained at CCI in the ways of an assistance dog. If you see the blue & yellow CCI cape, you’re looking at a well-mannered, confident dog.  Guaranteed.

When I get the question, will that dog protect you if someone attacks you?, it’s tempting to respond with wanna give it a try and find out? But that would be wrong in so many ways. First, because if the inquirer did rise to the challenge, I’m pretty much screwed. And second, because it’s not becoming to be a smartass when educating people about the pup in training. We do like to keep things on a positive note.

A youngster reaches a comfort level petting away
 from the business end of the pup.

If we cook this all down into a reduction sauce, what’s the real message here?  Just the basics of civilization, don’t you think?  Be polite and respectful of others.  .

Be sure to check out CCI’s page where more information on this topic is available at How should people behave around an assistance dog?

Jorja catches a power nap before the next shift.
It’s not a cat nap, she says. Stop calling it that.
Yaxley enjoys a hug. He says boys smell like french fries.

Aullwood farm baby

 Saturday, March 14 2011.  A bit rainy last Saturday at the Farm Babies Festival at Aullwood Farm, but if you were wearing sensible shoes and proper rain gear, then you would have got along just fine.

Wish I were one of those kind of people.

But no matter. In the end I didn’t actually sprain my ankle and with enough hairspray in the coif, I was able to repel the rain as if I were wearing a motorcycle helmet. My excuse for forsaking all my scout leader training (Be prepared!)?  Well, this was the day after Micron’s turn-in at CCI and my humble brain was still processing things. Yeah, I’m going with that. It sounds more robust than just another over-40 moment, I think.

Looks like Bullet’s down for a nap.
The energizer puppy, however, is still going strong.

Aullwood stationed our CCI booth in a great spot, under the shelter of a hack berry tree and deliciously downwind of the kettle corn guy.  Yaxley and his fellow fuzzy friends, Bullet, Julee and Bonnie, spent the day giving out free puppy hugs to all who stopped by. 

This was Yaxley’s first big public outing. When we showed up to help out at the CCI info table, I said we would only stay as long as the pup could handle things. At the first sign of the puppy equivalent of a meltdown, I would take the little feller home. The little delicate flower that he is and all.

You’re kinda missing the belly, kid, but this’ll work too

So it seems the first to give out were my poor hapless feet in those idiotic sandals. But the puppy? Still happily building his new fan base.  Then I start to worry about how bad my hair actually looked. A hand drill wouldn’t even break through that hairspray force field now.  So, Yax my love, ready to go?  No. No he’s not. Things to smell, kids to lick, grass to eat.

We lasted right through to late afternoon, that little stinker. We only left when we did, because I was getting nervous about having to walk the half mile back to the car in those flippin’ shoes.  Gettin’ out while the gettin’ is good, you know.

Bring ’em on!  Is that all ya got for me?

Before we left Aullwood, we did take a quick tour of the barn so Yaxley could enjoy a full sensory 3-D experience in odor-rama.  A little horse road apple here, some sheep stuff there. Again, I know this fragile little guy isn’t ready yet for the big time. We’re just shopping for smells, not rubbing noses with anybody here.

Except the pig actually. OK, so we’re rubbing noses with the pig. I didn’t see that fella until he stuck his juicy, quivering snout from the fence slats. Alrighty then, checking Kissed a Pig off the new experience list. 

Apparently, I’ve underestimated the confidence level of this little yeller feller. Yaxley has walked into every situation with tail held high and nose in the air. 

He’s up and ready for the next adventure. Food Lady, he says, I’m so bored. Let’s go do something!

Comparing who smells more delightful when wet.
Dog or alpaca? I say either is an acquired taste, so to speak.
Bullet poses in the herb garden at Aullwood

I kinda like the smell of wet dog in the morning

The lovely Julee takes a much needed break


Oh yeah, at the Farm Babies Festival? There were for real
farm babies there too. A pair of adorable eight-week-old kids
that we though were badly bred poodles at first glance.
Trying to get a serious portrait type shot of Bullet.
Realized later that he’s resting his dog bum on that rock.

Working for kibble

It’s not hard to make Micron a happy dog. He is, by nature, a glass half full kinda guy. He finds most things in life are pretty good (naps, belly rubs, fresh bowl of water) and other events are wonderful (car ride, getting attention from the Starbucks girls), and then he has his ecstasy moments (I gotcher smelly sneaker!). 

But what is true euphoria for a dog? Anyone lucky enough to have a food motivated dog knows. Both these dogs know when mealtime is around here. We keep things on a tight schedule, because honestly, I really like to keep the #2’s on schedule too, if you know what I mean. So when 7:00 rolls around, there’s some serious restlessness in the household. After the bowl is licked to a shine, Micron will run to the nearest person to give his thanksgiving for the nouvelle cuisine. “Food Lady!” he says, “You’ve outdone yourself again. That was the best bowl yet!” His tail wags so hard that the tip is touching his sides.

It probably doesn’t need mentioning that this dog is really, really easy to train.

But hey, everything comes with a price, doesn’t it? This pup has to work for his daily kibble. In addition to his service dog training, he is an ambassador for CCI. We make the occasional public appearances and work at CCI booths to raise awareness of this amazing human services organization. Let’s look at a couple of our fall outings.

Aullwood Apple Fest

Micron and Bullet.
They’re not exactly manning the booth, 
but dogging the booth doesn’t sound right, either.

 One of my very favorite local events, the Apple Fest at Aullwood Audubon Center & Farm. I love being outdoors on a beautiful fall day with the smell of wood smoke in the air. Apple butter is cooking in kettles and apple pie is baking in the dutch ovens over an open fire. Puppy raisers Jerry and Jerri manage the CCI booth at this annual event. This year they brought their 17th pup, Bullet. Seventeenth puppy. These guys are pros in the CCI puppy raising business –my heroes and mentors.

Also working the booth for crowd control was pup in training, Karsen, and COC Fergo, the big sweetie.

Babe magnet, Bullet

We get a lot of traffic at the CCI booth over the two-day fest. Really, it is essentially non-stop. It’s a great opportunity to allow the dogs to learn calm greetings and talk to folk about the work that CCI does. We answer questions while the pups work on their fan base.

A firm handshake and good eye contact.
I was especially looking forward to this as it would be Micron’s first contact with farm animals. I learned from experience that the goats are not a really great first step as far as livestock goes (sorry, Inga).  A goat will stare a little too long before they go all freak out on you. So we started with just walking around to get exposed to some novel smells.

Hi sheep thing. Nice to smell you.


First we met a gentle, old sheep, which went really well. A sniff, sniff and we moved on. Next was the barn.

Hogs, mini whinnies, an alpaca, and a couple of calves. Nothing we can’t handle. It’s all good. We can check farm animals off the New Experiences list for CCI.

I just got my head around that sheep thing
and now there’s this?

Apple butter a’cookin’.

Aullwood Farm is a good family visit anytime, really. It’s an educational farm for kids to learn about livestock and agriculture. For folk within driving distance of the Dayton area, check out the farm and the adjoining nature center and gardens. Always time well spent.

Micron poses in the herb garden

Jungle Jim’s Fall Festival

Micron and Julie

We spent a chilly afternoon at the Jungle Jim’s International Market. Definitely hoodie weather, but much better than sweating it out on a hot summer day. Micron met up with pups in training Owen and Julie for an afternoon Meet and Greet. Julie is nearly five months old and quite the crowd draw. Owen is 18 months and will be matriculating at the November 12 CCI graduation ceremony in Dublin.

Julie was adorable, Owen was professional and Micron was, well, you can see from the photos. Micron was his usual self.

What is Owen thinking?  Probably don’t wanna know.


Julie and her adorable head tilt

I’m one of those unfortunate people who turns into an idiot when a camera is in my hands. All manner of squeaks, clicks and meows come from me in an attempt to get a dog to lift their ears and look at the lens.

I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t get the occasional reward, such as that puppy head tilt of Julie’s. Just look at that adorable mug. She brought back some wonderful memories of Inga as a pup (sniff).
Long time puppy raisers Steve and Bonnie facilitated the CCI booth for this event. Jungle Jim’s is an eclectic shopping experience, sorta like an amusement park in a grocery. We decided to try out some shopping after working the CCI booth. It was our first time at the place and we found we needed a map to find our way around the international marketplace. Micron did a wonderful job exploring with us, but we knew it was time to put a cap on things when he dropped onto the floor in England and fell asleep. It was a long afternoon, the poor fella.


It was a bit chilly out.
Julie provides a hand warming service.

Micron Dog and Jungle Dog.
Maybe just me, but I prefer food with less personality.
And self awareness.
Do they ever get to be “dogs”?
Questions we get as puppy raisers from concerned dog lovers. Is it all work for these dogs?  Do they have to wear their capes all the time? Don’t they ever get to be “dogs?”
Of course they do, people. We undress these fuzzies, give the Release command and stand back. But you know, it helps to have a visual sometimes. The Gold Rush Champions chapter of CCI put together an excellent video that will relieve some of those working dog worries. Talk about time well spent – if you’re a dog lover, you won’t be asking for these four minutes back. 
Check out the video at:
 Do service dogs get to play?.
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