Monday, January 31, 2011

Pam Townsend & Tango and Ceiligh

Who is in the photo at right?

Me, Pam Townsend, writer, photographer, and vice president of the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County, MD, hanging out in the backyard with our two dogs, Tango, an 11-year-old collie/sheltie/Akita/chow chow mix (according to a DNA test), and Ceiligh (pronounced KAY-lee) an 8-year-old pointer/JRT.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Who needs an “occasion” for a good cup of coffee, and what better way to enjoy it than in the company of my favorite canines? I can usually be found sipping mine while sitting at my computer as Tango and Ceiligh snooze at my feet, or if the weather is warm, I sprawl in an Adirondack chair on the patio while they protect the yard from squirrels.

What's brewing?

Starbucks mocha…I’m addicted! I usually go for decaf. (And don’t say, “Why bother?” I get plenty of caffeine from the English Breakfast tea I brew at home.) Today it’s hot mocha, but when I’m sitting outside in the spring or summer, it’s definitely iced.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Not today. Once I realized how many calories are in a mocha, I try to think of it as a major treat to be savored without the “distraction” of other textures and flavors.

Any treat for your dogs on this occasion?

Tango and Ceiligh are enjoying a freeze-dried chicken breast strip today…although they’ll have consumed every morsel long before my mocha is gone.

How were you and Tango and Ceiligh united?

My husband, Mark, and I adopted Tango and his littermate Samba (who sadly died last February from hemangiosarcoma) when they were almost 14 weeks old. We saw them at an SPCA adoption show and they looked so much like Boris, our beautiful black Lab/golden retriever who had just passed away, that they made us cry. And that was that.

Ceiligh joined our family 3 years later. Mark and I went into a pet supply store to get goldfish for our pond, and a local rescue group was there with a litter of black-and-white puppies. After holding Ceiligh for a few minutes—just to help socialize her, you understand—I was smitten. So instead of goldfish, we went home with an 8-week-old, 5-pound puppy.

How did your dogs get their names? Do they have any nicknames?

Tango and Samba joined our family when Mark and I were taking ballroom dance lessons, so dance-related names just seemed natural. I came up with Fred and Ginger, but Mark thought they were too “obvious.” Of all the dances we’d been learning, tango and samba made the best names. When we adopted Ceiligh, we wanted to stick to the dance theme. A ceiligh or ceilidh is an Irish or Scottish dance or dance party. It’s turned out to be really appropriate since she doesn’t so much walk as prance around. When talking to them, we sometimes call them things like Tango Booshmoo, TangoBoo, and Ceilighwicious; disgusting, isn’t it?

You are a professional photographer. What's the trickiest thing about getting a dog to stay in the frame for a photo?

I absolutely love photographing dogs but it can definitely be a challenge sometimes. If a dog knows basic commands, like “sit,” “down,” and “stay,” it’s obviously much easier to do a portrait-type shot. But if it’s not trained or it’s a puppy, it’s a whole different story. I’m always prepared with lots of yummy treats for rewards—or bribes—and usually bring a variety of props—everything from dog toys and old riding boots to baskets and feather boas—for them to interact with. If they’re really high energy, I’ll usually play with them a while to wear them out before trying to photograph them. And I’ve gotten really good at making “interesting” noises to get their attention.

Please tell us about your dog photo books.

Because Tango and Samba—like their two predecessors—were black dogs, I became aware of the difficulty black shelter dogs face finding homes, a situation sometimes referred to as “Black Dog Syndrome.” In an effort to increase awareness of this issue and to expose people to the beauty and diversity of black dogs, I self-published a photo book called Black is Beautiful: A Celebration of Dark Dogs.

More recently I produced A is for Angel: A Dog Lover’s Guide to the Alphabet, which features the photos of dogs whose names begin with each letter of the alphabet. Profits from the distribution of both books, which are available on my blog, support selected animal welfare organizations.

Tennis ball, Frisbee, squeaky-toy...?

Tango likes rubber ball-type toys and kongs. Currently, his prized possession is a thick, somewhat squishy rubber ball that looks like a white-and-orange globe. He loves for us to throw it for him, inside or out; Mark once tossed it to him for 135 times in a row. Often when we’re eating dinner, Tango will drop his ball near Mark’s legs, then back up and stare at Mark for several minutes before giving up. He also likes to drop the ball in the tub—and then retrieve it—while I’m taking a bath.

Ceiligh, although also very fond of playing fetch, is most enamored with her collection of “babies,” stuffed toys of all shapes and sizes. She can—and does—spend hours carrying around the baby of the moment or curling up and mouthing it till it’s rather damp.

Who are Tango and Ceiligh's best pet-pals?

Tango isn’t what you’d call a dog’s dog, having a rather prickly personality when it comes to most canines, but he absolutely adores my parents’ 14-year-old yellow Lab, Abby, perhaps because he met her when he was only 5 months old. He only sees her a few times a year but each time he does, he acts like an infatuated school boy with a canine cougar, play bowing, pouncing, and nuzzling her ears.

Ceiligh likes Abby almost as much as Tango does, but being of a more social nature, she also has other casual doggy pals, including those she attends agility class with and the parade of foster puppies that have used our house as a way station between the county shelter and their forever homes. Still, when it comes down to it, I think Ceiligh thinks she’s the same species that I am and would rather spend time with me—and some of my friends—than other canines.

Where is Tango and Ceiligh's favorite place for an outing?

Both dogs enjoy hiking in the woods of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains or spending a week on Hilton Head Island, SC, where they can walk the beach and run in the waves. Ceiligh is a particularly strong swimmer and adores aquatic retrieving.

If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?

They’d probably prefer it if I had fur coat like theirs so that I wouldn’t be so negatively affected by the cold. That way, I’d walk them more in the winter.

What is each dog's proudest moment?

I’d say both dogs are proudest of being included in my books,…although Tango still hasn’t gotten over the fact that I chose Samba to be the Black is Beautiful cover girl.

Most embarrassing?

I’m guessing that the most embarrassing moments for both Ceiligh and Tango have involved being dressed up for Halloween or Christmas photos, although they tolerate the humiliation pretty well.

Visit the Digital Doggy Photography website and the Dancing with the Digital Doggy blog.

--Marshal Zeringue