Friday, May 27, 2011

Jennifer Talbot Ross & Pax, Samantha, and Bess

Who is in the photo at right?

Is it the dog whisperer? No, that’s me, Jennifer Talbot Ross (a people mom and grandmother, a dog mom, a people manager in my fulltime job, and an aspiring writer), with my four-legged crew. My sweet dogs are Pax (the big, white, Great Pyrenees) who’s the baby of the pack at 4 years old; Samantha (the Anatolian Shepherd identified by the painted face) who will be 9 in a few short weeks; and Bess (the black Lab) who is the matriarch of the family and is 9 ½ years old.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

It’s wind-down time at the end of a busy day. Pax abhors riding in the car, so our favorite relaxation time is spent in our back yard. Our home is on just over an acre and the entire back yard is fenced so they have plenty of room to enjoy. The yard boasts trees for shade and wildlife for entertainment.

What's brewing?

On this warm spring day, it’s definitely iced coffee (the only choice for me when it’s 90 degrees outside).

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

Absolutely!! The dogs are enjoying roasted lamb treats. Both Pax and Samantha have allergies so we have to be very selective about treats. They love the roasted lamb and also sweet potato chews.

How were you and your dogs united?

Bess I found in a classified ad in the newspaper. I had lost my 14-year-old black Labrador just five days earlier and was furtively looking for a female black lab puppy. We visited the owners of the litter and out of two female puppies, Bess claimed me.

Samantha we found on We were searching for a playmate for Bess and that precious painted face reached out to us. She was with a foster mom, having been rescued the day before her scheduled euthanasia. We took Bess with us to meet her and the two got along beautifully. We had to leave Samantha with her foster mom for several weeks while she completed her treatment for kennel cough and was spade. Then we were able to bring her home.

Pax was a foster of ours. The rescue group, SPIN, had a litter of puppies that needed to be fostered. They were asking “foster parents” to take two puppies each. We signed up for two males who, at that time, were known as Falcor and Big Al. Big Al was adopted by a couple in Denver and became Wilson. Falcor became so special to us that we could not let him go. So, he stayed with us, we became what is known in pet rescue circles as “foster failures” and Falcor became our Pax.

How did they get their names? Any aliases?

Pet names are really important to me. They must hold special meaning, be symbolic or intrinsic. When I got Bess I had noticed the name on the website and liked it, but it didn’t hold any meaning for me. My mother suggested we name her Besame Mucho (her AKC registered name) and then call her Bess. Besame Mucho means “kiss me a lot”, basically, in Spanish. That I liked and Bess was named. We also call her “Bess the Mess” because she has over-the-top personality and attitude and likes to play tricks on her humans and her four-legged siblings.

Samantha was listed on as a Saint Bernard puppy. So, we thought we were going to have this huge dog when she grew up. We wanted a feminine name, but one that would be fitting for a great big dog. A friend’s daughter suggested we name her Samantha and we could call her “Sam”. And, so Samantha was named. However, she never grew into a “Sam” and we have never called her “Sam”. She is still, truly a “Samantha” in every way. I sometimes call her “Samantha-girl” or “Samantha-bantha”, but you see the tendency here is toward the “prissy” side. And so she is.

Pax [photo left] came to us from the rescue group as “Falcor”, the foster. He remained Falcor for the first several months of his life. But, when we made the decision to adopt him, I told my husband we had to rename him. There was no way I could see myself standing at the back door calling out, “Falcor”, at the top of my lungs. My husband told me that he had a German shepherd dog named Pax when he was a young man and he liked the name as it was Latin for peace. That seemed like a really appropriate name for a big guy who was going to be incorporated into a pack of 4 large dogs. He’d better be like “peace”. And, as I look back over the years, he has truly lived up to his name.

Please tell us about Moses, the subject of your new book.

Moses [photo right] was a truly exceptional, gentle-giant who stole my heart, along with the hearts of all whom he met. His “joie de vivre” was unmatched. He was the first Great Pyrenees dog I’d ever known, which makes him even more special to me. His loss, though heart-wrenching, gave me the inspiration to write the book. And the book, in turn, is a vehicle by which Moses’ legacy can continue to be a blessing, as 10% of my royalties are donated to pet rescue.

What role have your dogs played in your writing routine?

The dogs have, so far, been my muses. Though the only book I’ve published is about my dogs, I have some ideas in the works for some fiction endeavors. They will, no doubt, involve dogs. I’ve also been asked when the sequel to The Story of Moses will be ready. In addition to being a source of inspiration, I find the dogs help to ground me, to keep me in the moment, which is extremely helpful when trying to get those creative juices flowing.

Do your dogs have a favorite place to go for an outing?

Their absolute favorite place, for each one, is a walk in the neighborhood. Samantha and Bess like going for rides and enjoy visiting PetsMart and just about anywhere other than the vet’s office. But, if we’re talking “favorite”, it’s definitely walking the neighborhood. I am fairly confident (though I would not put this to the test) that they all know their way around the neighborhood as well. We have several routes that we take. Most of our walks are one-mile routes. But, when we have time we circle the entire neighborhood for a total of two miles. They know the turns we take. The dogs love walks because they experience all the smells along the way that tell them who’s been there and interesting tid-bits like that. Often, they get the added perk of visiting with neighbors and, oh, just anybody along the way, getting pets and smiles and hugs from kids and adults alike.

Squirrel, postman, cat...?

My dogs are definitely more interested in the squirrel (or a rabbit). We have loads of huge red oak and live oak trees in the back yard that are prolific bearers of acorns – hence lots of squirrels. The squirrels are daring and quick and I dare say are often taunting the dogs. And, the dogs love it. Sometimes, they lie inside with their heads resting on the windowsill and a keen eye on the back yard. If a squirrel moves, they’re up and out the door after it. There are also lots of wild rabbits that live in the woods at the back of our neighbor’s property and venture into our yard at times. The dogs love chasing them too and, luckily, the rabbits are amazingly fast.

What is each dog's best quality?

Well, all three dogs are extremely intelligent. But, Pax – his best quality is his gentle, loving spirit. He truly loves every dog, every person he meets. Loyalty (a discerning nature) would be Bess’s best quality, I think. She would walk through fire for me or for her daddy. Of that, I’m sure. She doesn’t readily accept just anyone, she is cautious. She is very aware that infants are to be protected and will put herself between someone or between other dogs if she feels they are threatening to an infant. Samantha is an innate and vigilant guardian, constantly circling the yard, attentively watching, who absolutely adores children.

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

I think they’d want me to be some sort of 6-handed being that never had to go anywhere so I would always be with them and it would be really easy to pet all of them at one time. On a more serious note, I am very, very close to my dogs (some would find it rather eccentric or odd I’m sure). I talk to them a lot. And, I’m convinced that on a certain level they understand much of what I say. Because of this close bond, my dogs are very sensitive to my moods. I know they don’t like it when I’m angry or sad – it actually upsets them. So, they would surely rather that I was more balanced in mood, more able to stay in the moment, and more unconditionally loving and happy – more like them J.

What is each dog's proudest moment? His/her most embarrassing?

Bess was a young pup when our first grandchild, Emma, was born. Emma came to visit when she was about 10 months old and we were concerned about how the dogs would be with Emma, given they had never been around any small children. So, needless to say, we were very watchful of Emma around the dogs. As was our ritual, after dinner each dog received a rawhide chew. Bess was enjoying her rawhide on the floor of the living room and Emma toddled up to her, reached out and took the chew from Bess’s mouth. Bess just sat there, unmoving, patiently watching Emma. After a moment or two, Emma gave the rawhide back to Bess, who resumed her enjoyment. That exhibition of character was Bess’s proudest moment.

Bess does not have embarrassing moments – she is completely unflappable. However, MY most embarrassing moment with Bess was when she made big potty (and you know that that means) in the middle of PetsMart (and she wasn’t a cute puppy at the time – she definitely knew better).

Within the first few weeks of having Samantha in our family, I lost a pair of sunglasses out in the back yard. I had given them up for gone. Then, one day young Samantha (only about 5 months old at the time) came bounding through the dog-door into the house, ran up to me and deposited the sunglasses at my feet. She gazed up into my eyes, tail wagging enthusiastically, and looking as proud as ever that she had found my lost glasses.

Samantha had extensive knee surgery (TPLO – tibia plateau leveling osteopathy) when she was a youngster. They actually saw the leg in two with a bone saw and reattach the knee with steel plates and screws. Needless to say she had a big incision to heal and a very long, arduous recovery. For the first week of recovery, until the incision was healed and the staples removed, Samantha had to wear one of those awful, evil, plastic cone-things on her head. Now, not only do those horrible devices make it difficult for a dog to move around (they run into the walls, furniture, etc.) and even to walk or potty (try sniffing for the perfect bathroom spot outside with a plastic cone on your head that gets caught on the grass and practically throws you head over heels), I swear they know they look stupid and are so very embarrassed by it. Samantha was mortified the entire time she had to wear it.

Last autumn, our local Pyrenees rescue group (SPIN – Saving Pyrenees in Need) had their annual “Pyr Picnic in the Park” in conjunction with the local Pyrenees AKC group. At the picnic, a “fun match” was held mimicking the conformation matches typical of the AKC. The dogs were divided into groups by age and by gender and judged on how closely they matched the standards for the Great Pyrenees breed. Our sweet little Pax went “Best in Show”. He won two blue ribbons and a special chew toy. The crowd cheered when he was selected and he looked up at me and beamed. He was indeed proud.

Pax, though a giant in his own right, has a peculiar and embarrassing trait (and one that my vet whispered to Pax that he would never tell). Pax is terrified of the wind. If it’s a windy day Pax does not like going out to potty. If he’s outside in the yard and the wind picks up ferociously (like just before a storm) he comes running inside. As windy as it tends to be here in north Texas, you’d think it would be something he’d acclimate to. But, no, not Pax – I don’t think that’s in the cards.

Read more about Jennifer Talbot Ross's The Story of Moses.

--Marshal Zeringue