Holiday Pet Photos, from Awkward to Art

Santa with Little Dog, 2006 (by Kimberly on Flickr)
Santa with Little Dog, 2006 (by Kimberly on Flickr)

Santa is coming to town, but he’s not coming to see the kids – that is, unless your child has paws and a tail.

“Santa Paws” will be posing for photos with (nice) dogs of all ages at Crate Escape, too in Cambridge (Dec. 1, 6-8 pm) and at Crate Escape in Belmont (Dec. 10, 4-7 pm). Antlers and bell collars will be provided as well as refreshments. Photos (4×6) are $10 each. All proceeds benefit the MSPCA, so be sure to explain to your pooch that the embarrassment is for a good cause.

Extra incentive: Santa’s visit to the Cambridge location coincides with the Huron Village holiday fair from 6-9 pm the same evening. Boutiques will be open for business and are donating items to a raffle to benefit Community Servings. Buy local!

A tasteful pet portrait makes a wonderful gift any time of year, of course. Boston photographer Jay Stebbins raises the genre to the level of art. Take a look at his dog portfolio and check out his blog, Fido Loves.

Merry Christmas, 1998

This holiday season you may want to bone up on how to take great pet photos. The New York Times “Gadgetwise” column ran a very helpful article on this topic last spring, with eight rules of thumb (or dewclaw?) from professional pet photographer Grace Chon of Los Angeles. Her #1 tip? “Let the animal be an animal.”

“Photograph your pet where it likes to hang out, whether it’s the backyard or the foot of the bed. And give the pet its favorite toys. That’s one way to capture your pet showing its personality — have it doing what it likes to do best. It’s all about making the Rex or Whiskers comfortable.”

Before your dog meets Santa, take a look at some of the best-of-show holiday photos on Awkward Family Pet Photos.  Who knows, after the holidays, maybe you’ll have an awkward photo of your own to submit!

A Meetup for Little White Fluffy Dogs

Rufus & Eddie meet up
A L(B&)WFD & Eddie meet up

When I moved to Cambridge almost twenty years ago, I made friends through my children. Once the three of them were in school and I went back to work, I made friends at the office. Now, unemployed and with my kids mostly grown, I’m making friends through my puppy. Continue reading “A Meetup for Little White Fluffy Dogs”

A Pilgrim at Fresh Pond

Entrance to Fresh Pond; stump in foreground.
Entrance to Fresh Pond; stump in foreground.

I’m not religious, and I hope those who are won’t be offended when I say that, for me, walking around Fresh Pond is a spiritual experience. Living in an urban area, I am always grateful for the chance to commune with nature. Lately, circling the Pond has become a touchstone by which I take stock of my course in life, a time to clear my head and put life’s frustrations into perspective. Continue reading “A Pilgrim at Fresh Pond”

A Tale of Two Cities

Brookline Green Dog sign
Brookline Green Dog sign

We Cantabrigians pride ourselves on being progressive, but has Brookline scooped us with its Green Dog Program? Open, green space is at a premium in both places, and shared use is a front-burner issue that often boils over around the question of dogs in parks. In response, Cambridge and Brookline are piloting different types of off-leash programs, and while demographics and budgets have driven some of the policy decisions, I’m wondering what we can learn from each other. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cities”

Shared Use Requires… Sharing

Longfellow Park looking toward the river
Longfellow Park looking toward the river

Last week I attended another public meeting on the topic of shared use, specifically the proposal to permit early morning off-leash hours for dogs in the lower end of Longfellow Park near Mount Auburn Street.

In a prior post about a similar meeting held this month to discuss potential off-leash hours in Joan Lorentz Park, I labored to present an even-handed account. After attending the Longfellow meeting, however, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that some people simply do not understand the concept of shared use.

The allegory of the dog in the manger came to mind, as I listened to a vocal minority air their strong opinions that dogs should not be allowed in a neighborhood park, even one that they themselves do not regularly visit. The very idea of dogs apparently frightens and/or offends some people so much that they do not think anyone should have to share a public park with dogs, leashed or not.

Without minimizing the emotional hardship of such cynophobia (the fear of dogs), I think it is fair to say that the extreme views of a minority of citizens should not dictate a policy of shared use of the city’s limited open space. In fact, it is out of consideration for the feelings of those who prefer to avoid dogs that dogs are already prohibited from being off-leash in all but a handful of public spaces.

How about "I Share the Park"? (substitute image of a dog)
How about "I Share the Park"? (substitute image of a dog)

Are dogs as polarizing as cyclists? The “Share the Road” slogan was originally targeted at motorists — still the majority of street users — but it applies equally to cyclists who ignore the rules of the road. A “Share the Park” campaign might help foster greater reciprocal respect among park-users of all types. Most dog owners are conscientious about picking up poop and controlling their animals, especially around small children who risk developing a lifelong fear of dogs from one bad encounter. A few owners, regrettably, do not hold up their end of the shared-use bargain, but their heedlessness should not jeopardize the rights of law-abiding dog owners to share public areas.

A Historical Note: What Would Longfellow Say?

Longfellow Monument by Daniel Chester French
Longfellow Monument by Daniel Chester French

Sarah Burks, preservation planner with the Cambridge Historical Commission, attended the meeting and spoke briefly about concerns that off-leash hours might increase wear and tear on Longfellow Park, a national historical site that attracts visitors from around the world. Ms. Burks said the current level of dog use is “manageable” and does not pose a problem to the grass, except when the park’s low-lying basin is heavily saturated. (The surrounding residential neighborhood is part of the Half Crown-Marsh Neighborhood Conservation District; the area near the river was an actual marsh in colonial times.) A couple of abutters noted that the park’s relatively secluded location near Harvard Square has long made it a magnet for vagrants who jeopardize the public safety and leave behind trash, which the dog owners find, and pick up, in the morning. Several residents said the close-knit community of dog owners serves as a de facto neighborhood watch that monitors park use at night.

Longfellow & Trap, 1864 (Longfellow House Bulletin)

Since the park was once the front yard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s estate, I wondered where he would have stood on the issue of dogs. Turns out, Longfellow, his second wife Fanny Appleton and their five surviving children were crazy about pets, dogs especially. In fact, the Longfellow House Bulletin from June 2009 includes several articles about the family’s affection for their pets. The newsletter reports that the last in a long line of dogs that Longfellow doted on (and overfed) was a Scottish terrier named Trap, who originally belonged to his oldest son Charles. When Charley went off to war in 1863, Trap stayed home and quickly became the by-then widowed poet’s favorite companion. Trap would doze on a heating grate in the study while Longfellow napped in an armchair by the hearth, and the dog would gently wake him if he started to snore.

Trap and the other Longfellow dogs had the run of the grounds and presumably were not kept leashed. In an 1867 letter to his friend George Washington Greene, Longfellow humorously describes Trap’s repeated attempts to escape the confines of the family’s multi-acre estate:

Ball awaits dogs at the gate to Longfellow Park
Ball awaits dogs at the gate to Longfellow Park

“The Prodigal Son of a —— called Trap has been recovered through the intervention of a dog-dealer in Boston. I went into Boston and brought him home. He looked degraded, demoralized and low. I put a new collar upon him, and had him fed; whereupon he ran away, and was stolen again on the same day. I have recovered him again and he is now asleep under the great chair. He has had hair dye put all around his eyes to disguise him, and is quite abject and forlorn. He evidently thinks Cambridge is a dull place. At the dog-dealer’s they gave him rats to kill. That is the charm, which he cannot resist. He had been trying to sneak away this afternoon; and will be stolen again tomorrow no doubt.” The poet was very sad when Trap died in 1869.

Trap may well be buried on the park’s grounds along with another Longfellow dog named Willie, who ate poison and expired gruesomely in the family’s dining room. Longfellow later wrote in a story for his children that Willie “was buried in the garden under a silver-poplar. When the wind blows the leaves part just as Willie’s hair used to do, when he was angry.”

I think I can guess how Longfellow might vote on the off-leash issue in his park.

Off-Leash Hours Proposed for Library Park

Entrance to Joan Lorentz Park
Entrance to Joan Lorentz Park

This week I attended a public meeting on the proposal to offer off-leash hours for dogs in Joan Lorentz Park, the green space in front of the Cambridge Public Library and Rindge and Latin School, bounded by Broadway and Ellery Street. Stuart Dash (Director of Community Planning) facilitated the meeting, and Mark McCabe (Animal Control Commissioner) also addressed the group. About thirty Mid-Cambridge residents, including City Councilor Sam Seidel (a Maple Street resident and dog owner who frequents the park), turned out to share their opinions. Most of those attending were in favor of the proposal, though a few non-dog-owners voiced strong opposition.

Continue reading “Off-Leash Hours Proposed for Library Park”

The Case for Licensing, Straight from the Top Dog’s Mouth

Mark McCabe, director, with Cambridge Animal Commission officers
Mark McCabe, director, with Cambridge Animal Commission officers (City of Cambridge photo)

In a prior post I raised the question of whether Cambridge has an “undocumented dog problem” – that is, whether the number of dogs licensed by the city (around 2,700 in 2010) accurately reflects the actual number of dogs living here? Continue reading “The Case for Licensing, Straight from the Top Dog’s Mouth”

Public Meetings on New Off-Leash Areas

Can We Share?
Can We Share?

Residents in Mid-Cambridge and the Brattle-Mount Auburn Street areas may wish to attend public meetings to discuss the shared use of open space in their neighborhoods, specifically whether dogs should be permitted off-leash in two public parks.

Tuesday, October 11, 6-8 PM
City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway, 2nd Floor:

Review of possible off-leash hours in Joan Lorentz Park on Broadway and Ellery (the park adjacent to the Cambridge Public Library). More details.

Wednesday, October 19, 6-8 PM
New School of Music, 25 Lowell St.

Review of possible off-leash hours in Longfellow Park on Mt. Auburn St (adjacent to the Cambridge Tennis and Skating Club).

More information on the City’s off-leash policies:

Questions: Contact Taha Jennings in Community Development at 617 349-4603

Canine Census: Is Your Dog Counted?

Charm Collar
Charm Collar

One of my friends has been known to duck into the bushes at Fresh Pond if she sees the park ranger coming. Before you begin to wonder what kind of company I keep, let me say that this longtime Cantabrigian is a fine upstanding citizen, a nature lover and a doting mother. She just has a mental block about licensing her dog, a minor act of civil disobedience that she readily admits is pointless. Hence, her furtive behavior whenever she spots Ranger Jean on the path ahead; my friend knows full well that she risks a fine for bringing an unlicensed dog to Fresh Pond, but something is holding her back, a little self-defeating demon like Edgar Allan Poe described in his short story, “The Imp of the Perverse.”

“Ugh, I’ve got to find that form and send it in,” my friend groans, but as spring turns to summer and into fall, she still hasn’t gotten around to it. Continue reading “Canine Census: Is Your Dog Counted?”

What’s Your Excuse?

See Excuse #4
See Excuse #4

I just read about a new clinical study by two physical therapy professors at UMass Medical School in Lowell to determine whether more frequent and longer dog walks can help motivate people to exercise more and lose weight. Obviously, more physical activity is beneficial, for both humans and dogs; the question the researchers hope to answer is whether our “emotional investment” in our canine companions can help motivate us to be less sedentary. Continue reading “What’s Your Excuse?”