Modern Dog (gets me to the church on time)

Vote Phoebe for President! And by President I mean dog winner of this dog contest!

I Dig Your Dog Blog

My nice friend over at Exiled from Contentment has honored me with an award! An award, I tell you! Hooray! Many thanks, E.F. Contentment, for the "I Dig Your Blog" Award! Phoebe extends her gratitude and best wishes, as well. Also, she requests an in-depth review of the 1993 dogudrama, Beethoven.

The conditions of my shiny new award stipulate that I must share three facts about myself and then pass the torch of honor (let's go ahead and call it an honor torch) to five other people. Since this blog is as much Phoebe's as it is mine, it's only fair that I share three things about the both of us. So, here are our three things, followed by the passing of the honor torch.

Three Lauren Things:

1.) I don't like soup. I feel a soup is more a chunky beverage than it is a meal, and frankly, I don't appreciate it. "Hi, I'm soup. I'm totally a food." No, soup, you're not. You're nothing but a warm, savory beverage filled with floating chunks of soggy vegetable medley. I can't drink you because your chunks would choke me. I can't eat you because your liquid gets in the way of your chunks. I believe your mind games are a symptom of a bigger problem, soup; one rooted in your inability to get close to people and be yourself.

2.) I love history. I think it's so neat that right now, I am sitting on the exact spot that someone once sat like eighty years ago. I mean, not on this couch, but in this apartment. Sometimes, I google old photographs of places that still exist, today, and I drive to those places and take pictures and put the old picture and the new picture side by side. Sometimes I think I believe in reincarnation and wonder if I was alive in another time.

3.) Johnny Cash is my hero.

Three Phoebe Things:

1.) An Aquarius, Phoebe was born on February 15th, 2007 to Maddie and Dura Max Diesel.

2.) Her ideal man: Barry, the great and noble St. Bernard dog of the North. Also, Hugh Jackman.

3.) She likes to hold hands.

And now, what we've all been waiting for... I get to say honor torch again! And present awards to the following blogs! Hells yes, boi! (Sorry.)

Hidden Los Angeles
Ghosts and shadows and stories.

Confessions of a CF Husband
A miracle family.

Very Short Novels
Less is more.

Shutter Sisters
Camera toting women, unite!

One Girl, One Novel
Wanda Shapiro: Author/indie publisher extraordinaire.

Fist bumps and secret handshakes to all!

Dear Phoebe

Ed. Note: I host a chat room on Starbright World, an online community for children with chronic medical problems. Each month, I hold a special workshop for kids who like to write. We share poems, essays, songs and stories, often intimate glimpses into the lives and times of some of the strongest people I know. At the end of each chat, I assign the kids a topic and a writing exercise to complete before our next meeting. Recently, I asked them to write a letter to their hero. This is Rebecca's letter.

A letter to one of my heroes ☺

The word "hero" is defined as, "a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal." So when asked most people would probably say their hero is someone close to them in their life or even a superhero or celebrity that may seem like they are indestructible. But when I think about a hero I think about someone who is the opposite, someone that has seen or experienced things others have not. When I think about who my hero might be it’s a tough call, I could say my hero is a family member, a friend or even a movie star. But in all honesty I think I would have to say one of my many heroes has to be Phoebe the service dog. Here is a letter I wrote to Phoebe.

Dear Phoebe,

I know you probably don’t get many letters since you are a dog, but I thought I would write you one even though you won’t be able to write back. When I looked at the definition of a hero online I was thinking of all the people who I could write a letter to but you came to mind because you are a true hero. You are not just an ordinary dog or even just a really good dog, you are a service dog and you are trained to help people. Although you help Lauren mostly, you are able to help people that you come across while you do something as simple as help Lauren walk to the store. You can spread joy, hope and happiness to everyone you meet even if it might seem like they don’t need it. More importantly you help Lauren walk after not being able to for many years. I am not sure that I have ever seen a human so dedicated to helping someone as much as you are to helping Lauren, so that is a truly special quality. In my eyes as well as many others you are the definition of hero. You work hard in order to help others, perform selfless acts everyday and spread joy to everyone you meet. I know most people just look at service dogs as regular dogs that are trained to do above and beyond but I look at you as a true hero and an equal. You may be a dog but you are one heck of a boss! I would like to thank you for all of your heroic work and dedication.


Old familiar places

"Don’t take any wooden nickels, young lady,” my grandfather reminds me as I hug him goodbye. I remember the smell of Waffle Crisp cereal in the kitchen and spending nights with my sister in a room that’s now used as an office. They store my grandfather’s oxygen tanks where I used to stand and spy on the grownups through a shuttered door after bedtime. There was a bed next to the window overlooking the lake and a doll collection that reminded me of Chucky and scared me to death.

My grandmother paints. I’ve always admired her artistic talent, (I can’t draw or paint to save my life) and once I asked her why she chooses to use watercolor over oil. She told me that watercolor changes. It starts off looking one way and it transforms into something else. You never know how it will turn out, the colors, the shapes, and that it’s a lovely surprise.

This trip feels important, special, like a good part of the story you don't want left out. We're here because my grandparents were married sixty years ago, today, and because their life together was a starting point for all of us. She was a schoolteacher; he was a high school band director. They raised four children, and later, they became Nana and Baboo.

I’ve always felt a special bond with my extended family. Though we don’t see one another very often and our lives have taken us in a million different directions, I’ve always liked them and I enjoy picking up where we left off. When we were kids, us cousins played together and ate yellow popsicles that melted faster than anyone could eat them. We pointed and laughed when our dads almost blew themselves up trying to light a cluster of fireworks in the front yard of our rental in Hot Springs. One year, we had a babysitter that wrote skits and commercials for us to perform in front of our parents. I adored my younger cousins and I thought my big cousins were the coolest people in the world. I remember vividly the time I read my much older cousin’s copy of The Death of Superman. I was traumatized, and I remember thinking, “If SUPERMAN can die, the rest of us don’t have a chance….”

When my illness was at its worst, one of the last trips we took as a family was to my grandparent’s house in Arkansas for Thanksgiving. Everyone was there, even my beautiful great-grandmother Ruth. Things were on a downward spiral and I was mostly bedridden, by then, but I was glad to be there. At the time, I wasn’t sure what the future held and being close to loved ones felt important. When I was sick, I always wanted everyone to sing to me, in the hospital, at home, in the car, everywhere. It comforted me and served as a gentle reminder that I was still here.

I wasn’t able to join my family in the dining room for Thanksgiving dinner, that year, but they all piled into my room afterwards and we sang and talked and told stories. Looking back, I think that though the experience of losing control over my body was terrible, it was also the greatest blessing of my life. It shined a light on what really matters so that I’ll never forget, forever etched into my mind like names on tree bark.

Standing in the kitchen with my aunts and my sister and cousins, eating watermelon and shooting the breeze, I feel lucky; lucky to be here; lucky to be a part of things and to have memories, both good and bad, that remind me to be grateful; lucky to have people who sang to me.

Today, I believe that God and love and energy are all around us. I believe we are angels to each other. I believe that we are made up of stardust and cells and atoms and science and magic and we will always be a part of everything. I believe in brains and chemicals and flesh and shadows. I believe in souls. I believe our role in the universe is ever changing, that what we are today is different from what we were yesterday and what we will be tomorrow. I believe that to live is to love and to wonder and to go away forever but never really leave. I believe that we are a fierce and delicate balance. I believe this is our time and we are lucky to have a turn.

Laying Down the Paw

For those of you finding it difficult to decipher Phoebe's words, here is her Special Comment in writing:

"It has been brought to my attention, on numerous occasions, America, that there are those that will, for their own selfish reasons, claim their pet is a service dog in order to gain public access. Your dishonesty, no matter your motivation, undermines the legitimacy of my job. I am putting my paw down and saying to those who purchase a red vest and call a pet a service dog: you make my job, and my human's life, more challenging. Your actions give business owners a reason to question my presence in their establishments because they have been fooled by people who selfishly throw out the term "service dog" as if it has no consequences. Pets are not trained in the same way as service dogs. We have completed thousands of hours of specialized training in order to responsibly share public space with humans. We are trained to know immediately when our vests are put on that it is time for work, for good behavior, and we take our jobs very seriously. From restaurants, to schools, to hospitals, we understand that upon request from our humans, we immediately sit, lie down, or complete whatever task is required of us. We are the real deal, we are certified working animals, and when you throw a vest on your pet and drag him or her into a grocery store or a movie theatre, there is a real possibility of  disruptive or inappropriate behavior. If that happens, employes are under the impression that your dog is a service animal, thus, they think less of service dogs, or they look upon me with doubt the next time I enter their business with my human. It is not far, it is not right, and it is not legal. To those of you who have attempted to pass off your pet as a service dog, I ask only that you think about the potential consequences of your actions. I ask you to consider how you would feel if your friend, your mother, your sister had a service dog and was hassled and treated poorly due to a stranger's choice to break the rules. I ask that you respect the men and women who have dedicated their time, their money, their energy and their love to training service dogs. I ask that the next time you are faced with a choice, you choose to regard service animals with the respect we deserve. Good night, and good luck."

Stability and Balance

People are often curious about the process of traveling with a service animal. Since Phoebe is a working dog as opposed to a pet, The Americans with Disabilities Act allows her to accompany me in the cabin and sit on the floor by my feet. We travel often, and so far, flying with Phoebe has been pleasant and, at times, kind of wonderful.

Phoebe’s first flight was in June of 2008. After training together at CARES in Kansas for two weeks, I took my bear-dog home to Los Angeles where we would start our lives together as woman and dog. She didn’t know what to make of the whole mess, at first, but soon, after being showered with kisses from flight attendants and delicious treats of the rawhide persuasion, she quickly warmed up to the strange metal tube in the sky. Every time we fly, I reward her good behavior with the holy grail of dog treats: The CET chew. Judging by the abundance of preflight tail wagging, I'm fairly certain Phoebe thinks that planes are magical CET chew factories built for the delight of good dogs.

Traveling with Phoebe, I imagine, is a lot like traveling with a baby. You need a system when traveling with a dependent, a plan of action that allows you to keep your sanity and sail through the process as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Here is our system. I call our system, “Our Great Travel System.” I like to come up with creative names sometimes.

Our Great Travel System

1) When traveling with a service dog, one must always allow time for a preflight bathroom break. No one wants a St. Bernard taking a dump in the aisle of an aircraft due entirely to poor planning.
2) Keep your service dog ID handy.
3) When making your way through security, request a pat down for both human and dog. It’s faster and easier than walking through the scanner a bunch of times, only to be told you need a pat down because your port-a-cath and your dog’s vest are ringing off. Timesuck City, USA.
4) Carry Greenies Pill Pockets at all times; a couple of Benadryl right before boarding help keep puppy’s ears comfortable during takeoff and landing.
5) Allow other passengers to deplane before exiting the aircraft. It’s less stressful to gather your things and collect your dog and schlep out the door with ten pounds of crap when you don’t have a long line of people trying to squeeze by you.
6) And finally, make sure that dogface drinks plenty of water post-flight, as airplanes are just as dehydrating for dogs as they are for us. Also, run/hobble like the wind and locate a dog bathroom.

Speaking of airport things, Phoebe loves her some pat down. The last time we were at LAX, the TSA agent looked at her and very seriously explained the procedure. “I’m going to go ahead and pat you down, now,” she said, before before gently lifting one floppy ear at a time and using the backs of her hands to pat her belly. Phoebe stood there like a Berenstain Bear, blissfully grunting as agents commenced full doggy pat down. She ended up rolling completely over onto her back, arms and legs in the air like a great big old whore. She was their happiest customer that day.

A few months ago, as Phoebe and I settled in for a long flight, a man boarded the plane and asked if he could sit next to us in the bulkhead. It wasn’t a full flight, so I suggested he might be more comfortable in a seat that wouldn’t require him to share his foot space with my bearpony, since he didn’t have to. He said that he had never flown on an airplane before and he was a little nervous, and it would really help him to sit next to Phoebe and talk to her. I told him that was just fine. And so he sat, nervously twiddling his thumbs and sweating like an overheated Top Chef contestant as the flight attendant went over emergency protocol. Right before takeoff, without any prompting from the man, Phoebe reached up and put her hand on his knee, as if to say, “There, there, fella. It’ll be okay.” He held her hand for the majority of that flight, talking to her, petting her, projecting messages of reassurance meant for himself. When we landed, the man patted Phoebe on the head and let out a sigh of relief. “We made it,” he said with a smile. That day, Phoebe helped a weary traveler learn to fly. It occurred to me that she is a stability and balance dog in more ways than one.

My mom was a flight attendant for seventeen years, back in the day when flying was a pleasant experience, a special occasion. In those days, for the most part, terrorists were bad guys in movies, elderly people in wheelchairs weren't subjected to body searches and wide-eyed children were given wings and invited to visit the cockpit before takeoff. Nowadays, you show up to the airport two hours early and are immediately greeted at the curb by airport police who expect you to tuck and roll out of your moving car like a freaking ninja because “OMG NO STOPPING.” After escorting your own checked bags to the checked bag island of bags, you stand in a line that stretches ten city blocks and wait your turn to be groped and radiated and finally packed into a crowded plane like a nameless sardine. People dress like dirty laundry baskets and paranoia takes hold every time a passenger walks toward the cockpit door en route to the restroom. If I had been alive in the good old days, I would miss the good old days. That said, it’s not all bad. Phoebe makes the whole process of flying a lot more bearable. I love to watch grumpy, sleep deprived businessmen light up when they see her. She acts as a catalyst for human connection and after a few minutes at our gate, strangers become friends and frustrated travelers slow down, if only for a moment, and smile. Times like that, I feel lucky. Like I’m witness to some kind of magic.


Years ago, Phoebe and I were approached by an old homeless man outside a movie theatre. He knelt down and looked into Phoebe's eyes for the longest time. She looked right back at him, strange, as she usually goes to great lengths to avoid eye contact.

"I remember you, girl," he said, his eyes wide with recognition. "From back home. We were good friends, a long time ago."

Phoebe nudged him as he leaned forward and whispered something in her ear. She listened, and before the man got up to leave, she rested her paw on his wrinkled hand and let out a long sigh. He smiled and looked up and me.

"She remembers."

He struggled onto his feet and made his way down the sidewalk, turning back once or twice to wave to his old friend. Phoebe watched him until he disappeared around the corner. I couldn't help but feel I had witnessed a magical reunion of old souls, lost friends from another time coming together at long last. Maybe he really did know Phoebe in another life, or maybe he was confused, lost in an imaginary world that none of us could see. Maybe it doesn't matter. In that moment, he believed, and he was happy.

Dog Food

I couldn't sleep last night, so I ate a pint of Haagen-Dazs and watched Bad Girls Club reruns. Around the time someone threw something in a pool after accusing someone of "not being here for the right reasons," I had an idea: I will start reviewing restaurants in Los Angeles based on service dog friendliness and accessibility! Yes! And I will share our experiences with each restaurant! Yes! And I will have a rating system! Holy shit yes! The rating system got me kind of excited.

So, stay tuned for my first review!