The Cookie Jar

The magical container is of course the “Cookie Jar”

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Kali absolutely loves her Kong toy.  Or does she?

Dogs do seem to love the Kong toy but mostly I think they love the food stuff we put in the Kong.  Kali gets so excited when she sees me take her Kong out of her toy box.  She dances with delight and anticipation of what is usually a mix of apples, carrots, and maybe a couple of biscuits all smothered with doggie peanut butter.  She watches me prepare the Kong and drools like a Pavlovian Pit Bull. When I finally hand her the Kong she gingerly takes it from my hand with eyes darting to and fro looking for the ideal spot to enjoy the tightly packed feast.

She usually picks the mat in the kitchen or the foot of the stairs to begin her work.  If I’ve moved upstairs to my office she may join me after a while to show me her handy work and finish the job.  Sometimes I’ll put her outside to enjoy the treat in order to avoid saliva and peanut butter getting on the carpet.  I don’t think she really cares where she eats so long as she gets to!

I have to admit I feel a little guilty at times watching Kali feverishly exercise her tongue trying to get out the treats.  Is it heaven for her or a cruel reminder that she lacks opposable thumbs?  It’s not often that we don’t get our daily walk in but there are times when I’m too busy and instead Kali gets the Kong.  This seems a bit like a parent plopping their toddler in front of the TV with a DVD instead of engaging them in stimulating play-time.  Maybe it’s just me over thinking things….

Here is what Kong says about their product:

  • Keeps dogs occupied and mentally stimulated for hours
  • Requires skill and persistence to get to the treats
  • The unpredictable bounce has been known to cause spontaneous eruptions of playtime fun

Seems reasonable.  It does keep Kali occupied for about 30 minutes (but not hours) or longer depending on how sinister I felt when packing the treats in.  Her persistence is quite remarkable and I’m convinced that even without a skillful tongue Kali would never leave a morsel uneaten even if it was packed inside with glue instead of peanut butter.  As for the spontaneous eruption of playtime fun, well that’s just not Kali.  She is very predictable and not very spontaneous – a lot like me I guess.

So to ease my guilt I turned to the source of all wisdom and truth:  the internet.   A quick Google search on Kong Toy returned about 24,800,000 results (in 0.75 seconds!).  I passed over the sponsored ads and clicked on “How to Stuff a KONG Toy | ASPCA”  and here is what the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says about the Kong:

Why Give Your Dog a KONG (according to the ASPCA)?

“Nature made dogs to hunt, forage, scavenge and work for their food—not have it delivered for free in a bowl! One reason dogs develop behavior problems is sheer boredom, resulting from a lack of physical exercise, problem solving and outdoor exploration and investigation. To make your dog’s life more enjoyable, you can give to  fun “work” to do when he’s home alone or when you can’t play with him.  Food puzzle toys give dogs a chance to work for their food. “

(By the way, if you don’t already have an inkling of how to stuff a Kong Toy then maybe….)

So the statement by the ASPCA did help me a bit but I still wondered if Kali really enjoys quality time with her Kong. So I turned to the expert on Kali which of course is Kali herself.

Me:  Kali do you like hunting, foraging, and scavenging for food.

Kali: Woof!  Translation:  Dad, for all you know as a stray I may have spent the better part of my life hunting, foraging, and scavenging for food.  What do you think?

Me:  Oh, well I guess that makes sense.  How insensitive of me.  Ok then, how do you feel about work?  Do you like working for your food?  It’s more like play really, so you know “fun” work.

Kali:  Woof (with a slight growl on the end).  Translation:  I’m not an Australian Cattle Dog.  I’m a Golden Retriever.  I’m part of the Sporting Group of dogs.  I’m intelligent, friendly, and devoted.  Do you see anything about work in there?  Place my food in my bowl as I have trained you please and I will remain forever friendly and devoted.

So after my “scientific” research, soul-searching, and guilt-laden conclusion that I’m somehow responsible for Kali’s lack of opposable thumbs will I continue to give her a treat filled Kong toy?

Of course I will!  She absolutely loves it!

Who needs opposable thumbs?  I absolutely love this Kong toy!

Who needs opposable thumbs? I absolutely love this Kong toy!


I think she can take them or leave them.  Mostly she leaves them but I wonder at times if Panda were still here would Kali warm up to him.  I think she would.

Panda was a cat who sometimes acted more like a dog than a cat which was fine with me because I’m not a cat person.  In his later years he would spend a lot of time in the backyard; usually late afternoon into the late evening. He’d emerge from under the bed where he spent most of the day sleeping and saunter downstairs and head outside.  He taught himself to open the screen door to the backyard (but never learned how to close it!).  With one or two exceptions he never seemed interested in leaving the yard and when Holly and I were ready to go to bed I would whistle and Panda would come running in.  I’m really  not a cat person but Panda turned out to be a great companion who I miss a lot.  Panda got very sick and we had to put him down about a year and half ago when he was twelve years old.

I miss Panda during the warm evenings outside when he would come and cozy up next to Holly or I as we sat and enjoyed the warm weather.  I especially miss him at night laying next to me on the bed when I can’t sleep.  I miss being able to put my hand on his chest and feel his breathing and the vibrations of his purring.  It would calm me and help to fall back to sleep.  Usually at some point in the early morning he would go downstairs to look out the window and make that crazy erie sound that cats make in their throat when they see something moving in the dark; usually another cat. I miss hearing that sound.  I miss him coming upstairs in the morning to greet me when I get up.  I would usually pick him up and roll him over in my arms and scratch his stomach and rub his nose.  He liked that a lot.

Panda and Bailey, who was a Golden mix, got along just fine and would regularly hang out together.  They both seemed to appreciate one another’s company even snuggling together from time to time.

Panda and Bailey checking out the action in the neighborhood

Panda and Bailey checking out the action in the neighborhood

Panda and Bailey snuggle time

Panda and Bailey snuggle time

Kali seems mostly indifferent to cats but I think she and Panda would have had a great relationship.  After all, like Kali, Panda was an awesome member of our Pack.

2010 spring garden 060

Patrolling the perimeter of the yard


One giant roar!


Enjoying the warmth of the sun with Bailey

It’s not about me!

When my oldest son was about three years old we enrolled him in a Gymboree play group.  This was before Gymboree was all about merchandise and more about creating enriching environments for toddlers and their Yuppie parents (guilty as charged…).  There was a giant parachute that would go up in the air and fall onto of the kids who would laugh and scream with joy.  Fun right?  Well not for my son.  He screamed out of fear when the parachute went up in the air and spent the rest of the session in my lap on the sidelines far back from the other kids and especially far away from the parachute.

I was heartbroken.  I so wanted Jonathan to be with all the other kids laughing and playing underneath the parachute.  And I have to admit I was a little embarrassed that my kid was scared and crying on the sidelines.  Thinking back on that event over the years I realize that I let the outcome be about me when the only thing I should have been concerned with was my son and what was best for him at the time.  But parents are people and people have egos and egos can get in the way sometimes. This can be bad especially when it gets in the way of your children.  Or your pets…

I want so badly for Kali to experience playtime with other dogs.  When we walk past the dog park and I see dogs running and playing together I long for Kali to be along side of them.  I want her to be underneath the parachute laughing and screaming with joy.   But she’s not ready yet. She still gets anxious around other dogs so instead we walk by or watch from a distance (albeit closer these days) and as we walk by I’ll keep my chin up and wave to the other owners as Kali and I head to the pond to look at the ducks and geese.  Each time it reminds me of my son sitting in my lap crying and scared to get back into the circle of other toddlers.

And I have to remind myself – it’s not about me!

For as much anxiety and aggression that Kali has shown when we encounter other dogs on our walks or visits to town I’m convinced that within a day or less Kali would adjust and be a great step-sibbling to any dog that we brought into the family.  Given the chance she would quickly realize that she’s safe and would then be able to experience the joy of canine companionship.  So why don’t I give her that chance?  How do I give her the chance without stressing her out too much or inconveniencing other dog owners?

When I step back and remember that it’s not about me I realize that Kali has come a long way in the past several months.  We now regularly pass  dogs on our walks without any lunging or barking. In fact we had a milestone moment earlier this week when a dog and owner approached us on the trail.  Kali has learned to focus on me when we encounter dogs and  more often than not we pass by and move along without incident.  This time as Kali and the other dog got to the same spot on the trail they stopped and looked at one another.  Before I knew it Kali was muzzle to muzzle with the other dog sniffing.  This was a first! I was slightly stunned and very encouraged.  I wanted to make sure that this interaction ended on a positive note so that I could mark the good behavior by lavishing Kali with treats and praise.  I was one second too late.  Just as I was about to tell Kali “let’s go” and walk away she let out a deep woof.  The other dog replied and Kali started pulling.  I moved her back, apologized to the dog’s owner and we walked away.  But I still think this was a big step forward.  I hope this was a big step forward.  More importantly I hope Kali realized that this was  a big step forward.

I realized months ago that it would take a very long time for Kali to overcome her anxiety with other dogs.  It’s interesting that Kali was in foster care with many other dogs while in Taiwan and the report on her that I received before she was sent over was that she got along great with other dogs.  I’ve watched the wonderful video showing Kali and all the of  the dogs and volunteers at the airport in Taiwan before the dogs were boarded onto the plane that brought them to America.  Kali is quiet and seemingly comfortable with the 23 other dogs in the terminal.  The catholic parent in me wonders if there was something I did wrong to create her anxiety once she got here.

In a couple of weeks the local rescue group will hold their annual picnic where families and their rescued Golden Retrievers get together for an informal reunion. Many of these dogs will be from Taiwan like Kali.  Some may be dogs that were is foster care with her.  How cool would it be to have Kali reunite with dogs she was with in Taiwan exactly one year ago?  Very cool to say the least!

Holly, Kali, and I plan on attending the picnic.  But I’m very apprehensive.  I’m apprehensive about Kali barking and being disruptive.  I’m apprehensive about potentially putting Kali in a situation that is too stressful for her.  Holly, in her infinite wisdom, tells me if it’s too hard on Kali we’ll leave.  She’s right of course.  But, I don’t want to be the parent on the sidelines far back from the other kids laughing and screaming with joy under the parachute while my kid sits in my lap scared to participate.  I don’t want to be embarrassed and have to struggle to keep my chin up.

But, it’s not about me, is it?  Or course not.  It’s all about Kali and her continued development and adjustment to her new life in America.

The morning after arriving from Taiwan in May, 2014.

The morning after arriving from Taiwan in May, 2014.


Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees
Give a home to the fleas, in my hair
A home for fleas, a hive for the buzzing bees
A nest for birds, there ain’t no words
For the beauty, splendor, the wonder of my hair

– From Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

The verse above from the 1967 Rock Musical “Hair” could have been written about Kali or any other Golden Retriever for that matter.  Kali’s hair is everywhere but that’s to be expected and accepted if you own a Golden.  There is no shortage of hair flying around the house, in the air, in the carpet, and in the corner and edges of the tiled rooms.  Especially this time of year when Kali’s body decides that two coats are a little much for the hot summer weather that will arrive soon.

I think Kali is a lot prettier when she has her full complement of two fluffy coats.  But, as I did last summer, I will probably take a lot of her undercoat off again this year with the undercoat rake.  It’s remarkable how much hair is  under there.  With only a few passes along her back and thighs I can take off a Smokey size bundle of hair.  I’ve joked about this but wouldn’t it be cool to find someone who could spin Kali’s hair into yarn and make a sweater for someone, or a blanket, or maybe one of those silly toilet paper covers that were popular in the sixties.  If you’re old enough to remember those covers congratulations. If you still have one in your bathroom please get rid of it immediately or risk arrest by the generation police.

It’s amazing how much hair is in the carpet.  We have an upright Eureka vacuum cleaner with a an easily accessible canister of about two quarts in volume.  With a pass through a few rooms the canister is full of Kali’s hair.  Should we be happy that we have such an effective vacuum cleaner or ashamed that we’ve allowed so much hair to accumulate over the past few days?

And then there’s the stairs.  The stairs are a little more challenging when it comes to vacuuming.  But wait (as they used to say in the infomercials for Ginsu Knives) there’s more!  Our upright vacuum comes with  the “Power Paw”.  This hand-held attachment is quite effective at picking up dog hair from the stairs.  It  has a rubber gasket along the underside to loosen the hair and a spinning rake to grab the hair and suck it into the two-quart canister.  And Eureka is all about pet safety.  I’m sure of this because the attachment comes with a  warning:  “Caution.  Not to be used on pets”.   Thank goodness for stopping me before I did something stupid like vacuuming Kali, or worse Smokey who could probably fit through the hose and go directly into the canister.  Tragedy avoided.  Now where did that hair dryer go?  I’m off to take a bath and want to use the hair dryer while I’m sitting in the tub…

By the way if you are old enough to remember the Ginsu Knives infomercials you’re almost as old as those readers now running to the bathroom to hide that silly toilet paper cover that their grandmother knitted for them in 1965.  But, if you were lucky enough to have purchased a set of those knives – congratulations – you’re one of about 3 million people who purchased them between 1978 and 1984 (according to Wikipedia who of course is never wrong so why shouldn’t your doctoral thesis on global warming be based on data found within those millions of wiki-pages?).

So yeah, hair. “Hair of the dog that bit you”, “lost by a hair”, “what a hairy ordeal”.  Or how about, “there was hair flying everywhere?”  Boom – that’s the one.  Kali’s hair is flying everywhere.

But far be it from us to cook up a harebrained scheme (sorry) to do something about it.  Because, after all it’s Kali hair flying around like thousands of little blessings landing on and around us all day long.


But wait - there's more!

But wait – there’s more!

In searching for this photo I was amazed at the plethora of pictures and apparent market for these knitted items.  I stand corrected for those of you who I've offended please accept my humble apologies.

In searching for a photo of the silly knitted TP covers I shouldn’t have been amazed (but I was) at the plethora of pictures, and apparent market, for these knitted items. For those of you who may have felt ashamed for still possessing one of these please accept my humble apologies. (But, I still do think they’re silly..)



Rule Follower

From her first day with us Kali has always respected the house and seemed to know which of our belongings were off-limits.  She was five years old so its not like she was a puppy with a lot of training and socialization needs.  Presumably she had some training before she became a stray and she certainly received some amount of socialization and training while she was in foster care in Taiwan.  Regardless of her experiences before she arrived in America I still find it interesting how in tune she was from the moment she stepped into our house which was now her home.

Kali received her first toy – a large bone shaped squeaky toy – the night she arrived.  We got home from the airport around midnight.   After she ate and smelled around the yard for a while we took her upstairs, pointed to a blanket next to our bed and gave her the toy.  She lied down and seemed instantly content.  Of course she was.  What dog doesn’t love a brand new fluffy bone that squeaks?  But most of all she knew it was hers and it was OK to chew on.


First night home, around midnight, with her “squeaky-toy”

Kali is very comfortable with rules.  She reminds me of my oldest son Jonathan who read at a very early age.  He was about four years old and we were at the park.  As we strolled along he stopped me and says, “No dad; we can’t go that way.  The sign says “stay off the grass”.  I said something like, “it’s ok – it’s shorter this way and it’s just grass. It’ll be fine”.  “NO dad – the sign says stay off the grass!”

Geesh – what a Rule Follower!

Kali instinctively seems to know what’s allowed and what’s not.  She willingly follows the rules that she’s either learned or instinctively knows.  She actively explores her toy basket and takes out what interests her at the moment.  (If only I could train her to put those toys back…)  But Kali would never pick up a slipper or shoe that was lying around even though it would be easy to see how they could be mistaken for a toy.  She’ll eye the garbage can from a distance during clean up time after dinner but she has never approached it.

So this morning it was with great surprise that I caught Kali break a rule.

It was a particularly quiet morning in the house.  I was in my office upstairs reading, Holly was getting ready to go to Yoga, and Smokey had gone back to bed in my daughter’s room. Kali was still downstairs and hadn’t yet made trek up to my office to check on me.   I was heading downstairs for more coffee when I see Kali at the bottom of the stairs with a food wrapper about three inches from her nose.

We have a small pantry in the kitchen where we place recyclables in a bag for later disposal in the plastic tub on the side of the house.   Kali watches us all day long place items in the bag and knows the pantry is off-limits.  But there she was laying at the bottom of the stairs with something that was clearly taken out of the recycles from the pantry.  As Kali sees me coming down the stairs she slowly gets up and moves away from the wrapper.  Her head is slunk down low and she momentarily glances at me moving her eyes up but not her head.  Without saying a word I reach down and pick up the wrapper, stare at her (trying my best not to smile), and gently say, “No”.  Kali, still standing with her head slunk low moves into a crevice between a chair and table and lays down with eyes flittering from me to the ground.  I put the wrapper back and walked upstairs without saying a word.  Inside I’m smiling.  I totally enjoyed this very adorable moment with my Golden Kali.

A few minutes later Holly comes into my office and I describe to her what happened downstairs.  Kali must have heard her name because she walks in still looking a bit guilty and does what we call her “pretty little princess bow” where she arches her back, puts her butt up in the air, and her front paws reach forward.  Kali does this when she wants something.  It’s her way of asking nicely to go on her walk, or for her meal, or sometimes just for attention.  In this case I believe the “pretty little princess bow” was to ask forgiveness.  “Sorry dad.  I knew that was against the rules but my curiosity and nose just got the best of me.  I’m really sorry and I can (almost) guarantee it will never happen again.  Are you mad?”

I think in the nine months that Kali has been with us I’ve only been mad at her once.  OK twice if you count the time that I felt she was practicing extortion for treats (re:  “Pay Me”).    And both times it was all about me and not Kali.  How could we ever justify being mad at our pets.  If they do something wrong it’s usually our fault as owners for not providing enough training, boundaries, or putting them in a situation they aren’t equipped to handle.  It’s never our pet’s fault. If they make a mistake or break a “rule” it’s not done with malice or out of spite (well maybe out of spite if it’s a cat).

So, no Kali of course I’m not mad.  But I won’t let on how cute I thought you were and how much I enjoyed this moment with you because then you might get the idea it was OK.   I am very proud of you for knowing the difference between right and wrong and for acknowledging the difference with your eyes and body language.  But I have to let you know it was wrong so that you don’t do it again.

Being someone who over the years has been compelled to challenge authority I have to admit it made me feel good that Kali had enough moxie to challenge the status quo and take a chance.  And what’s up with being at a park and having to stay off the grass?  But when you have a four-year old Rule Follower who happens to read it’s just best to do what he says and follow those written rules even if it means staying off the grass that my tax dollars paid for.

The original "Rule Follower" Jonathan on the left with his brother Michael Brandon, around 1988

The original “Rule Follower” Jonathan on the left with his brother Michael Brandon, around 1988

Nine Months and Thinking…

As I pass the nine month mark with Kali I find myself a little concerned that she is too dependent on, or attached to me. But I think that’s just me being me.  I’m a worrier. I want everything perfect for those that I love the most. In Kali’s case I want to know that she is happy whether she is with me or not.  She is mostly by my side which is exactly what I had envisioned when I began seriously considering adoption a couple of years ago.
We bonded the instant I attached her leash to her collar and took her out of the crate last May when she arrived from Taiwan. Thinking back it’s quite remarkable how she almost imprinted on me like a duckling does on its mother as it emerges from its shell.

Kali is tuned in to my movements, my general routine, and watches and waits for signals that something is about to happen.  Like the signals for our walk.  She’s even learned to not get fooled and that just because I’m putting on my shoes and grabbing a jacket this doesn’t always mean that it’s time for a walk.  I’m not sure what nuance she sees but I must do something different when preparing for our walk versus preparing to leave the house for some other reason.  A sure-fire signal to Kali that the walk is on comes when I tell her to get her collar which is usually laying where we left it the night before during cuddle time.  I’ll say, “get your collar” (sometimes I have to point to it) and she’ll pick it up and bring it to me. This is very satisfying for both of us!  I’m proud that she is smart and she is happy that the walk is on.

And so it was this morning.  She grabbed her collar, I grabbed a jacket and we were on our way.

The elements for a walk were just about perfect this morning.  The 41 degree air was still and crisp, the sun was shinning, and the path was quiet.  On walks like this I find myself wishing we lived in the mountains at about 5,000 foot elevation and that our walk was among the pines instead of the neighborhood creek trail.  Day dreaming, I imagine ourselves walking through the pines with a trace of snow on the ground from an earlier storm, the smell of pine prominent, and occasional wafts of wood fire coming from homes that spread out far enough from one another to offer intimate privacy and close enough for community.  We’d explore until we were content or too cold and then return to a warm fire back home.

Of course when one lives in Northern California, where the average annual low temperature is 50 degrees – rarely getting below 30- it’s easy to romanticize living in an area away from suburbia, less populated, and with less infrastructure. I’m grateful for all that we have and never take our blessings for granted.  But I’m human and it’s easy to fantasize about a simple and slower paced life.

Then I begin to feel guilty.  I feel guilty for allowing myself to want anything more or different from what I all ready have. Because what I have is a life filled with good health, a loving family, friends, and wonderful canine friend that is dependent on, and attached to me.  I fell guilty because while I walk along suburbia in relatively warm weather much of the country is experiencing debilitating conditions making it difficult or even impossible to get to work or school; just waiting for a break in weather in order to able to dig out and clean up in time for the next storm to arrive.

But wait – that’s not so bad.  What about the hundreds of millions of people in third world countries. They’d be happy to have a twelve-foot snow bank to dig out of knowing there was a Ford or Mercedes somewhere underneath that snow, food in the fridge, and oil in the furnace. Or those in countries torn apart by political strife and war who would gladly trade the bombs and terrorist threats for extreme temperatures and a living wage.

There is a song by the late Beatle, John Lennon, called “God”.  The opening lyrics are, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”

“God is a concept by which we measure our pain”.

He repeats that line and then goes on to cite a litany of things or people he doesn’t believe in; the Bible, Buddha, Elvis, Kennedy, and so on. Then he sings, “Just believe in me”.

My take-away from this song has always been that one can make themselves feel really good or really bad about their lives depending on who or what they compare themselves to.

Bombs are not going off in my neighborhood – my life is great.  I’m not independently wealthy and playing golf in Hawaii – my life sucks.

So today I will enjoy, without guilt, my Golden Kali, the spring-like weather in Northern California, the crisp morning air, and the peaceful neighborhood creek trail that has been inspiring in many ways over the past nine months. I will also be cognizant of how fortunate I am and that there are others around me and around the world who may have far greater challenges than I can ever imagine or appreciate. And, as much as I’d like to make a difference for those people, my good fortune is nothing I should feel guilty about and has no impact on their happiness.