I thought some of you might enjoy this video highlighting a few of the adventures from Quest’s first year of life:
She posted about the missing dog in many places, and the vast majority—not one or two, but most—of the responses suggested that it was her fault for having her dog in a car. That her dog was better off dead, roaming the streets, or finding any other home, than it was continuing to live with someone who would treat it so inhumanely as to leave it in a car.
This should send a chill down the spine of every informed animal lover: not only is it absolutely insane, it is a tangible demonstration of how devastatingly effective the animal rights movement has already been in making it socially unacceptable for anyone to have a dog:
They started with a reasonable assertion: cars can get dangerously hot if left in the sun, and anyone leaving a dog in a car needs to be aware of the temperature and take appropriate precautions to ensure their dog is safe and comfortable. Of course, everyone agreed! They began passing laws mandating that dogs were not left in hot cars, and while a few wise individuals foresaw the risk in such statutes, most people cheered and voted yes. Then they began lowering the recommended temperature until almost any day was ostensibly too hot for a dog to be in a car. Then they suggested that cold cars could be a problem. Then they suggested that dogs needed to be restrained in crates when in cars. Then they suggested that dogs should never be stuck in crates because it is inhumane.
There you have it—dogs should not be in cars! Not ever. It is un-natural, unsafe, inhumane.
Of course that it is absolutely untrue: Most dogs love going places, love hanging-out in the car. Love the awesome adventures and enriching fun in which they get to participate by going in the car. Even if this means they have to nap in the car while mom runs some errands. Most dogs, given a choice, will get in the car and go almost every time. Most dogs spend a huge portion of their time lounging about anyway, and doing it in the car is as good as anywhere, and if it means they get to go for a swim or a hike or even just hang with their mom all day, it is even better. Most cars can be kept at a safe temperature on most days with a modicum of effort.
Yes, this means that a teeny-tiny percentage of dogs will die in car accidents or overheated cars or whatever. So will some people. Animals die every day out in the natural world, because life has risks. We must constantly be wary of invoking regulations that would save a few animals or people from harm by grossly diminishing the lives of millions.
It is stupefying that they believe dogs should not be in cars. But what is truly scary is how easily most well-meaning animal lovers have been convinced to accept this propaganda.
For many years, pet lovers have shrugged their shoulders about the animal rights movement—sure, they are perfidious loons, but they are no real threat. They may outlaw exotic species, or chickens or cows, but surely they would stand no chance if they came after dogs and cats.
WAKE UP! They are going to eliminate pets without ever having to say a word about it: They are simply going to make it socially unacceptable to have pets in cars, in crates, or on collars. It will be stigmatized to take your dog with you, or to leave your dog home alone. To feed your dog unnatural kibble, or to feed your dog dangerous raw food. To own multiple dogs which means you do not have enough time for each, or to own a single dog who should not be forced to live a lonely life without canine companions. Nobody should have a dog that does not have a CGC. Nobody should have a dog of certain breeds. No dog should live in a home that is not air conditioned and heated. Nobody should ever have an intact dog. Nobody should breed a dog.
These are not the paranoid imaginings of a conspiracy theorist. Oh, how I wish they were! But every single one of these things has already been stated, many have already been legislated, and most importantly, they are, with alarming rapidity, becoming accepted social norms.
Well-meaning pet lovers show up in droves to support bills and regulations that seem designed to make life better for pets, without recognizing that these bills are quickly making it impossible for anyone to keep dogs in any manner without being vilified.
Make no mistake about it, pet ownership is under serious and immediate attack, and it is up to those of us who truly love animals to protect it.
A few weeks ago, I had one of the worst experiences of my life: my dog Sequel disappeared while we were hiking in the woods around our home, and he was missing for several days and nights. Each moment he was gone was devastating, but daytime was more bearable—there was so much to be done running the search that it was easy to set aside any thoughts about him being injured or dead. We had multiple teams searching the woods and updating the search map, people driving the roads and putting up signs, people going door-to-door, people calling all the shelters, vets, daycares, etc. Busyness can be a real friend in times of anguish! Long after night fell and the searchers had gone, I would force myself to try to get a few hours of sleep, but how can you lie in a warm bed and fall asleep knowing that your dog may be lying somewhere near death hoping you will find him soon…
And so, instead of sleeping, during the long, dark hours agonizing about all the worst things that could be happening to my dog, I wracked my brain about what I should have done differently, what I would do differently when—if—I found him and brought him home. And I returned time and again to the same surprising answer: nothing.
I love my dogs with every fiber of my being. I love them enough that while it sometimes might make me feel better to wrap them in cocoons and cloister them away safely, I force myself to always try to make the best decision for them. Insofar as it is possible, I try to give my dogs the lives I believe they would want, with the balance of safety and adventure that they would chose if they could fully understand the issues. Most of my dogs would absolutely prefer to run in the woods, to swim in the ocean, to wrestle and leap and herd and play, even if these things come with some risk.
Of course, judgment is required-knowledge of your dogs, their personality and fitness and training (I would stake my life on Sequel’s recall if he could have heard me, and as soon as I got on the right side of the creek where he could, he came immediately), and the area and all the hazards so you can make an informed decision about whether to keep your dogs on leash or a long line or a GPS collar or have them loose but call them back frequently. And no matter how careful you are, there will be some risk! But for nearly 20 years we have taken many, many animals out to run, play, hike, and camp in our woods, and the tens of thousands of hours of joy, health, enrichment, fitness, and fun it has brought is more than worth the risks, and really the worst that has ever happened is a few scrapes, a few porcupine quills, and some lost sleep…Those are pretty excellent odds, and even if Sequel had died, I am certain I would feel the same.
Please understand, I am not advocating recklessness: I am amazed at how often I watch people let their dogs out of a car in a parking lot and then pay no attention, or whose dogs are left unattended in homes full of hazards, or whose dogs are meeting groups of large, intense dogs while the owner is 100 feet away. Vigilance and mindful awareness are almost always to be advised with animals…
My dog is at risk in a moving car. He is at risk fetching a stick or a ball or wearing a collar. He is at risk at home that my house could catch fire. He is at risk on a dogwalk, or running in a field that might have a mole-hole. He is at risk chewing on a toy or meeting other dogs at a park. He is at risk that some lunatic will put poison on a sidewalk. Heck, I knew a dog recently who was run over while walking on leash in town… The risks from wildlife to a healthy, medium-sized dog in most areas are statistically very, very low. (of course if you live in an area in which risks are greater, you would need to behave accordingly!)
There are undoubtedly a few dogs that die from wildlife encounters each year in this country, or that get lost while out playing in the woods, or slip and fall down a cliff, but there are millions and millions of dogs that die each year obese and bored and with their bodies, minds, and spirits atrophied. And while you can never perfectly protect your pets from risk, you absolutely can save them from boredom.
Being a good dog owner is not about avoiding risk-it is about balancing risk with richness. Life is full of adventures, opportunities, and experiences that make our dogs’ lives wonderful, but we must not be so afraid that we avoid them. I certainly cannot tell anyone else how to find their perfect balance point, but I can say that for me and my dogs, we would rather be injured or die living a rich full life than sit safely at home growing old.
One last happy thought: pursuing a full and rich life, will often have the magical side-effect of also maximizing health and longevity. Our dogs spend their lives sprinting and swimming and leaping and playing as hard as possible, and they virtually all live well into their teens. Flint, our Belgian/Border Colli mix, lies at my feet as I write this, 18 years old. And I can hardly remember a day in his life that he did not fling himself into the unknown with utter abandon and sometimes crazy disregard for any potential risk…
I could probably write more about this topic, but Sequel wants to go for a hike now—back into the same woods, to his favorite swimming hole, and to the meadow to play a fast game of chase with Fig. We may die while playing our favorite games, but first, for sure, we are going to live…
One day in September, it was quite hot here, and I was walking to my car when I heard a dog barking nearby, and decided I would walk by and just make sure the dog looked ok and was not overheating. Now, before I go on, it is perhaps important to say that I am not one who believes dogs should never be left in cars. Quite the opposite, I believe it is great if people take their dogs with them, and so long as they take care of the dogs and the dogs are happy about it, I absolutely support taking your dog with you. I believe dogs can be very comfortable and safe in cars and am outraged at the growing movement to vilify anyone who leaves their dog in a vehicle.
I determined that the barking was coming from a minivan parked in the sun, and the rear windows were open only a few inches. The dog appeared fine from a distance, but I was still a little bit concerned, so I walked a little closer, and I was pretty sure that the engine was running, presumably so the air-conditioner could work, and everything seemed peachy. At about this point, as I was about to depart, I heard a woman’s voice very hostilely shout, “He WILL bite you.” I turned to look, and there was a lady, talking to some other people a few cars away, glaring at me. I smiled at her, and said, “Hopefully not, since I am ten feet away and he appears to be safely contained…” She scowled and said, “If you get any closer he WILL bite you…”
I understood her anger: she assumed I was another busy-body who was coming over to pass judgment on her without knowing the first thing about animals or her situation. She was afraid I was going to call the cops or animal control or PETA. She had no way of knowing that I had no intention of doing anything unless there appeared to be a genuine and immediate problem, and that if there was a problem my only interest would be in helping.
This exchange struck me as a perfect example of one of the truly harmful things that the AR movement has done: it has turned us all into adversaries. She was so worried about someone attacking her that she could not imagine or appreciate that maybe I was an ally just walking by to make sure her dog was fine. Not only have they divided us into little factions that are ineffective politically, they have prevented us from working together to make the world a better place. This hurts us all, most acutely the animals…
A few days ago, I heard some sounds coming from the attic and began to suspect that a rodent had decided that our home would be a nice cozy place to spend the winter.
I live out in the middle of the woods, and cannot be too surprised if occasionally wild animals decide that the warm comfort of my home might be preferable to the challenges of the wilderness, but I am not very hospitable to rodents. They are too dangerous as potential disease and parasite vectors to my animals, not to mention the fact that each year they manage to do thousands of dollars of damage to the hoses and wires in our vehicles.
My first thought was, “Seriously?” There are more than a few rodent-eating predators in my house. It just does not seem like a wise place to set up shop if you are near the bottom of the food chain…
For several days I engaged in a primordial battle—man against rodent… Intellect against instinct. Knowledge against cunning. And for several days I lost.
Finally, I determined that he was, for reasons not entirely clear to me, going into my bathroom each night, so I left the door open only a few inches and rigged a live trap so that as soon as he ran through the opening he would be in the trap. I put a delectable combination of apple, peanut butter, and dog food in the trap. At around 2am I heard the trap spring, and went to check, and sure enough had caught the largest bushy-tailed woodrat ever. I decided to leave him in the trap overnight. I dubbed him “Bright-Eyes,” and headed off to bed, smug in my evolutionary superiority.
This morning, I loaded him into the truck and headed out deep into the woods to release him.
I took the cage out of the back of the truck and walked into the woods and opened the trap (I always wonder why they do not design have-a-heart traps with a release mechanism that does not require you to stay there holding the cage open while the angry animal comes out…) He shot out of the cage, took one look at me, and sprinted as fast as he possibly could around me and towards the truck, where he instantly leapt onto the axle and climbed up into the engine bay where he remained hidden despite my best efforts to find him…
So, to recap, I gave him dinner, took him for a nice drive in the country, and then brought him home. I now feel considerably less confident in my evolutionary superiority.
Round 2 to follow…
The Story of Making of the Greatest Music Video Ever from the Talented Animals Perspective
A few years ago I was in a meeting about an upcoming television show when the director took me aside and said to me, “My brother is in a band, and I have an idea for a great video that would need animals, could we get together and talk about this sometime?” I grinned and said sure, knowing that everybody in Los Angeles has a relative in a band, and the odds of anything ever coming of that conversation were slim…
It was over a year later that Trish called and suggested that they were getting close and would like to set up a meeting to brainstorm ideas. She casually mentioned that her brother Damian was the lead singer in the band OK Go, the most downloaded band in history, and I ‘might’ have seen a few of their previous videos like the ubiquitous treadmill dance…
Damian explained that they had been dreaming of this video for years, but that so far they had been unable to find an animal trainer with the right combination of skills, experience, and unfettered creativity to help them succeed. “We want to make a video in which the dogs are the stars, Damian said. “We want the band members to support the dogs and dance with the dogs, and we want it to be magical and charming and something that has never been done before. No canine ‘agility’, ‘freestyle,’ or ‘obedience.’ And no cutsey tricks or circus acts. Something new.
“No problem,” said I. “The trainers and animals at Talented Animals are the best in the world, and if it is physically possible, we can do it.”
For the next several hours we all sat around throwing out ideas and getting more and more excited: we had come up with some really great ideas that seemed achievable in a short of amount of time and we all thought would make a great video. Then Damian said something that sent a chill up my spine: “Oh, by the way, this will be done in one take, with no cuts…” Now for those of you who have never worked an animal on film, we use cuts and optimal camera angles for everything. They are the tools that let us succeed. Without cuts, the animals would have to all work at the same time with their trainers far away, and we would need to get each dog and trainer and bandmember and crewmember to nail every single behavior all in the same take. Not bloody likely.
For the next several hours I patiently explained why we needed cuts in this video. That we could do many more things with cuts than without, that we could nail the video in a few days because each dog would do their behavior in isolation and would only have to be perfect for 10 seconds at a time, but that 12 dogs and a goat could not all work together without a mistake for over three minutes straight. And Damian patiently explained that one of the things that defined this video was that it was not going to rely on cuts or tricks or camera magic—it was going to be a continuous dance without cuts and we would have to work within that constraint…
Over a year passed and we were together again for two intense weeks of choreography and planning. Three dogs and two trainers sat in a small warehouse in downtown LA with the band, and Trish the choreographer, for two weeks of nonstop, delightful brainstorming.
Another year passed as we all worked to get schedules and finances and everything else to come together, and finally in the spring of 2010 we were ready to get started.
Then we needed to select ideal dogs, find a location, and so much more… After looking at several options, we decided Oregon was the best place to film this video: beautiful, no sales tax, excellent production resources, inexpensive housing, perfect summer weather, less bureaucracy, and of course Talented Animals has one of its main facilities in Oregon.
The Oregon Film Office was extremely helpful in finding housing for the band, recommending skilled and flexible crewmembers, and best of all securing an amazing location to film the video!
We had only four weeks total to make the video from beginning to end: two weeks to train the dogs, one week to rehearse with the band, and one week to film it. Or so we thought! Once we started, we discovered that much of the first two weeks needed to be spent figuring out the trainer choreography! We had 12 trainers, two furniture movers, 12 dogs, one goat, 38 buckets, and a bunch of furniture, all of which needed to move around and be in the right place at the right time without anyone stepping in front of camera. We ended up with stuffed animals, spreadsheets, flow-charts, and recorded audio instructions, and for many hours we tried various configurations until we finally found one that worked. And then we practiced and practiced.
Of course, at the same time we were training the dogs. Most of the behaviors were not that challenging to teach, it was the transitions and the positioning that were complicated. And it was essential that the dogs were at all times having a truly joyous experience, so there were lots of breaks to go run in the field, take a nap, or splash in the pool.
Then Damian, Tim, Andy, Dan, and Trish arrived… Since we had been rehearsing without them we needed to learn how to work with band actually dancing their parts, and they needed to learn to work with the dogs. The band and Trish are about the most wonderful team to work with that you could ever imagine. They are creative, collaborative, generous, imaginative, kind, and just all around fun. They are also serious and consummate professionals. I hate to tarnish the “slacker-rockstar” trope, but these guys work harder than you can imagine, and bust their asses to make their videos perfect, and we had no intention of letting them down! We ran through the whole routine a couple of times for them with stuffed animals and then showed them the pieces with dogs, and while they loved 80% of it, there were several parts that were not quite as magical in execution as they had seemed in concept. So we began tweaking those parts. The challenge was that each person had a specific place to be at every moment, so each time we made a slight change there was a ripple effect. Suddenly people were on the wrong side of the stage, or could not get to where they needed to be to perform their next behavior, or were crashing into one another. It was chaos again! As the days ticked by, we kept making changes and the routine kept getting better and better. But we were running out of time, and while each behavior was solid, we could no longer string them all together. Finally we put them together, but at half speed, and then we began steadily increasing the speed.
With four days left, we got out the slate and tried our first official take at full speed and with everything in place. We made it about half way before a mistake. Then again, and again, and again. Many times we were virtually perfect, but we just got too far off the beat. Or we would get to the end and the dogs would be out of sync with each other. Or a dog would not have time to make it to his next position.
Take 49 was our first true success. It was not perfect, but we made it to the end without any real mistakes and still in sync with the song. “OH MY GOD,” Trish whispered breathlessly, “We did it…” And every person in the room finally exhaled!
After Take 49 we got better and better. Sure, we still all made mistakes, and there were more than a few dropped buckets, chair collisions, and the like.
At around Take 60, a new challenge arose. The dogs all knew the pattern perfectly, and absolutely loved doing it, and they started going too fast. They would rush ahead of the routine and run to their next behavior, and instead of getting behind the beat we were now starting to get ahead of it, or have dogs running onto the stage before it was their turn. Every few takes we would have to stop and do one at half speed to remind the dogs that they had to wait for the right moment before they could perform.
First thing on the morning of the third day, we began Take 72, and by about the midpoint, we could all feel that it was going really, really well. Each piece had been solid, and the rhythm and timing felt great. Everyone was fresh and looked good. This might be it….. As we ticked off each challenging moment it felt more and more like this might be it, and by the final scene when all the dogs were lying on tables next to the band, there was a silent vibration in the room. None of us were moving, or breathing, as Damian finally lifted his head and said, “We got it!” We had all agreed early on that no matter what happened, we would not erupt into a loud cheer as we did not want the energy of that to startle or alarm any of the dogs, and everyone honored that agreement, but it may have been the loudest silent cheer ever! And the dogs absolutely participated. We were all hugging, laughing, quietly jumping up and down, high-fiving, and hugging our dogs in absolute gratitude! They had done it, and we all knew it!
One of the biggest challenges of having no cuts in a video comes at the end when you have to pick! By the end, we had filmed for three and a half days and 124 takes. We had 30 complete takes, of which 10 were deemed excellent. And in each of these takes there were magical moments, but we could not concatenate them into one ideal, we had to discard every take except one, even knowing that in some of the discards were some of our very best work. That is painful! For a brief moment I thought about going to Damian one more time and trying to persuade him to cut them together into one supertake with all the best moments. But then I watched Take 72 again, and I saw exactly what Damian had imagined years earlier—one uninterrupted dance between OK Go and 12 amazing dogs. There was something so special about NOT having “cheated.” Somehow it came across on screen that this was real and had integrity. This three-and-a-half minutes of unedited truth allows the viewer to connect with the band and the dogs and essentially experience the dance exactly as it was, and that is far more genuine and touching than any perfectly-polished and cut-together special effects extravaganza.
We have been fortunate enough to work on many wonderful projects: independent art films, $100M blockbuster movies, and just about everything in between. We have worked with some of the great directors and actors in the world, and the most amazing animals. But I cannot think of any project we have enjoyed more than this one, nor any project of which we are more proud. I hope from the bottom of my heart that watching it brings you as much joy as it has brought all of us who worked together to create it!
Note: It is very difficult for music videos to generate any revenue. Making a video like this takes considerable resources: there are a lot of people and animals and equipment and props, travel, lodging, etc., and this comes directly out of the pockets of the bandmembers. So please, if you enjoyed this song, video, and dogs, purchase the album or go see Ok Go in concert.
For those who met Titan while he was staying with us, or watched his videos on this blog, here is a picture of him in his new home. He is doing great and has remained the sweetest and happiest tiger imaginable. He has a nice enclosure and a great pond, but nothing beats a nice swim in the pool on a warm summer day:
It is difficult to believe that ten years have passed since we raised the “Litter of the Law.”
We put together video and photos of a few highlights of their lives so far, and thought some of you might enjoy seeing it. It is simultaneously too long and too short, as it is difficult to capture ten years of the lives of eleven puppies without making a very, very long movie…
We have been caring for a young Bengal tiger named Titan. He was 8 weeks old and 15 pounds when he arrived, and around 22 pounds eight days later. He has around 500 pounds still to gain. He is on his way to a new and exciting life, and is here for some additional socialization. We are quite fortunate to have some wonderful colleagues who sometimes send animals here which allows us to keep learning and experiencing new individuals, and benefits the animals by exposing them to new experiences with trainers who are good at showing them that the world is a wonderful place. While with us, Titan will get to meet a wide variety of “other” animals and have different experiences. One aspect of training animals for film is that a wide variety of animals either live here or have visited, so all of our animals are quite welcoming towards visiting creatures. Last summer we had a baby camel in the kitchen and I opened the door to let the dogs say hello, and they walked right past her as though a camel in the kitchen was utterly expected…
I thought it might be interesting to share a few observations and images of his stay. Of course, this post will be mostly video since I am pretty sure most people would rather watch a tiger than read my observations!
Anytime you are raising an animal that will grow up to be easily capable of killing a human, the question of bite inhibition and boundaries becomes critical. If you raise a dog or cat that mouths too hard, jumps up, or is a little headstrong, it is not the end of the world. A lion, tiger, or grizzly that has those traits is very different. Not only is it dangerous, but it ends up having a much less rich life than it could have because it cannot be safely handled. At the same time, the process is slightly complicated because they are not domestic and are far less eager to please or willing to concede leadership. This makes for an interesting balance: you want to avoid conflict but at the same time you need situations to reinforce that you are the leader. I find that some people are far too permissive, and the animal learns that they can do whatever they want, and other people are far too proscriptive and the animal is essentially being told “no” all the time. I really try to set situations up where there are many obvious paths to success, so there are few rules, but then be absolutely clear about those rules. I also start right away by teaching a fun and positive game that is easy and gets a reward—usually put your feet on a mark. I make this a super fun game, so anytime the animal wants to do something I do not want I can tell him to go to the mark and suddenly he has a clear path to success.
Titan is an absolute gentleman about his bottle. He is good about keeping his feet on the ground, and if he does put a paw on you he is very gentle and keeps his claws retracted. At this point he is consuming both milk in a bottle and meat in a bowl. If anyone is curious, the milk is a combination of goats’ milk, Esbilac, vitamins, amino acids, probiotics, etc. And the meat is primarily turkey for now, along with some liver and other organ meats.
It is winter so we did not get to play in the pond, which is too bad since tigers are one of the few cats that enjoy water, and I would really like to play with him in the water… We did play in the bathtub a few times. (Of course the raccoon likes to bob for mussels and carrots in that bathtub, and was not sure a tiger was the best partner for that activity!) We did get a little time outdoors when the weather was reasonably nice:
At first blush, Titan was NOT impressed with the idea of a canine buddy. He had surprisingly strong prey drive for his age (even for a tiger!), so I decided to start by introducing him to a calm but large dog whom he could not possibly perceive as a snack. First I played with Titan for a good while so he was not too rambunctious, then I fed him a meal so he was not too hungry or cranky, and then I brought Ansel into the room while Titan was in his crate, and let them sniff for a little while before I opened the crate door. Titan came out, looked at Ansel, and hissed loudly. He then lay on his back, but let out a loud staccato roar. Ansel was impressed and left the room… I will not bore you with all the details, but I worked on this for the next couple of days, and now Titan loves all the dogs, including Ansel, and spends several hours a day wrestling and playing with them:
Because it was drizzly outdoors, we spent most of our time indoors, playing, training, eating, napping, working on agility, generally suffering the misery of captivity. We took Titan as one of the demo animals for a seminar on craniosacral osteopathy which is a great opportunity for socializing, and he played with lots of people and animals:
Titan is on his way now to a new home. He is a wonderful tiger, and we will miss him greatly.