THE CUTEST LEGEND IN TOWN: Winning Friends And The Influence Of Puppies

Posted June 30th, 2010 in Cocker Spaniels, Dogs, Friendship, Getting A New Dog, Puppies, Socializing Dogs by Glenn Plaskin


Lucy Snuggles Up To A New Baby In Town


When I got my new puppy Lucy this past May,  I never imagined that she would, among other things, be a passport to a brand-new social life. But that’s exactly what happened. I have more new human and canine friends than I ever imagined I would, my social life expanding exponentially due the the incredible cuteness of my puppy and her outgoing, friendly disposition.

Living in Battery Park City and going in and out of dog runs and walking Lucy along the Hudson River 8 times daily!–we bump into big dogs and small ones, seniors and babies, plus a cavalcade of kids all day long–each of them walking (or trotting) over to check Lucy out. She is a love magnet.

Lucy and her boyfriend, Stanley


They want to hold her; chase her; feed her; play with her; be photographed with her. And everybody leaves us with at least one little gift–a kiss from Lucy, who has mastered licking not only her food bowl but every human (and canine ) she sees.

I read that the window of the socialization of a puppy closes at about 16 weeks, and now that Lucy is four months old and it’s officially closed, I can report that my dog is fully and happily socialized. Whether it’s the sound of traffic or heliocopters, the motion of elevators or circular doors, crying babies, overly-aggressive adolescents, horses, dogs, or skateboards–NOTHING bothers Lucy. She’s game for anything and everything and always read to play.

She especially loves HUGE dogs, jumping up on them to kiss or bite their ears, or getting a grip on their long bushy tails, never letting go as she gets whirled around. Like a gymnast, she somersaults effortlessly, laughing all the way, her tongue merrily falling out of her mouth, breathless with excitement for more…and more and more! I’m thinking of sending her to doggie day care a few days a week just to tire her out!

Lucy's new boyfriend, Donny


Cesare and Lucy, fast new friends


In any case, I’m so pleased to have a happy dog–one who has no fears. Two of her favorite playmates are pit bulls Angie and Donny–both big and muscular compared to Lucy’s 10-pound frame. And yet, they’re incredibly gentle and patient with her as she assaults them with her puppyness, knawing at their ears, jumping up against them, rolling under them, and otherwise doing her level best to seduce them into play. It’s a happy thing to see.

I hope you all enjoy seeing these pictures of Lucy with her many new friends, who never forget her name.

“Hi LUCY!” is the refrain I hear, over and over again, on every one of our walks. Just like my perspicacious dog KATIE, Lucy is quickly becoming a neighborhood fixture, the cutest legend in town.

Lucy likes horses too--especially police horse Lee


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Straight From The Heart: Recording the KATIE Audio Book

Posted June 28th, 2010 in Audio Books, Coping With Grief, Digital Book Publishing, Friendship by Glenn Plaskin

In the days when my first book about Vladimir Horowitz was published, there wasn’t much variety in the final product offered to the public. First you had your hardcover edition, a year later a trade paperback, and that was that.

But when my upcoming book KATIE: Up And Down The Hall is published this September, it will not only be released in a hardcover edition (including 8 pages of color photographs), but also  in digital form, available as a Kindle edition and as an unabridged audiobook.

When I was asked to record the audiobook I had my reservations. After all, not being a professional voiceover artist, I questioned whether or not I’d be able to do an effective job of it. But in the end, I couldn’t imagine somebody else being “me”–so I ultimately decided to tackle a new learning curve and do it myself.

A day before the session, I suddenly (maybe it was nerves) began losing my voice, which was kind of raspy and sore. I worriedly thought, the publisher is on deadline, the studio time is booked, but how am I going to be able to speak for hours on end? But never underestimate the therapeutic power of hot tea, honey, and lemon (plus Sudafed and Mucinex thrown in to relieve congestion–which really works.)

In short, the show must go on, and so it did during a three-day recording marathon at Hachette Book Group which lasted a combined total of 24 hours. I have to say that I wound up having the most fantastic–and cathartic–experience, reading (or performing as the producer would say) the entire manuscript of KATIE.

As you’ll soon see, the book is an emotional roller coaster–with many entertaining ups and some difficult-to-read downs–due to the nature of the story, which includes everything from Hollywood high times to the terrors of 9/11.

New Friends Suzanne and Tommy

While writing can be an isolating, somewhat lonely profession, recording this audio book sure wasn’t. It was a team effort all the way and really fun–the technical process of it made so effortless thanks to the highly skilled team assembled–the congenial Hachette producer Jon Klemm, director Suzanne Toren (who was sensitively meticulous in everything she suggested) and the incredibly efficient sound engineer Tommy Harron.

By the time I read one of the most amusing chapters of the book, Prancing With The Stars–we were all having a great time. In this part of the book, I recount how my dog Katie interacted with the great Katharine Hepburn, Bette Midler, Farrah Fawcett, Ivana Trump, and the infamous Leona Helmsley. (You’ll hear my Kate Hepburn voiceover!)

As we pushed past this chapter and moved into more serious ones, I think we all began to feel closer to one another. Being in a recording studio for so many hours–you become friendly pretty quickly–and I can’t tell you how emotionally supportive both Suzanne and Tommy were during our long hours together.

Why would I mention this? Because reading this book was, at times, harrowing for me. There was one chapter in particular when one of the main characters of my book dies–and I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to read it. I tried it out at home and I simply couldn’t get through it. Every time I read, I choked up, and was hoping that the same thing wouldn’t happen in the studio.

The Star Of The Book Lounging At Home, what a face!

But it did. After a paragraph or so, I couldn’t read the narrative fluently, my voice all choked up. “Take your time,” Tommy said softly. “And take some deep breaths.” Suzanne was equally kind and patient:  “We have as much time as you need. Even if we record this a few sentences at a time, we can do it.”

And so we did. They both got me through it. At times, though, we had to stop completely. The nature of what I was describing was painful to me and I couldn’t stop the tears. At first, I felt embarrassed at this flood of emotion happening in front of relative strangers–but Suzanne and Tommy are strangers no longer. . It’s amazing how quickly people bond when they’re engaged in a joint effort, much less an emotionally-charged one, all of us brought together, most intimately, as a team.

I already miss my new friends!–and wish our recording could have gone on for longer. I guess I”ll have to write another book.

In the end, I have to admit that I surprised myself. I read all 72,000 words from start to finish. One thing is for sure–I’m telling you the story in my own voice, in my own way, and it’s straight from the heart.

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5 Secrets To Preparing The Way For Your N E W Dog!

Posted June 17th, 2010 in Dog Equipment, Dogs, Friendship, Getting A New Dog, Hypoallergenic Dogs by Glenn Plaskin

Regal Katie

Losing a dog is devastating–and exhausting.

For me, those last months with Katie were heartbreaking as I helplessly watched my formerly-energetic dog deteriorating. She lost her hearing and vision and her ability to walk due to painful arthritis, all of it making her increasingly disoriented and depressed.

Finally, after fifteen years of companionship, more than 20,000 walks, and countless moments of pleasure, fun and adventure, my incredible dog passed away.

At first, I was numb and almost relieved that it was over, that she was no longer in pain. But waves of sadness often swept over me, in and out like the tides of the ocean. Some days were better than others. Like so many of us after losing a dog, I desperately needed a CHANGE. Fortunately, I quickly distracted myself with new work, leaving the country to write a new book in Fiji and Australia. This was therapeutic and healing.

The View From My Office In Fiji

But after about a year, I began to think about possibly getting a new dog—though I never did. I would periodically visit animal shelters or call breeders—but I never made a move. I just couldn’t–and never really understood why. Maybe I wasn’t ready to let go of Katie. Maybe I was enjoying my newfound freedom. The reasons don’t matter. I simply wasn’t ready. I discovered that some people are ready for a new dog after a few weeks or months, while others, like me, take years. So I funneled my energy into new friends and projects—and enjoyed the time away from a dog—never letting go of Katie’s memory.

But then, a few months ago, feeling the hunger for a puppy—I finally found the perfect one for me–Lucy!, pictured to the right with one of

Lucy loves babies!

her new friends in the neighborhood. From the first minute I met her, when I picked her up and she snuggled in for a kiss–it was love! And nothing beats that puppy smell.

While Lucy, like Katie, is a cocker spaniel and blonde, their looks and personality are completely different. Katie was somewhat introverted, preferring people to dogs; while Lucy is an Alpha extrovert, wild for dogs and adventure. For me, this contrast has been a perfect way to start all over again.

For those of you who have lost a dog and want to find a new one after the grieving process has ended, the subject of yesterday’s Blog, maybe some of the suggestions below will be helpful to you, as they have been to me.

(1)Don’t Try To Replace Your Dog: Just as you could never replace a family member, it’s impossible to replace a dog. A dog has a soul and a personality and is entirely unique, no two alike. So give yourself time to recover from the loss before rushing out to get a new one. Consider a different breed, or a female if you had a male, or at least a different color. But even if you get the exact same breed you had, you can’t replicate what you had. And if you attempt to replace a dog, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment or heartache. So take it easy. Take your time. You’ll know when the moment is right.

(2)Start The Interview–Following Hunches and Intuitions: Once you’ve decided you want a new dog—begin the process of narrowing down your options. Do you want a puppy or a dog already housebroken? Remember, puppies are babies, incredibly labor intensive requiring 6-8 walks daily. Perhaps you want to rescue a dog by using a site like Petfinder or visiting your local ASPCA or Humane Society. There are millions of dogs who have been abandoned or abused desperate for good homes. The secret is INTERVIEWING—seeing dogs at shelters, at dog shows, even borrowing dogs of friends. Take them out on walks, try them out for size, following your hunches and intuitions. It’s like falling in love—you’ll know it when you feel it.

(3) Evaluate Your Lifestyle: The size, temperament, physical needs, and personality of a dog  should correspond to your temperament as a dog owner. If you’re athletic, find a high-energy dog. If you’re extremely neat, find one that doesn’t shed much. If you’re allergic to fur, find a Hypoallergenic breed such as a Poodle or a Havanese. Your dog will be lucky or lonely depending upon your lifestyle. If you’re at work ten hours a day, you may want to choose a more sedentary breed; if you work at home, anything goes. All of your family’s hobbies, activities, personalities, and schedules should be evaluated. In the end, there’s nothing sadder than a neglected dog sitting at home alone. . Whether it’s a neighborhood child, a dog walker, a play group, or doggie day care, find a way to make it work so that both you and you dog are happy and unstressed.

(4) Prepare For The Homecoming: Make a detailed list of everything you’re going to need for your dog’s homecoming–and buy it NOW. When you walk in the door for the first time, you want everything in its place, ready to go. This will reduce stress. So, though you’ve done it before, don’t forget you’ll need: a wire or plastic dog crate; a baby gate; an exercise/play pen (which conveniently places boundaries on your dog and allows them to play safely); easily washable, hard-to-destroy bedding material; a leash and collar; an ID Tag with your phone number to wear on the collar; a collection of high-quality safe chew toys—Nylabones, rubber balls, stuffed squeak boys; quality-brand dry dog food; treats; and Wee Wee Pads. Not least important, dog-proof your home: If your yard is fenced,check for openings and escape routes; if it’s unfenced, never allow your dog off the leash. Inside, rugs, electrical cords, sharp edges of cabinets, running shoes, and anything small and chewable are prime targets—so either cover it over, pick it up, roll it up, but keep it out of your dog’s mouth until your dog is more mature.

(5) Be Patient With Yourself—And Your Dog: The memories of your former dog are most likely focused on the good times—when your dog was acclimated, happy, and trained. But we’re starting over! So start with the right attitude. The first weeks of your new dog’s life with you will be frenetic and demanding. There may even be times when you wonder if getting a dog was such a good idea. I wanted to give my puppy away after 2 days! But the bonding process happens quickly if you’re patient and keep your sense of humor. And remember: The extra effort at the beginning will pay off if you’re calm and steady. Remember: You’re the boss. You set the pace and establish the boundaries.

Lucy's New Friend, Our Neighbor Hugh

If you’re in the process of finding or adopting another dog, let me know how you’re doing and what other tips might be useful.

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How Can We Recover From The Death Of Our Dog?

Posted June 16th, 2010 in Coping With Grief, Dogs, Friendship, Losing Your Pet by Glenn Plaskin

In our neighborhood, brimming with more than 800 dogs, my cocker spaniel, Lucy and I, bump into our regulars daily–from Herman the Great Dane and Stanley the Dachshund to Sammy the Bulldog, Berta the Standard Poodle, and Captain the Fox Terrier, among numerous wagging tails.

In recent days, three of our canine neighbors have suddenly disappeared from the Esplanade of Battery Park City, which runs alongside the Hudson. One day they were out walking, the next they were gone.

Their owners are devastated. To them, their pet was more child than dog.

Sammy’s owner, Ben, has lost 15 pounds. He stopping shaving and has hardly left the house, in avoidance mode, uncomfortable at receiving condolences. His dog Sammy, at age 17, had survived far longer than most dogs ever do, but it’s never enough, the heartbreak no less when a dog dies at such a grand age.

The vacuum left behind is profound. What could be sadder than putting away your dog’s leftover toys, their food and water bowls, or their collar and chain? And what could be emptier than a bed that’s suddenly bigger than it should be, only the ghost of their spirit lingering in the room. Little wonder that Ben feels despondent and depressed. All in all, losing a dog is simply heartbreaking. Many say they’d almost rather lose an unwanted relative!–than their canine companion.

I’m sure there are many of you who have experienced the death of  your family pet. The bond between owner and dog is a profoundly close one. When a dog looks up at you with adoring eyes, tail wagging, or falls asleep in your arms—there’s nothing more blissful. Our canine companions are like little kids that never grow up. . They need our protection and love—and give it back in spades.

Some nights, my dog, Lucy, is propped up against the pillows, staring into my eyes with wonder as I massage her stomach and stroke her ears. The feeling of total contentment is mutual. In fact, it’s been proven that dogs reduce stress and lower your blood pressure, creating a sensation of total well-being and peace .

And when that bond is broken by the inevitability of death, nothing hurts more.

I can tell you that losing my dog KATIE was one of the saddest moments of my life. Just pick up my book, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, and read the chapter titled Nocturne, the final good-bye.

On the last day of Katie’s life—though she was blind and deaf and barely able to walk, very much in pain—she still had the strength to let me know she loved me, licking my face one last time. And then, cradled in my arms at the Vet and breathing peacefully…she was sent to heaven. I bent over her, in tears, and nearly choking as I stroked her beautiful head for one last time, barely able to pull myself away.

The devastating pain of that moment, even years later, never completely goes away, just as our 15-year bond never ends.

But I’ve learned to concentrate less on the loss and more on the gift that was given to me. I always remind myself: Our dogs want us to be happy. They live for it. And it would be painful for them to sense, even in death, that they were causing us pain. Knowing this, more than anything, was one secret to recovering.

For those who may be experiencing the emptiness and loss I did, I want to share with you some secrets to feeling the grief and recovering from it.

Go Ahead and Cry: Being stoic in the face of profound loss never helps.  So acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it. Instead of bottling up feelings of sadness, let them out—and let them go. No matter how old you are, man or woman, young or old, crying is cathartic. It reduces stress and eases the loss. It did for me.

Tap Into Your Memories: I’d rather celebrate the memory of my dog than avoid it. So I keep a photo of her in my wallet and carry her engraved name tag on my key chain. Find your own way to remember. Write a tribute. Frame a photo. Compose a song. Take out your scrapbooks or watch videos, reliving the indelible moments that defined your life together. And talk about your dog with sympathetic friends and family who understand your loss, telling funny stories and recounting adventures. You’ll find yourself smiling.

Plan A Memorial: Create an event—a funeral, a ceremony, a party–something that celebrates your dog. Inviting all your friends and family, make it a personalized memorial related to who your dog loved, and what he or she liked to do. When Katie passed away, because of my classical music background, and because she was well-known in the neighborhood, I planned  two memorial piano recitals in my home, inviting 30 friends (and their DOGS!) to attend. I had a big carrot cake (my dog’s favorite) with her picture on it, candlelight, and photos of her around the room. Our local Pastor even came over and said a prayer. It was beautiful and fun—a fitting tribute to Katie’s spirit. Others choose to memorialize their dogs with a headstone or urn or a donation to a dog-related charity. Do whatever feels right to you—but do something special.

Reach Out To The Experts If You Need To: Don’t be embarrassed or too proud to get help. The loss of an animal, whether due to death, or being lost or stolen, is devastating and traumatic. For kids, losing a pet may be their first experience with death. A child may blame himself, his parents, or the Vet for not saving the pet. He may feel guilty, depressed, or frightened. Expressing your own grief reassures the child that sadness is OK. A therapist is another option, one that helped me. You can also ask your veterinarian, local humane society, the Delta Society, or your local animal shelter about pet loss hotlines or online chat groups. Not least important, give surviving pets lots of TLC, as they may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, or suffer lethargy. Maintain a normal routine. It’s good for them and for you.

Welcome Recovery: Much as we think it never will, the pain eventually passes and you’re going to feel better. The shock, depression, and emptiness are going to fade. But in the days following the loss of your pet, look after yourself—exercise, eat well, see your friends, keep active, take up a new interest, and indulge in small pleasures. One little thing that helped me was re-arranging my home, moving the furniture, changing the colors, adding plants, creating a new environment for a different life. Shift things around. Craft your recovery your way, but carve out a new path that fosters increased energy and optimism, without ever forgetting the joyful spirit of your dog. Doing this will pave the way for the next stage—getting a NEW dog.

Don’t Try To Replace Your Dog: Some people are ready for a new dog after days or months, while others, like me, take years. In any case, just as you could never replace a family member, it’s impossible to replace a dog. Give yourself time to recover from the loss before rushing out to get a new one. Consider a different breed, or a female if you had a male, or at least a different color. You can’t replicate what you had. And if you attempt to replace a day, you maybe be setting yourself up for disappointment, for every soul and spirit is different. Don’t be rushed. Take it easy. Take your time.

Do any of you have any other ideas or tips for recovering from the loss of a dog? I’d love to hear from you.

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