Hollywood Dogs- Want to train a camera-ready dog?

Mr. Wuzzle caught the eye of a dog talent scout.

Dogs on television or in movies are a marvel to watch. They seem to ‘act’ on their own, with no visible help or cues from anyone, but this is not magic. These dogs know how to take cues from a distance, often with only hand signals. The camera only shows a limited view, and the handler is right there on the set just off camera, asking for commands and tricks.

Consider Mr. Wuzzle, a canine actor in the mid-eighties that was discovered on the street in Manhattan by a dog talent scout. In the heyday of big corporate advertising budgets and fast-talking ‘Mad Men’ in slick suits. Mr. Wuzzle became the official spokesdog of Gaines burgers and biscuits, getting primped  in front of the camera like a spoiled supermodel.

If your dog is a people-pleaser and a treat vaccum, you can start working toward his debut with these tips:
Target training– teach your dog to ‘Touch’. I like to use a Post-it pad in my palm. (Later, we’ll tear a Post-it off the pad and place it on another object we want the dog to touch.) Now place a few meaty or cheese treats on a table or counter. Offer the pad about twelve inches from your dog’s nose, and say, “Touch!” He should be curious enough to bring his nose to it. Immediately say, “Yes!” and place a treat right in his mouth. Do this several times until he is reaching for the Post-it. He may try to skip that step and just stare at you for treats, but wave the Post-it pad at least twelve inches away from him until he touches it. Be careful not to push it up to his nose; he must reach out for it. After five or six successful touches, stop for now and pick it up later the same day, always before a meal when he is hungry.
Distance work– Brush up on your basic commands and then try them from farther away. Tie your dog securely to a tree or post and walk out in front of him about six feet, so the tie is behind him. Ask for a simple “Sit”. Help him comply by sweeping one hand up from your thigh to about your eye level. Praise him but don’t move toward him. Try the “Down” command by doing the opposite. Instead of bringing your hand up, bring it down to your ankle level.
Hand signals– Start with a simple, “Watch!” command. Grab a tasty treat and let your dog have a sniff. Say, “Watch” and bring that hand up to your face and point to your nose. When he looks, lightly clap your hands together up at your chest level and give him the treat. Do this twice and on the third try, do it silently. 

Now, try to combine the distance work concept with the hand signals. Tie your dog and walk about eight feet out in front of him. Ask for “Watch” silently, with only your treat-filled hand pointing up to your nose. If he looks, smile and clap quietly. Move in and treat him.

Stay tuned for the next post, when we will take these concepts and teach two camera-ready tricks. I’ll also give you advice directly from a New York animal agent. In the meantime, keep your practice sessions short and sweet, and your attitude happy. Soon your little wage-earner could get his fifteen minutes, or more.

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Want to get healthy? Your dog can help.

Let's walk the walk

Exercise reduces stress, and what better motivator than those big eyes pleading for a walk? British researchers surveyed 5,000 participants and found that dog owners exercised up to eight hours per week more than non-dog owners frequenting health clubs. 86% of the dog owners were happy to spend time walking their dogs, while only 16% of gym-goers enjoyed their workouts. ( Wait, I love wiping a stranger’s sweat off of the abs machine!)

Other studies have shown benefits of dog ownership to include reduced stress and lowered blood pressure. Interaction with animals has been shown to lessen symptoms of depression, too. All this adds up to a tail-wagging trainer that melts off extra calories and can put a smile on your face.

Taking a walk with your dog might seem like a chore, but a simple walk can unleash benefits you haven’t even considered. Studies have shown that dog owners get more exercise than non- dog owners, and benefit from lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Walking reduces stress, and provides social benefits, too.

I see the benefits of dog-human interaction every day in my training practice. Your dog is a built-in exercise machine. Dogs should be walked two to three times per day, which releases endorphins and increases circulation for dog and owner, and burns calories. Leash walking keeps your dog calmer at home, too.

There are social benefits, too. Often, when I am out training with a client and dog, people will approach and start a conversation. We’ve even made play dates with other dog owners.

Dog parks are great places to meet like-minded dog owners, but don’t just plop on a bench. Keep moving to work off calories and stress.

The recently completed PPET study (People and Pets Exercising together) conducted at Northwestern Memorial Hospital concluded that dog owners and their dogs can successfully lose weight together. The study found that dogs provided support and motivation, and even initiated scheduled walks. And exercising with your dog is not limited to just walking. Take a training class in obedience or agility to get you both moving. If you are in a mellow mood, consider Dog Yoga, or Doga, for a new-age, touchy-feely activity you can both enjoy.
Just keep your dog’s tail away from the sandlewood incense.

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Home for the Holidays- Please Wipe Your Paws

To Grandmother's house we go!

Expecting family this holiday season? Welcoming a caravan of relatives can be a chore or a joy, depending on your point of view. When relatives insist on bringing ‘Fluffy’, their eighty pound labradoodle, your to-do list just got longer.

You love Aunt Jane, but you know the source of that yellow stain on your area rug originated from her beloved Fluffy last Easter. After all, he looked guilty when you pointed it out. Aunt Jane did not.

Make some preparations that will smooth out the ‘ruff’ spots when welcoming four-legged visitors.

1. Puppy-proof the guest room. Take up that area rug and replace it with a large bathmat. Place a folded blanket on top for extra luxury. Fluffy will be comfortable there and sends the message that the dog should not sleep on the bed. And, it’s all washable.

2. Provide a containment system. A gate or large crate to keeps Fluffy in the guest room if you all decide to go out to dinner or a movie. Leaving a dog loose in an unfamiliar house can set off separation anxiety, and he may chew your best couch pillows or scratch at the door in frustration.

3. Deliver some pet perks. Place dog bowls in the room, one brimming with fresh water, plus a chew bone and a treat or two. The dog’s owner will be touched and you’ll have a furry friend.

4. Give the dog ample exercise and places to relieve himself. A tired dog is a contented dog, but be prepared to grab the leash yourself if the dog’s owner is busy telling those same stories you heard last year. Heck, going on a walk with Fluffy gives you a chance to ditch all that togetherness for a few minutes and commune with nature.

5. Encourage good canine manners by leashing the dog indoors. This keeps him under the watchful eye of the handler and prevents exploring (and urine marking).

6. If your human visitor refuses to observe a few simple rules and thinks their dog’s rowdy behavior is ‘cute’, keep in mind the pet is not at fault. Take the owner aside and have a friendly chat. You may encounter a deaf ear, however, as advising pet parents can be like giving advice on child rearing: it may simply be ignored.

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What a nice ‘Guy’

Skinny, smelly and happy on day 1

I usually went the same way to work each day, straight east on Webster Street just five blocks from my house. The dogs would hear my car pull up and undertake raucous barking that shook the walls. That particular day I left early and decided to treat myself to a bagel and coffee, which took me the other way, north two blocks to Fullerton and then east. Timing is everything, and as I approached my turn I spied a tall and regal-looking Rottweiler trotting up the sidewalk, on busy Clybourn Avenue, head high and leashless. My smile soon straightened itself out when I could see no human belonging to him. A few briefcase-toting commuters headed to the train gave a wide berth to this imposing presence in their midst. I crossed several lanes of traffic to turn after him, and because he was making good time, I zoomed ahead and parked. My Rottweiler, Maura, sat up straight in the back seat and made disapproving noises when she noticed the change in our routine.

I locked the car and looked back down the sidewalk. I saw not a strong and healthy wayward pet but an extremely thin, cloudy-eyed dog busily inhaling a piece of moldy bread from the filthy gutter.

I swallowed and approached slowly, body turned sideways and hand extended.

“Hi, big guy! Hey, sweetie!” No response, just sniffing the gutter for crumbs. His fur lay matted on his body in clumps. This dog had been on his own for some time.

I called him again, louder, but still nothing. Was he just ignoring me? I realized I had the bagel bag still in my hand. If he was as starved as he looked, he’d go for this in a big way. I waved the bag back and forth and his nose came up twitching. He saw the movement of the bag and looked at it, startled, then up at my face. He hurried over to me, eyes wide, and I saw his short tail moving steadily like a metronome. Left, right, left, right. His gaunt, gray face looked almost happy as I tore a huge piece off and dropped it  down his throat without preamble. He was too frail to jump into the car but wagged at my dog when she gave him a good sniffing.

I locked the car and the three of us ambled the two blocks to my training school and were welcomed with mind-numbing barking. I looked at the new dog and noticed that his eyes were scanning the room but his ears did not lay back in reaction to the sound. I made him a bed in a large crate and put him in the office room by himself. He smacked his lips repeatedly at the sight of a brimming bowl of water and a large lump of canned food. He dove in and I got to work in the back.

Ninety minutes later I slid the heavy steel door and peeked into the front office. He was down and on his side, looking deflated and limp. I called him, and then clapped my hands loudly. After a terrified minute, I noticed his chest slowly expanding and contracting with each deep breath. His funky scent filled my nostrils. I touched the cage and wiggled it slightly. The startled dog nearly leaped up, eyes wide, but as he stood and blinked at me, the smile broke out on his face and his tail did the left, right, left thing again. He leaned against the side of the metal cage heavily, causing it to list and clank but he didn’t seem to care.

I dialed my husband and took a big breath when he answered. It all came out in a rush:
“I found an old, skinny Rottweiler on the street and I’m keeping him!”

Minutes later he arrived at the school and helped me bathe the dog. The fur came out in handfuls and all the ribs showed prominently, but the tail did the metronome thing the entire time. His old legs wobbled in the rinse cycle and we laid him on a towel in the sun. The over-ripe smell was still there, and I tried to inspect one ear only to find it nearly glued to his head with pus and mucous. We wrinkled our noses and carefully cleaned it with tons of gauze, worried about his reaction. The dog merely grunted and leaned into the pressure, one leg reflexively kicking.

Back in his new digs, he charmed customers picking up their own dogs at the day’s end. Comments like, “Oh, what a handsome guy!” and “What a sweet guy!” caused his tail to beat time, but only when he made eye contact. We did some very non-scientific experiments to determine his hearing capabilities. We shook a box of biscuits, rang the doorbell and dropped an encyclopedia covering dog maladies (including deafness) on our concrete floor. No reaction. It hardly mattered. He knew how to make noise. After a week of learning our feeding schedule, he would make his needs known with head lifted and big, resounding barks, one at a time in a rhythm with his metronome tail. We’d make serious faces and shake a finger to discourage him, but he’d just smile broadly and wag his left, right tail. We went on adventures to the beach and forest preserve, and if he trotted off to investigate a scent, my husband or I would race ahead of him to wave him down.

He acquired his name three days into his tenure with us when a couple with four children came in to see the training school. They ooed and aahhed and I popped the latch on his cage so he could greet them. I gave my cautionary tips about proper greeting etiquette, but they ignored me and instantly surrounded the dog until all I could see was feet. I went around to his front end, ready to rescue a stressed dog but saw only closed eyes and a rapturous grin.

I briefly recounted his story. One of the kids exclaimed, “He’s such a nice guy!” His mother smiled at me.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

“Guy”. It fit him perfectly.

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How I met my ‘Mac’- more stories from 20 years of dog training

My lovely shepherd mix, ‘Bella’, had left us over six months earlier at the age of eight. Her illness progressed and we had to say good-bye. The hefty emotional toll numbed us for some time, but gradually I got the urge to start looking for an adoptable dog. After all, a dog trainer shouldn’t be without a dog for too long.

My husband was not keen on getting another dog, but I began to quietly look around. Volunteering at local shelters was a habit of mine, and I sought a high-drive, lean and leggy type that could be a real show-off for training demonstrations. Something fast and intense that would need exercise and a structured environment to thrive.

Then, the news broke. Michael Vick, then quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, was arrested for dog fighting. Not just dog fighting, but for running such a large operation on his Virginia property that the sheer acreage covered more ground than some Civil War battles, and for killing his unwanted dogs in hideous ways.

These news stories attracted comments from dog lovers that advocated creative and extreme forms of retaliation for the man who claimed these were “immature acts”. Dog lovers everywhere had that wild, thousand-yard stare, and cutting one off in the supermarket checkout line was instantly regrettable.

I wandered into our local Humane Society later that same week, where Vick’s arrest had everyone on edge. It was unusual to see so many puppies in the adoption room, and I eyed a fox-faced, dainty mix. But there was a new dog there, chesty as an Oktoberfest barmaid and clearly no puppy. You could serve dinner on his broad head. His white bib featured lopsided gray dapples, and he stamped his feet and smiled broadly when I walked in. From across the room, I could see he had big, round eyes, one partially blue, like an oversized, variegated marble. It did not take a breed expert to see he was some kind of ‘bully’ mix; a pit bull, bull terrier or American bulldog, and with a crazy eye to boot. This type of dog was in the spotlight, and not in a good way, because of the Vick case.

A shelter employee walked through and we chatted for a few. I assumed that people would line up to help this type of dog now, but the employee set me straight.

“Nobody is looking at him. Except, of course, the people that should not have him.”
To punctuate this, three young men strolled in, their pants belted across their crotches and tent-like shirts hanging to mid-thigh. As if auditioning for a Guy Ritchie movie, they sported chains, tattoos, shaved heads and one had an enormous gold marijuana leaf banging his chest from an oversized gold chain; perhaps a stoner’s ode to Flavor Flav. The employee rolled her eyes and hastily left. The dog danced and wagged at this intimidating group, and they cooed at him through the chain link of his run. The smaller dogs in the other runs sat back on their haunches and eyed these guys suspiciously, but not the big dog.

“He looks game!” one of them exclaimed. I turned on a big smile.

“Looking to adopt? Lots of great choices here.”

“Is he fixed?” asked Flavor Flav guy, looking me up and down.

“Of course,” I assured them. “The overpopulation of these breeds is what is killing them.” I was about to quote some statistics about pit bulls in shelters, but they walked away in disgust.

The employee came back. “Our standards for adopting these breeds are so strict, it will be nearly impossible to him to get out”.

I was acquainted with the interim shelter director, an affable and knowledgeable guy who was a valuable part of our Hurricane Katrina pet rescue team from two years earlier, when we all went to the Gulf coast and sweated like coal miners in 100 degree heat for a week. I complimented him on putting this breed of dog up for adoption, when many shelters would be reluctant to do so.

“Crazy story”, he said, leaning his large and muscular frame back in his chair. “Guy comes in to give him up, asks for the director, so they call me over. He drops at my feet, sobbing, and begs for the dog’s life. Tells me the dog is sweet, never abused, family pet, blah, blah. I assure him we will give him every chance, and he leaves. The dog is so upset that he escapes his run twice, and each time it takes us over an hour traipsing through the back forty to catch him.”

We discussed his chances for adoption in a room full of cute puppies and concluded he would be there awhile.

“This Vick thing doesn’t help either”, he said. “People assume he is a problem dog, so they pass him by.”

I offer to take the dog home for one night, train him, socialize him with neighbors, and write a story about him to put in the ‘featured dog of the day’ area.

“What’s his name?” I ask.

“Kilo. But we changed it to ‘Kudos’.”

Ah.

‘Kudos’ rode home with me, calmly snuffling out the window. I called my husband with the plan, and his sigh was answer enough.

The dog really had his day at my house. He met neighbors, kids, a dog or two and took it all in stride, even posing for pictures. My plan was to show his ability to fit in with a loving family and all that entails. That night, he placed his massive head on my husband’s knee as his eyes drooped.

“You know”, Mark mused, “if I was looking for a dog, this would be the type of personality I would like”.

The door had cracked open, and ‘Kudos’ had wedged one paw in.

As promised, I took him back the next day armed with photos and a story in bold type. The staff put these on a large easel and featured ‘Kudos’ in the lobby for a week. I went back the next Saturday.

“Anyone looking at him?” The answer was negative. I informed my husband at home and got a thoughtful grunt. This went on for two more weeks and I saw the dog acquire some stress around his eyes and shed a few pounds. The director asked me to foster him again, and I agreed.

At home, the dog moved in as if it had been forever, and my husband began to pet his strong head when he thought I wasn’t looking. ‘Kudos’ wisely targeted Mark for cute displays of play and affection, and made us both smile. My wheels began to turn. I believed I could change people’s minds about these breeds because of my status as a dog trainer and good relations with news reporters. I began to throw these hints in Mark’s direction.

Three days later, Mark was taking a walk toward the beach and encountered our street’s sweet, elderly couple, the Wilson’s, moving slowly and carefully in the noon sun.

“Hey, we met your new dog!” the man told Mark. His wife beamed.

“Oh, no”, said Mark. “We’re just fostering him temporarily.”

After a short and awkward silence, the man straightened up a bit and cleared his throat.

“Mark, we may be of very advanced age, but we are not so old and decrepit that we don’t know that is your new dog.” Mrs. Wilson nodded and beamed.

Mark came into our house in a rush, slightly out of breath.

“Hey, the Wilson’s’ think ‘Kudos’ is our new dog!” he scoffed.

Another awkward silence. I willed my lip to tremble and eyes to mist.
I didn’t have to say a word.

“Oh, man.” Mark’s shoulders slumped.

“You won’t regret it!” I exclaimed. ‘Kudos’ wagged and danced and that was that.

I hurried back to the shelter and informed the director that I’d like to adopt ‘Kudos’. He gaped at me.

“You’re not pulling my leg?”

I laughed and assured him I was in my right mind. He flipped through the adoption papers and tossed about fifteen pages of releases, insurance forms, lengthy questionnaires and the like.

“Just sign and put your address here, I’ll fill in the rest.” Before I left, ten or twelve staff members came out to hug me, and then they hustled me out as if I might change my mind.

After much training and socializing, ‘Kudos’, renamed ‘Mac’ as befitting his manly countenance, became a model citizen, certified by the AKC and later becoming a TDI certified Therapy Dog. During visits to nursing homes, he rests his heavy head in the laps of wheelchair bound residents and stays that way as long as they wish it. So much for the intense ball of dynamite I had been seeking, but we’d soon find out that ‘Mac’ was fully capable of warp speed. More on his first days with me in my next post.

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Morning Zoo- more stories from 20 years of dog training

Australian cattle dog- shelters often feature purebreds for adoption

Doggy daycare was hot. News channels beat a path to my training school, microphones thrust into inquisitive canine faces. A few reporters asked quasi-serious questions about the business side of dog training and daycare while others climbed into crates and panted for the camera. It soon occurred to me to use these fifteen minutes of fame to achieve positive change.

This phrase, ‘achieve positive change’, was a favorite of the new Chicago Animal Control director, Dr. Gene Mueller. The cavernous facility saw up to 30,000 animals come through each year, and before Dr. Mueller arrived, the vast majority did not leave through the front door. The new director was a breath of fresh air and made his mark early in his tenure. He welcomed volunteers, reached out to rescue groups, filled the adoption rooms with dogs and cats and held staff accountable. I promised him a TV spot on a popular Morning Zoo style news show, hosted by leggy and lovely anchors who were sharp as tacks and energetic as thoroughbreds, along with a goofy weatherman and a macho sports guy. Woe to the slow-witted guest operating on less than five cups of coffee.

I selected two dogs from the shelter to join us on the air; an Australian cattle dog with a sleek black mask and a very large and hairy mutt with a wolfhound head and a kind, open face. They would grab the viewers’ attention and take some heat off of a very nervous but excited Dr. Mueller.

We arranged to meet at the studio at 5:30AM. My assistant nimbly handled both dogs, armed with deli meat stuffed into a soggy pocket. I sat in the make-up chair, primped by pros and loving every minute. Dr. Mueller leaned in, rubbing his eyes.

“They really tape this early?” he asked sleepily. The make-up girl blinked at him as he wandered off in search of coffee.

My stomach clenched when I realized I had not told him it was a live show. My thoughts raced. Maybe it won’t be obvious. Maybe the anchors will have mercy. Maybe a meteor will crash into the set and save us from ruin. I stood up and looked at my fierce and fabulous reflection.

“It will be fine”, I told myself.

Five minutes later we were standing offset peering around a black curtain, watching the weather forecast. Dr. Mueller was shifting from foot to foot and talking to himself, but otherwise holding his own. At the commercial break, the producer flew over to us and whispered importantly.

“We’re live in three minutes”, she punctuated this with three fingers held inches from our faces.

“Let’s keep the energy up!” she hissed, and darted away.
I smiled at Dr. Mueller. His lips were moving, but no sound came out.

“It will be fine”, I soothed, and patted his clammy hand.
The producer ushered us on set. The anchor greeted us warmly. My assistant passed both leashes to me and I arranged the dogs so they would face camera. The director began his countdown.

“Five, four…

I squeezed Dr. Mueller’s arm hard until his head swiveled my way.

“Positive changes, community involvement, open operation”, I intoned, reminding him of our talking points. He blinked and nodded.

“Three, two…”

My assistant waved the deli meat and the dogs perked up.
Dr. Mueller’s head inclined toward mine.

“I think I’m having a colitis attack,” he rasped.

“One”, the director pointed at us, the lights clicked on, and camera rolled.

Three minutes later, we were all patting ourselves on the back. Dr. Mueller spoke easily, I chimed in on point and the dogs behaved. The producer herded us out and congratulated us on a great segment. The anchor waved at Dr. Mueller and he blushed like a schoolboy.

I drove the dogs back to the shelter and sheepishly entered Dr. Mueller’s office. He grinned and held up a stack of phone messages, some congratulatory and many looking to adopt the dogs on TV.

“Now… I just want to know one thing”, he said gravely. I braced myself.

“When are we going on TV again?”

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Mr. Freeze, rescued…pigeon??

Let me get that crumb off your nose

The Big Snow had started, but my training school was toasty warm, thanks to the ancient stand-up furnace hulking in the corner, nicknamed The Beast.

Over eight inches of snow fell throughout the day. Overly-stimulated meteorologists gleefully predicted up to ten inches of accumulation.
Temperatures fell after sunset, and I tucked the dogs in, patted The Beast and drove home carefully in my small sedan. I had taken to feeding some birds under the train viaduct on these barren nights. My car slid to a stop along the curb and I got out with my seed. Under the viaduct, bumpy black ice obscured the ground, but I spread the seed and the birds eyed me from above, hungry and ready to pounce. As I turned to leave, a grayish shape on the ground seemed to move. I peered at it, and it rolled halfway over. ‘Rat!’ I thought and leaped back, bonking my head on the iron supports. I looked again. A small head stretched out of the frozen shape toward the seed. A glossy black eye turned slowly upward toward me. It was a pigeon, completely encased in snow and ice, unable to walk or fly, but still alive.

I scooped him up in a dry towel I kept in the trunk and slid back toward the car, already showing a layer of white. We made our way back to the training school, just two blocks away but a ten minute crawl in these conditions. Inside, I put the pigeon on a dry towel inside a small dog crate near The Beast. The ice was sliding off of the bird, but he was not perking up. ‘At least he won’t freeze to death’, I thought.
My favorite veterinarian had a soft spot for pigeons, but would not be available until tomorrow. I set the bird up with a small bowl of water and a handful of seed. Outside, it took fifteen minutes of shoveling to get my wheels to turn, and I made the five block trip home in half an hour, stopping twice to help others push out of drifts.

Sunrise showed over a foot of snow on the ground. Driving was useless on side streets, so I put on my big boots and trudged to work. No amount of snow was too much for my furry charges, and they leaped and snuffled their way through the white fluff with total abandon. I always let the larger dogs out first to tamp down the snow for the wee ones, but even with that precaution, I scooped two terriers and a poodle mix out of a drift. They came up snorting and shaking off the snow, and dove right in again.

I finally got up the courage to go and look at the frozen pigeon. As I approached the crate, I heard a light scraping sound, and I peered in. There he was, strutting fearlessly over a sopping towel looking confident and bright-eyed like Sam McGee, finally warm and toasty. He eyed me with expectation and turned in a circle, as if to show off his robust health. Only husks remained of the seed. To celebrate this resurrection, I dubbed him ‘Mr. Freeze’ and offered him a small piece of my bagel.

The weather warmed a bit over the next few days and my veterinarian suggested we release Mr. Freeze before he became too accustomed to free meals. I had moved him to the front lobby, where he craned his neck to spy on new dogs and people coming in. He showed no fear of curious canine noses, fixing them with his intense gaze. His feathers glowed with soft mauve, pink and grey tones that shimmered as he groomed himself.

I took his crate out to the yard and opened the door wide. He poked his small head out, darting his eyes over the snow-packed earth in front of him, and then retreated into the crate. I had expected a mad rush to freedom, but clearly, this was not on his agenda. I placed the crate on the ground, door swung open, but Mr. Freeze backed up as far as he could get. Even tipping the crate didn’t work, he just held on tight to his homemade perch, a small curtain rod stuck through the bars. Then, I brought out the big guns. He cocked his head at the sound of the brown paper bag. I pulled out a small piece of bagel and placed it on the ground in front of the crate. He hopped out, grabbed the bagel and then realized his mistake. I quickly closed the door, keeping him out. The bagel dropped from his mouth and he looked at me, betrayed. The guilt washed over me and I was just about to open the crate door, when he flapped mightily and rose straight up to the roof of the building.

“Good boy!” I shouted. Two people passing through the parking lot stared at me and then followed my gaze upward, perhaps thinking I had trained a dog to fly. Mr. Freeze danced on the roof, bobbing his head crazily on his thin neck. Just then, the doorbell rang and I had to go in. He was gone when I went back, and I wondered if I would see Mr. Freeze again. I did not have long to wait.

Two mornings later, I was out with a play group of boisterous big dogs. An agile lab mix led the charge with the others hot on his heels, around and around the small, barren cherry tree that bloomed each July. A loud flapping, close enough to stir my hair, stopped the group and Mr. Freeze landed smack on the ground, and turned a few circles. The hunting breeds knew what to do. Two German shorthair pointers froze in perfect point, the retrievers quivered and the spaniels danced in place, waiting for the crack of gunfire. I tried to shoo him, but he just walked around me, head bobbing and bold as ever. Finally, one of the setters could no longer just set, and charged at the bird. Mr. Freeze flew effortlessly up to the cherry tree and began to preen in a self-satisfied way. I brought him a piece of bagel and began to herd the dogs inside. There, on the roof where he had taken that first freedom flight, was another pigeon, mostly white with a swipe of black on one wing. Mr. Freeze grabbed the bagel bite, rose gracefully in a spiral and landed on the roof next to the other bird. I watched quietly as they canoodled for a moment, and went inside.

Two more times he came and went, always landing in the middle of the yard when dogs were out. He looked healthy and sassy, his feathers shining and his eye boring into me. Then he soared away, joining a small flock heading back toward the viaduct.

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