Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dogzilla vs. MENSA

First of all, on Sunday, I put up my pool. It was sunny and in the upper 60's. I wore shorts, and started working on my base tan.

Then Monday morning came, and along with it, this:

Unfreakin' believable.

Anyway, here's the "real" blog.

I've often told carriage driver trainees:
"You don’t have to be real smart to do this job, but you do have to be smarter than the horse."

Most qualify, some do not. I've had trainees who were barely smarter than the carriage.

I believe it's the same with dogs. It doesn’t take a genius to anticipate a problem. If you know your dog has issues, for example, chewing on everything it can get its teeth around, then you must accept the fact that if left to its own devices your dog will, as a matter of course, plow through all of your posessions like Godzilla snacking his way through Tokyo.

Every year I put my little above-ground pool up in my back yard. As such, the pool requires two main things: power to the filter, and hoses running from the filter to/from the pool. These things are external, and thus susceptible to dog-noshing. Especially if the dog in question could be transported back to the Jurassic period and hold her own. Easily. So, knowing this, I planned a pre-emptive strike in an effort to avoid unwanted surprises.

One: To keep my dog from chewing up the power cord, I used the frame from a previous pool to create a power cord pipeline.

Two: To keep my dog from chewing the flexible water hoses we installed two eight foot segments of PVC fence which keep her from accessing the area behind the pool where the pump is.

Three: to keep her from further chewing the rubber caps on the end of the pool ladder (Although my yard is fenced, I keep the ladder out of the pool so as not to allow unauthorized access. Read: my neighbors free-range children) I have turned the ladder upside down. Although this is inconvenient, it's easier then replacing the ladder.

A policy has also been instigated in our house of "No door left open." So, each and every portal to each and every room is closed up tight. This prevents our shoes, used Kleenex, and ball point pens from ending up strewn across the back yard in various states of disembodied, unrecognizable matter. That policy has been put in place because of this:

The carriage company owners require that the drivers tilt the seats in the passenger compartment "up", so the barn dogs, Harley and Rudy, can't sleep in them and ruin the upholstery.

Why not just teach the dogs not to sleep in the carriages in the first place, you ask?

Because, as the owners are fond of saying,

"It's easier to train the humans than it is to train the dogs."

Monday, May 24, 2010


I was monitoring the fundraising for Strut Your Mutt last week- watching the clock count down and our goal slipping away. It was a lot like watching a marathon- seeing the runner heading for the finish line and then slowing down, out of energy, stumbling as they approach the end…

And then at the last minute, three people saw my Facebook plea, took pity upon us, and donated enough money to put us over the top.

Thank you to everyone who donated. You really made a difference!

Saturday morning dawned rainy and cold, and we knew that we had to attend no matter what. Often when the weather is shitty, people who have not signed up in advance bag it, which brings the numbers down exponentially.

After we arrived and checked in the weather cleared up a bit and the walk went off without a hitch. Sammie Two Chews did it in her stroller, and Luna did it dragging Mr. SD all around the park.

And to place the dollar amount into a tangible perspective, here are some of the things that $512.00 can accomplish:

Twenty cat spay/neuter surgery, resulting in hundreds of fewer births and that means thousands of lives saved.

Ten dog spay/neuter surgery, resulting in hundreds of fewer births and thousands of lives saved.

Five dogs or cats rescued and placed in a loving permanent home.


Help provide food and shelter for 17 feral cats.

My "good" camera died shortly after we arrived, and apparently I had my second best camera on a close up setting, so I apologize for the quality of some of the shots.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Celebrity Carriage Ride

I've had celebrities in my carriage before. Several years ago I took Adam Baldwin and his son for a ride. He was in town making a movie titled "Little Fish, Strange Pond," which I have yet to see. So it was no surprise when two people escorted Zach Efron up South Temple Street. Of course the fact that one of the two was carrying him seemed a little odd, but hey, I don’t judge.

Okay, actually, I do. Once I mentioned to Ro that we carriage drivers are not judgmental. She replied, "Hell yes we are." The I revised my statement, and explained that, yes, while she was correct that we are judgmental, because we have such low standards, we don't judge people on the same scale as others. So while people who are not involved in the carriage trade might consider someone "Strange", "Odd" or "Low Class", to us they're normal. Some even rank as "Superior."

In other words, we judge on a curve.

Anyway, back to my story. So these two people were walking up South Temple carrying Zach Efron, and as they passed I said, "Alright, Zach must go for a carriage ride." And they not only agreed, but they were delighted. So here are my photos of Zach Efron with my carriage.

Zach get a kiss from one of his escorts

Zach bonds with Charlie Horse
And the fact that when I say "Zach Efron" what I mean is a card board cut out of Zach Efron, is totally superfluous. It still counts. Like I said, we judge on a curve. Living, breathing Zach vs. paper Zach, it's still a win.

(Yes, I do live a strange life, why do you ask?)

Friday, May 14, 2010

More Randomness

We will not be adding another dog to our tribe- his owner found him a new home. So, the status quo remains the same.

This week has been pretty quiet. I'm noodling with my current WIP. I sent emails to a friend who is a former Exotic Dancer, and another friend who is Native American. This is how I do research. Luckily I have a number of acquaintances who have had some unusual occupations or are of a culture more diverse then my own. I'm just a slice of dull white bread.

I'm still pimping for Strut Your Mutt. If you want to donate, use the little box up there to the right. The charity that organizes this event typically has 2000-2500 participants every year. So far they've had less than 500 sign up, and they are frantic since this is their big fundraiser.

Yes, believe me, I know the economy sucks… On a scale from "Absolutely Essential" to "Once in a Lifetime, Maybe," guess where "Take a Carriage Ride" lies… It's a little above "Getting permanent implants that make me look like a Klingon" and far below "Buying a week's worth of groceries."

Even five dollars will help, and anything over $5 is tax deductible as they are a 501( c ) 3 charity.

In other news, my RWA chapter is hosting a Utah Writers Book Signing, featuring New York Times bestselling author Bob Mayer (who is not from Utah, he's from the Bronx,) but he's giving a workshop the next day for our chapter so we jumped on the opportunity to include our own local talent in the event. So if you are a local or have a lot of frequent flyer miles you need to use before they expire, come see us at the Gateway Barnes and Noble on Friday, June 4 from 6-9 pm. Along with Bob, the local writers are:

Judy Baker
Jaleta Clegg
Victoria Dahl
Sara Fitzgerald
Heather Horrocks
Mary Martinez
Denise Patrick
Paige Shelton
RaeAnne Thayne
KyAnn Waters

I'll post more about the workshop next week. I was fortunate enough to see Bob at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference in 2008 and am a fan of his solo work and his books with Jennifer Crusie.

So, June 4, 2010, 6-9 pm, stop by, say "Hi," buy a book and get it autographed.

Because what else have you got to do?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water…

I apologize for being remiss in my posting, but when nothing is happening it's hard to pull a post out of thin air.

Then this morning Mr. Slave Driver advised me that the family of a friend of a fellow he works with (you know, the old "friend of a friend…" connection) has to move and they must either find a new home for their dog or surrender it to a shelter because they cannot take it with them.

It's a seven pound male Pomeranian.

ARGH! This is how a collector starts. I was tempted to go dog shopping at the recent No More Homeless Pets in Utah/Petsmart adoption event but I maintained self control by telling myself, "You do not need another dog. Your family is still adjusting to the adoption of Luna. Hell, your other dog is still adjusting to the adoption of Luna. You do not need another dog."

We talked it over for a bit, Mr. SD said, "It's not like a seven pound dog takes up a lot of room." And I was of the opinion that if said dog likes other dogs (as opposed to Sammie, who much prefers the company of people) it would take the heat off of her and Luna would have a dog to play with instead of harass Sammie and thinking it was play. I told Mr. SD that I would be willing to "meet" with the dog in question. You know, kind of a "Dog Test Drive."

My tag line up at the top of the blog says, "Random ramblings from an idiot" for a reason.

Because, obviously, I am one.

So, we'll have to wait and see just how big of an idiot I am. But I'm pretty sure which way that vote will go.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Law Of Averages

Recently I read a comment on the internet that said:

According to both Peggy Parker, formerly of the Carriage Horse Action Committee, and Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages, the average working life of an urban carriage horse is less than four years, as compared with that of mounted police horses who are able to serve an average of fifteen years before being retired. One of the worst horse and mule slaughter auctions in the nation takes place every Monday morning in New Holland, Pennsylvania. At times you will see horse trailers belonging to some of the New York City carriage horse operators in the massive parking lot at the auction. It could be that they are there to buy horses for their trade, but there is also the possibility that they are selling old, used up and/or injured horses and that usually means a horrifying trip to the slaughterhouse.

You'll notice that the "It could be that they are there to buy horses for their trade," is buried at the bottom of the paragraph.

There is an organization, Blue Star Equiculture, with whom a Philadelphia, PA carriage driver I know is closely associated, that goes in and purchases horses at auction to retire or re-home them. But, of course, the ARA's also fail to mention that "possibility".

I've posted about this before. The ridiculous statement that as soon as a horse has outlived its usefulness it's immediately sent to slaughter. I also got into the same discussion last year on a radio talk show board with an idiot who stated the same thing. When I mentioned that all slaughter houses in the US that sold horse meat specifically for human consumption were legislated out of business some time ago, she said, "Oh, I didn’t know that."

Well, that's because she is not in an equine related field and knows nothing about horses except they are big and pretty. That's something we can both agree on. Horses are big, and they are pretty. They are also livestock, but that's a discussion for another day.

Most of our horses were, to quote Ro, "Somebody else's problem." There is, quite frankly, not a huge market for draft horses in the US. Especially not cross breeds or non registered draft horses. Many of our horses are aged to begin with and/or are rejects in one way or another. We like "aged" horses, it means they've seen the world and have their wits about them. A lot of them come to us thin, and are loaded up with groceries before they ever get put to work. Tom was headed for the kill pen from the rodeo circuit. Jerry walks like he has eggbeaters for legs. Rex and Ace came from a competing carriage company in Salt Lake that went under. We bought Libby from the people running the horse concession at "This is the Place" State Park. Tony was used in a bicentennial re-enactment group, and before that he was a competitive puller. We get Amish trained plow horses that no longer can work sun up to sundown in the field. In other words, our horses are from someplace else before they came to us. We do not breed/raise our own work force.

So the ARA's go around saying that we in the industry treat carriage horses as if they are disposable. They make it sound like a driver dressed as Snidley Whiplash goes out into that mythical pasture full of clear running streams and rainbows, ropes a wild horse, beats it into submission, bundles them into tack like an unwilling participant at a bondage festival, and sticks them out on the street where they are tortured and terrified by honking horns and brass bands. After working them 24/7 in temperatures that are either -20 ̊F or 137 ̊F for four years straight, they are whisked away to auction and certain doom.

Sorry, ARA's, but that just isn't so. As of April 1st, I have been employed as a driver for 6 years. When I started at the carriage barn, the following horses lived and worked there:

Jock, Jack, Sonny, Chief, Vea, Annie, Morris, Sam, Pete, Prince, Kid, Belle, Max, Tom, Cletus, Rex, Charlie, Ping, King, Jim, Bob, Ace, Bart, and Tony. (24)

During my time as an employee the following horses were also added to the string:

Jerry, Ralph, Ben, Ben Belgian, Smith, Wesson, Libby and last fall we acquired Hank and Cisco. (9)

Of the previously listed horses the following either passed on or were put down due to injuries sustained in the pen, old age, colic, or disease:

Jock, Max, Chief, Ben Belgian : Old age. (4)
Ben : Cancer (1)
Jack and Annie : Colic (2)
Vea and Sonny : Injury (2)

The injuries sustained in the pen were inflicted by other horses, and anyone who knows anything about horses knows that they occasionally fight, colic, and get sick. And while we prefer to wish otherwise, all living things grow old. Nobody gets out of this life alive.

The retired horses are as follows:

Morris, Kid, Sam, Prince, Pete, Ping, King, Belle and Ralph. (9)

The horses still working there, who have been working there since before I started six years ago, are:

Tony, Cletus, Charlie, Jim, Bob, Ace, Rex, Tom, and Bart (9)

Along with the horses that came after my employment began:

Libby, Jerry, Smith, Wesson, Hank and Cisco (6)

So, in response to the ARA's statement that the average carriage horse is in service for four years, I say "Bullshit". Our co-workers are valuable assets. They are painstakingly desensitized to the noise and traffic of our city before we ever put customers in the carriage. The ones who have the right personalities to do the job stay in service as long as they are fit. The ones who don't, get re-homed, like Belle. She lives in Wyoming with her owner, a former carriage driver whose screen name is "Belle's Personal Assistant" for a reason.

So, let's crunch the numbers, shall we? And average it out together:

Total horses= 33
Passed on= 9
Retired= 9
Balance of horses still at work= 15
Average number of animals sent to slaughter after working as a carriage horse for 4 years= 0

For our guys, I think the odds are pretty damn good.