Category Archives: Blogs

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Tales of Tales: How a dog made Thanksgiving memorable

By Hersh Wilson

My family’s Thanksgivings were massive undertakings, usually including four very Irish Catholic families, which meant 20 children, all under the age of 13, eight parents and grandparents.

The particular holiday in question was at our home, which introduced the star character of this story, our 3-year-old German shepherd, Shawnee.

The activity level in the house and outside before dinner was like a school recess. The kids were running, playing, yelling, fighting and crying. The adults were trying desperately to make sure no kids were missing or seriously injured. Shawnee, after attempting to herd kids, just jumped in and played: lots of chasing, finding hiding kids and barking in delight.

Finally, my dad had enough and he pointed at me and at Shawnee. That was my cue to take Shawnee to my room. I grabbed my cousin Johnny, who was my age, and we high-tailed it upstairs. As we ran up, I heard my mom yell at my almost teenage sister and the girl cousins, “You can’t wear black eye shadow to Thanksgiving dinner! Your grandmother will have a stroke!”

In my room, with a couple of other hanger-on cousins, Shawnee jumped on my bed, curled up and watched us. Johnny and I continued the serious conversation that we’d been engaged in all day. We’d both been promoted to senior altar boys at our churches and we had discovered girls at the same time. We were weighing the pros and cons. This was an intense conversation, so I never noticed Shawnee slip out of the room.

But apparently Shawnee had plans. With all the dads either drinking, changing diapers or chasing children, Shawnee saw opportunity.

But let me set the stage. In the eye of the family hurricane was our kitchen. There, with the planning and execution that would make a general weep with jealousy, the moms were preparing, cooking and setting the tables.

I wouldn’t say they were militant, but no one was allowed in the kitchen, not weepy 3-year-olds, sullen pre-teens, husbands or a loveable pet. This was the place of perfection, where the moms wanted only to lay out, once a year, the perfect family meal. Once a year, they strove to gather us all under one roof. Once a year, the wish was to have us each hold our breaths at the bounty and perfection of a Thanksgiving Day meal. There was a lot of “artistic” tension in that kitchen.

But perfection exists on the edge of chaos. There is always an agent of change ready to knock down the first domino.

None of us noted that Shawnee had somehow gone missing.

At about 4 p.m., we were called to dinner. The Minnesota sun was a pale ball setting in the west over a prairie of snow. The little ones were being seated at the kids table and the teenagers were wondering would this be the year that we sat with the grownups. The turkey was cooling on the kitchen counter. The grandparents were led to sit at the head of the table. It seemed to be coming to pass; that moment of a perfect Thanksgiving.

I recall still being assigned to the kids’ table. I recall that we had cracked open the door to the backyard because it was warm and a little smoky.

The next thing I remember is my Aunt Betty yelling, “The dog has the turkey!”

We all looked, and sure enough, Shawnee had come out of nowhere. She had leaped up on the counter and grabbed the 20-pound roasted turkey in her jaws and sprinted out the door.

Of course, all the kids jumped up to chase, knocking over glasses, yanking table clothes in excitement, but Shawnee was gone, past the tree line into the dark.

There was shock in the dining room.

The kids came back, out of breath from the chase. We all gathered around the “grown-up” table waiting for cues. How should we react? Anger? Frustration?

We waited. And then, my mom just laughed. Then my grandfather, Dinty, joined in. Soon, even the “cool” girl cousins were laughing out loud.

Perfection had again been bested by reality.

I’m sure that Shawnee had not planned any of this, but after we stopped laughing, the entire family visibly relaxed. There was nothing we could do. We ate mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a great Thanksgiving. And a very full dog was let back in the house around midnight.

For more writings by Hersch Wilson on dogs, firefighters and life go to Contact him at

Tales of Tails: Know what steps to take to rescue a dog in a hot car

The Santa Fe Fiesta Children’s Pet Parade is the perfect place to find a great story or two about dogs and people. Thus, last week Laurie and I got up early, drove to town and wound our way through the crowd to watch this traditional Fiesta event. Dogs! Kids in Costumes! Lizards and high school bands! (Go Capital Jaguars!)

We watched, took notes and then went to breakfast. I was testing ideas with Laurie, but nothing seemed to capture her attention. Of course, I was competing against Harry’s Roadhouse breakfast burritos.

But coming out of the Roadhouse, Laurie spotted two dogs sitting in a car, the windows cracked open.

It was 11 a.m., sunny and hot. Even with the windows partially opened, we could see that the dogs were hot. They were both panting.

I looked at Laurie and I could see her getting upset. This was a borderline situation, the windows were open and the dogs were getting air, but Laurie is the most passionate person I know about dogs in hot cars.

She turned to me and said, “You need to get me one of those window punches.” We use window punches at the fire department to quickly and safely take out a car window to gain access to victims after a car crash.

She was mad. But there was history here.

Two decades ago, we had been on vacation and had left our dogs with a house sitter. Somehow, our German shepherd had gotten into our parked car, got trapped and died of heat stroke. The house sitter had called us in hysterics after finding Riva dead. Neither of us has gotten over that. So, when Laurie asked for a window punch, I knew she was serious.

Here are the facts about dogs in cars: According to the Humane Society of the United States, when it is 80 degrees outside, the interior of a car can reach nearly 100 degrees in 10 minutes. At a balmy 72 degrees, a car can heat up to over 115 degrees in an hour. Cracked windows don’t do that much to help keep a car cool.

Don’t believe it? Park your car in the sun, open the windows an inch or so and then sit in your car for 30 minutes.

For most dogs, a body temperature above 103 degrees is abnormal, and if it reaches 106 degrees, heat stroke can occur. Heat stroke is when the body can no longer maintain a healthy temperature. Internal temperatures spike, organs fail, followed by a coma and death. It can happen quickly.

I’ve seen only one human case of heat stroke as an EMT. The patient went from talking to us in the Arizona desert to unconscious in 10 minutes. It was terrifying. Thirty minutes later in the hospital, her brain was swelling. She survived, but only because she had rapid and sophisticated intervention … something that will not be available for most dogs trapped in a car.

So here is Laurie’s dilemma: What do you do when you see a dog in a car that is in distress? Panting, excessively drooling, even panicked?

I start by asking, “What would you do if you saw an infant in an overheated car?”

First, I would call 911 and tell the operator what was going on and to have the police and fire departments respond. Then, I would get help. I’d find people to go into the surrounding stores and restaurants and urgently talk to the managers and let them try to find the vehicle’s driver.

Then I would I go back to the car. If I felt that the situation was worse, that the dog was in extreme danger, I would again call 911 and keep the person on the phone. I would make sure that I had witnesses to what I was going to do next.

As a last resort, with a dog’s life in danger, I’d break the window, just like I’d do for a child. And of course, there would be legal consequences. But I’m not going to let a dog die from heat stroke and negligence.

This, of course, is the extreme example. Hopefully the owner will be found in time and be apologetic. Hopefully, police and fire department officials will respond in time. Hopefully. But if not, Laurie’s and my plan is to never let a dog die in that situation.

So I got Laurie her window punch. And we both hope that she’ll never have to use it.

For more writings by Hersch Wilson on dogs, firefighters and life go to Contact him at

Thanks to you we are that much closer

Dear Friend of the Shelter,

As you may recall, a few months ago we shared our fundraising goal with you. This year, we need to raise 2015 Fundraising Goal
$3 million to save as many lives as possible and cover the cost of providing the level of care you have come to expect. Thanks to your incredible support, in the first seven months of this year, you and others like you, have helped us raise $1.46 million. We are blown away by your generous support!

But we still need your help. There’s a simple reason why it costs so much to keep the lights on at the Shelter: Homeless animals never stop coming in. Our spay/neuter initiatives are top priority and we offer low-cost and even free spay/neuter surgery on a weekly basis but until we get there, companion animals in our community depend on us – and on you.

When it comes to the animals in our care, we do what is necessary, no matter what. Sometimes this requires expensive medical procedures and hours of behavioral work. In the past, there were many animals we couldn’t save, simply because we didn’t have the financial resources. But you have stood beside us and let us know that every animal deserves individualized care and a chance at love.

We know you believe in our work and we simply cannot do it without your help. When you invest in your hometown Shelter, you are investing in one of the most progressive shelters in the nation. If you are curious to see how this work is being done, please call me for a visit so that you can see first-hand the highly detailed and efficient techniques we are using to save more lives than ever before.

We need your help to cover all our expenses in 2015 so that every homeless animal in our community has more than a second chance for a healthy, happy life and a loving family. We can’t do this work without you. Thank you for being such an important part of our Shelter family

With deepest gratitude,
Evelyn Viechec
Director of Growth
Santa Fe Animal Shelter

Office: 505-795-7390; Cell: 505-629-2037; Email:

To donate, please click HERE.

Tales of Tails: Home office and dogs: Six rules to help it go smoothly

By Hersch Wilson

You wake up thinking it would be a great idea to have a home office. After all, 30 million Americans already do (at least once a week). You think, why not me? You clear it with your boss and your significant other. You’re set!
Then, you look at your dog’s face. He looks up at you adoringly, maybe holding a ball in his mouth. You don’t notice the tiny glint of obsessive/compulsive, “I need to be with you every moment” in his eyes. So you think, what could possibly go wrong working at home with a dog?
This is a question that affects, hmm, let me do the math here: 1 in 4 homes have home offices. Forty percent of homes have a dog, that’s 40 percent times the difference between 1 and 4, divided by seven (English majors always divide by 7) that equals, well, on the back of a napkin, a lot of homes with someone working at home with a dog. Woof.

As an experienced working-at-home/dog partner, let me explain what lies ahead. I’ll offer you a few stories:

On a video conference a few weeks ago, one of the participants dove off camera yelling, “Stop that!” Then there tankvideowere the sounds of multiple dogs barking. When she came back on camera, she was a bit disheveled. We also noted that under her business jacket she was wearing pajamas.

Of course, I’m just as guilty. Our dogs need to be the center of attention at all times. Nellie, our alpha female Bernese mountain dog, seems able to sense when there is a teleconference. Once I was standing, wearing a suit, looking all corporate-y making a video presentation. Nellie slide into the shot, leaned against me and nearly pushed me out of the picture, much to the amusement of everyone else in the conference.

It’s not just communicating with the outside world. Dogs also have no regard for the amount of focus required to work alone. They believe they are the center of the world and they don’t seem to get that the work we do pays for their dog food. Work? Money? Pay? These seem to be foreign concepts to dogs. Food just appears magically in their bowls. Of course, our kids thought the same thing for years.

After a few years of “canine interruptist,” I suggested to Laurie, my wife, that maybe I should buy a small shed, put it in the back, so I could work uninterrupted.

She looked at me and asked, rhetorically, “So you want to get a dog house for you?”

Well, when you put it that way …

But far more disruptive in my opinion is when at 2 p.m. they decide to nap. They curl up right next to you! They look so comfortable. Why do we have to work all day anyway? Maybe I could just close my eyes for a minute …

And then it’s 3:30, they want to play, and I’m hours behind.

But don’t be discouraged. I’ve come up with a few simple ideas to help you successfully be productive at home with even the most obsessed canine.

  1. Sit your dog down and explain to them how important work is in a capitalist economy. Hold a handful of dog food as a visual to make the point: no work, no dog food.
  2. Master the mute button on your phone! You need to be able to anticipate when your dog is about to bark and hit that button within a quarter of a second!
  3. The exhausted dog is the best work companion. Long walks in the early morning guarantees that they will sleep the rest of the morning when we typically are at our best.
  4. On important calls with bosses or clients: Dogs sense our stress and bark because they’re worried about us. Have a safe room. I often sit in my closet with the door shut.
  5. Follow the dog schedule. Don’t try to work during play or meal times. They will not let you. Just go with the flow, learn their schedule.
  6. Include your dog! Bounce ideas off them. Some of my best work has come after long conversations with Tank, our male Berner. He is especially good at helping me stay focused on what matters, namely food.


A last thought. When things aren’t going as planned, when it has been a bad day at work, nothing beats curling up on the floor with your dogs for a long afternoon nap.

For more writings by shelter volunteer Hersch Wilson on dogs, firefighters and life, visit Contact him at




What’s in a name? A lot


Bill Hutchison/Animal Matters

We all know it’s true, but it’s something we rarely think about – words mean things, and the particular words we use affect the way we think. If we zoom in on those words and look at how they change over time, it can reveal the ways we’re making progress, as well as the places we still need to work on. The words we use when we talk about animals mean things to us, and even if animals don’t speak our language, words mean things to them, too.

There has been a notable trend in recent years in referring to the ways animals live alongside us. For many years, when people wrote about animal-living quarters, it was frequently in terms of “kenneling” or “caging” animals. Now, we see a turn toward using terms like “housing” instead of “caging.” Do these word changes really mean something? If we imagine that the march of time brings with it a march of progress, then perhaps these word changes do reflect a shift in attitudes toward animals. One of the ways we can examine these changes is by looking at how frequently certain phrases appear in print. Thanks to advances in the digital humanities, we can examine these phrases in more historical detail.

Starting in 1780 and continuing for about a century, “kenneling” was what one did to keep an animal. While the term has significantly decreased in popularity since then, it still remains in use. The notion of the “animal cage” starts showing up in earnest around 1900, and peaks in popularity around 1945. Right around the same time, the idea of “animal housing” shows up, and from the late 1950s onward increases in popularity, peaking in the 90s. The phrase “animal house” surges in popularity between 1920 and 1970, (dropping off considerably as a term for animals after the movie Animal House is released in 1978). The idea of “caging animals” appears sporadically between 1890 and 1950, when it begins to increase in use, peaking in the 1990s and then dropping off. Compare that to the phrase “housing animals,” which steadily increases in popularity from the early 1890s until it peaks in the mid-1980s. (It has seen a decline in use since then.)

We can see some of the same indicators when we look at individual species – “dog kennel,” which is heavily in use from about 1730 on, is suddenly eclipsed around 1930 by “dog house,” which begins to decrease in use around the early 1990s. References to the places cats live with humans show up relatively late – it is not until around the turn of the twentieth century that the term “cat house” appears, and even if we correct for the other meaning of the term (a brothel or other “house of ill repute”), it skyrockets in popularity until around 1979, with a brief and radical resurgence in the early 2000s. “Cat tree” is virtually nonexistent until the late 1970s, but it has been climbing (no pun intended) in popularity ever since.

While these changes in the words we use are interesting, what do they actually tell us? First and most obviously, they reveal changes in the ways we write about the spaces in which animals live. We have replaced words like “cage” and “kennel” with words like “house.” As human relationships with animals become closer and more interrelated, so too have our words for the places we all live. But the second question that arises is why certain terms – like “dog house” or “cat house” – have decreased in recent years. Does this mean that we are no longer thinking on terms of providing animals with comfortable living arrangements? I would suggest that it indicates the opposite. More and more, the places our animals live are indistinguishable from the places we ourselves live. What use is a term like “dog house” if the dog house is also the human house? Now, more and more, human and animal family members all live together in the “house,” one word, plain and simple. This is borne out by the rise of terms like “dog bed” and “cat bed,” both of which start being used widely in the mid-1970s and continuing to climb to this day. Prior to the 1970s, we didn’t think much of “dog beds” because that’s not how we thought of the places dogs sleep. Our world changes, our thinking changes, and our language changes with it.

While the idea of caging versus housing is one of the most obvious ways we can track a real change in our attitudes and perceptions about animals, it calls to our attention the fact that we might want to pay more attention to the words we use. Do we refer to a dog or a cat as an “it” or as a “she”? Do we refer to them as “dumb animals” without realizing the complicated sets of feelings and communication skills each animal has? When we refer to our animals as our “children,” how does that affect our thinking?

Looking closely at the words we use helps us understand our own views better, and gives us an insight into what other people mean or know based on the words they use. It lets us choose better words when we realize the ones we’re using may in fact reflect outdated or even harmful ways of thinking. Most of all, it lets us think a little more about what we’re really talking about when we talk about animals.

In our next column, we’ll look at more ways we use language to talk about animals, this time in regard to pit bulls, who may be more caught up in human rhetoric than any other domesticated animal.

Note: Usage frequency determined using Google’s Ngram Viewer, a resource for searching words and phrases in millions of digitized volumes in English. The words and phrases examined in this article were studied across approximately 300 years.

Bill Hutchison, the shelter’s former communications director, is currently working on a doctorate in English at the University of Chicago, specializing in animal studies.