Let’s Paws: Happy to be a Blind Dog’s Seeing-Eye Dog

My latest trip was to take what might be my last journey with one of my favorite beings — my blind nephew Chaos, a 12-year-old Labrador Retriever.

I volunteered to dog-sit, which meant flying down to my sister’s in Charlotte, NC. I hadn’t seen him in years, certainly not since being told he was blind from diabetes and that he had shrunk to about half his size.

Chaos and mom, my sister.

Chaos and mom, my sister.

That was hard to grasp because this is how I remember him, a lightning bolt when it came to playing catch, which he would do endlessly. We used to call him the outlaw Jesse James because he always found a way to crawl under the backyard fence to freedom. Luckily he was always found before he wandered into trouble.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see he was still the same pup.  Still loved to revel in belly rubs and give gooey kisses.

And cuddling. We had a few heart to hearts. Chaos was a last tie to my late brother-in-law who’d actually named him more than a decade ago because he had a thing for chowing down on eyeglasses, TV remotes and Benadryl. (Marley had nothing on him.)

Chaos firmly in lap of late brother-in-law.

My late brother-in-law with Chaos, top, and late brother, Skipper.

He’d seen us all, humans and other dogs that had once been in the picture, through a lot.

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I held his head in my hands and reminded him of this. That he was Oscar and Daisy’s boy (the labs who were his parents), even though he looked like their grandparent at this point, his eyes clouded over. He nuzzled me and I’m sure he knew what I was talking about when I told him how much we all loved him.

No more playing catch. But he still loved to go out and sniff. His nose and ears became a super-sensitive GPS. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m told, he still managed to suss out gaps in the fence.

It was amazing to watch that GPS in action. But he still needed a bit of guidance. I was happy to accommodate him. That’s him and his shadow — me.


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Brussels: Sad to See Dark Cloud Hanging Over Brilliant City

I really hate to see Brussels, Belgiumon lockdown, with the city bracing for a possible terror attack like the one that decimated Paris.

When I went there last Easter in search of extraordinary chocolate, I also got a good taste of the place. It was so cosmopolitan, I couldn’t understand why it had a rep as a European wallflower as opposed to glamorous Paris. Its French and Dutch roots were just as interesting. Here are a few snapshots.

brussels museum

First off, it’s no secret that Brussels has seen its fair share of violence. I did stumble upon the Jewish museum that had been a terrorist target last year, which I wasn’t actively looking for nor avoiding. But there it was. A frightening and upsetting sight.

But I found the city and its people lovely.

brussels airbnb1

The Airbnb I stayed at was dreamy; one of the nicest I’d ever been in. Like a palace. It was in Ixtelles, centrally located, which means it was within walking distance of some of the best and worst neighborhoods. I walked everywhere or took public transportation, kept a low profile, and never had a problem.

brussels flea market

My host was on his way to a nearby flea market, and he was nice enough to walk me there. It was like wandering through a gigantic attic with, I have to say, a lot of junk. Here’s more about it.

brussels dogs

I came away with some earrings that I was told were from an estate, though I would have preferred these darling dogs. No fleas on them, as far as I could tell.

brussels mussels

Locals attempted to teach me the fine art of eating Brussels mussels. With frites — fries — on the side.

brussels friterie

There were frites joints everywhere, including this one in the neighborhood. The advertised fare seemed heavy. I was more content just to gaze at the beautiful building.

brussels baked potato

Another place for potatoes was more my speed. Baked and mashed potatoes in all manner of combinations. The place’s grand opening was that night.

brussels potato couple

The owners served me up a preview, and it was lovely getting to know them. Just checked in with them; nice to know they’re still in business.

Brussels sky2

Brussels has a couple good museums, including one showcasing the work of late Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. Neat stuff; sorry I couldn’t stay longer.

brussels train station

It’s also the gateway to two medieval towns on canals, Bruges and Ghent, easily reachable by train.

Though the former was made famous by that movie starring Colin Farrell, I was attracted by the latter because it sounded less touristy.

brussels castle on canal

Not quite. Ghent was pretty enough, but still crowded in early spring. I hid out in a castle in the middle of town.

brussels me in castle

brussels looking down from castle

I could hide out no longer; I emerged to eat awful, overpriced Belgian waffles. Everything in the tourist section looked awful and overpriced; the local alternative in another part of town looked to be mostly burgers. So there wasn’t much to choose from.brussels wafflesAs it turns out, these were the best waffles I had in Belgium: from a truck near that Brussels flea market. They still weren’t that hot.

But the city is, and it’s well-worth a visit.

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Let’s Paws: TSA Dogs Looking for a Few Good Homes

So the TSA is looking for a few good homes for a few good dogs who flunked basic training. Would that we could. Honestly, we’re far from being over the loss of our beloved Ginger.

Even if we were ready, our condo association has rules against big guys. The weight thing.


We know when it’s time, there will be millions more looking for a good home. There always are.

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Weekend Journey: Last of New England Foliage, by Train

Packing my Vera Bradley carry-on for a new Amtrak adventure. Going from Lancaster, Pennsylvania,  to Portland, Maine, on the Downeaster, something I’ve been interested in doing for awhile.

It’s probably as expensive as flying and about the same amount of time as driving — just under eight hours. But I can spend the time leisurely gazing at the last fall foliage instead of the road.

I’m breaking up the trip with an overnight in Boston and taking the Maine train from there.

In Maine, I’ll be partaking of much seafood and dropping in on a former TV colleague who has a whole new life. She went from a high-powered L.A. newsroom  to a high-energy job as a Presbyterian pastor and hospice chaplain in New England.

She’s graciously allowing me to tag along for a bit. Can’t wait.


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Eats: What you’ve just gotta try if you’re in Pittsburgh area

It’s a combo you may not find anywhere else. A mountain of fries, coleslaw and whatever else you want piled between two slabs of Italian bread.

It’s what made a Pittsburgh eatery known as Primanti Bros famous. Everyone in Pittsburgh and way beyond knows about the place and the sandwich. It’s been around forever.

I had my very first Primanti’s ‘wich the other day. But it wasn’t in Pittsburgh. Had never gotten around to trying it there. I was at one that’s about as far away from the Steel City as you can get and sill be in Pennsylvania.

This was in York, a couple hundred miles away. It’s basically in the middle of nowhere but close enough to everywhere, namely big cities like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. That’s why I was told it’s there, to attract homesick Pittsburghers and those in the know who live elsewhere.

And if you think there aren’t that many of them, think again. Primanti’s has restaurants as far away as Sunny Florida.

I was at the York Primanti’s, a New York native and Mets fan wearing a team T-shirt (neutralized by a Pirates cap), to drink in the spectacle of uprooted Pittsburgh Pirates fans watching a do-or-die battle for the World Series.

Despite our geographical differences and an excruciating evening for them, it was a friendly crowd. I wrote about our encounter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Got the hat 70 percent off; end-of-season sale.

Got hat for almost nothing at end-of-season sale.

When in not-quite-Pittsburgh, order what else? One of those sandwiches with the famed decorations. Behold the Pitts-burger. Fries, slaw, salisbury steak and provolone.

I also ordered another Pittsburgh mainstay, a bottle of Iron City beer (IC, as it’s called) for show, and a pineapple juice to actually drink. I prefer chocolate to alcohol.

Got to say the sandwich, while pretty impressive, was also pretty tasteless. Including the Italian bread that everyone around me was raving about. I ended up slathering the dry lump with lots of ketchup, but was careful to steer clear of the coleslaw. Ugh.

After the server cleared away my mostly untouched meal, I found out from some hometown folk that hot sauce was the ticket. Since I can’t stomach the stuff, that wouldn’t have worked.

They also said it was an acquired taste. One I won’t be acquiring, ever.

I should point out Primanti’s sell lots of other belly-busting grub, which comes with lots of extras, if you like. Extra meat. Extra cheese. Extra eggs. Extra indigestion.

I still say you should try it if you’re ever in the Pittsburgh area. Why? Because it’s so Pittsburgh.

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Let’s Paws: Who shall rest this Yom Kippur? My dog

I’m not religious in the least; Hebrew School dropout and all that. But I felt an overwhelming need to run to synagogue this Yom Kippur, that part of the Jewish New Year where it’s OK to take an entire day to do a full soul scan.

I needed to find out why Ginger, my dachshund, who’d already lived past 18, couldn’t stick around for another 18 years. The killer was that she was still in remarkably good health for what amounted to a 90-year-old. White mask aside (which made her all the more dear), she was still a pup at heart. Up until that heart was deliberately stopped.

Ginger good puppy

Flashback almost two decades when my Old Girl Baby was found on I-95 in North Carolina, a puppy covered in filth. We think she was abused and abandoned and fending for herself for awhile because she had no collar, went after other animals, and was suspicious of many humans, particularly repairmen types. She’d sometimes go for their ankles.

Some might say she was fiercely protective of those she loved. Also true.

I admired her more than some humans. She wasn’t one of those simple creatures that was agreeable and loved everyone, though that would have made our relationship a whole lot easier.

Ginger goofy

My treasure was multifaceted: fierce and hilarious, sweet and stubborn, tough, but adored her creature comforts. Beautiful in her long-haired doxie imperfections: a goofy cowlick and fur trailing from her ears like an Orthodox Jew. An ear that folded back with a fleecy lining. And meaty forearms like Popeye.

She had tremendous presence. She didn’t let anything get her down until the day she couldn’t get up again.

Because she was not your average dog, she was misunderstood for much of her life, which made me want to make it up to her every second.

She started out with my partner Mitch’s dad. She was a barking, bouncing ball, dubbed “Ginger Bin Laden” by a friend she tried to take a nip at. Most times, the barking would turn to sniffing, and then she’d morph into a penguin on hind legs, begging for cuddles and belly rubs.

We realized she was starving for affection. Dad, who’d been used to lap dogs, didn’t get her. After a visit when we’d treat her like a queen, she’d sit in the window watching us leave, with a look that said please take me with you.

Ginger and me.

Ginger and me.

After dad died, we did. She was middle-aged with a lopsided gait, sign of a bad back made manageable long ago by Prednisone. I loved to kiss that silly cowlick and ask her, as we snuggled,  “Are you that doggie in the window?” I was almost sure she knew what I meant.

Ginger and sealShe settled in and took over. It was darn nice of her to let us sleep in her new bed. Since I work from home for a news service, she was a loyal companion and cub reporter.

Thankfully, she was perfectly housebroken. But food was another story.

Ginger please eatShe would have made the perfect hunger striker. Dog food? Feh. Human food? Absolutely. You name it, we tried it. Chicken nuggets, Lebanon bologna, fortune cookies, Manchego cheese. We made up a song about her junk-food habit.

Ginger and our beloved dogsitter, Patty.

Ginger and our beloved dogsitter, Patty.

She had a secret life. When we’d go on vacation, she and her favorite human, our late, irreplaceable dog sitter, would take a joyride to a local burger joint and eat right there.

That's my Valentine's Day present, Ginger!

Always inquisitive. That’s my Valentine’s Day present, Ginger!

She was known as the neighborhood loudmouth. But one time, a neighbor’s pug got in her face first. Ginger slunk away, stunned. She was happiest taking a long walk or playing Snoopy on her back. She always had an audience.


As time passed and her capabilities diminished we picked up the slack. In her later years her bad back returned to taunt her along with a deteriorating hind leg, kidneys and teeth. Jumping and climbing were out, much to her frustration. She made do with a dog bed.

Her life was a stream of intrusions. Doggie diapers, which were short-lived. Carried outside to do her business. Laser pain treatments, injected liquids, endless pills, drops and gels. We wanted her to be comfy. She was. Mellow, in fact.

But the puppy was still in there. She had slowed so much, we let her wander outside without a leash. One winter night I turned my back. She took off and went a fair distance before I found her.

She was well into her 19th year when things really started going downhill.

She’d always panted (we nicknamed her our “Carolina Panter”),  but it was now more from pain, not enthusiasm. Despite painkillers, she had an increasingly hard time getting up.

One day I came home and found her on her side, unable to move, terror on her face. Mitch caught her almost facedown in her water bowl. We kept watch and helped her maneuver.

Trying to entice her with a picnic.

Trying to entice her with a picnic.

She was always hungry but with her aches and few teeth, eating was excruciating.  She still enjoyed, her meager jaw squeaking when she chewed.

Our moral compass oscillated wildly. How was her quality of life? Were good moments still outweighing the bad?

An X-ray revealed her spine was better than we thought, though we found out she had a mass in her chest. Prednisone was ordered as a last resort for her back and leg pain.

Ginger and Mitch.

Ginger and Mitch.

It made her ravenous and peppy. But as bright-eyed and engaged as she was, her mobility was nosediving. Even with the stronger drugs, she could barely move. We asked about a wheel cart to help her get around, but she was too weak. It wouldn’t be fair.

We made an appointment to euthanize her that night, still looking for signs that we didn’t need to. Nothing that we could justify in good conscience. Waiting would only prolong her agony.

For her last meal, Mitch held her in bed and she showered him with the usual kisses. In between, I fed her vanilla ice cream.

At the vet’s, she was shaking as always and we were sobbing. Mitch said he felt like he was letting her down. You’re doing the right thing, we were told.

The vet explained the process. When they brought her into the exam room cuddled in a blanket, the IV in her little leg prepped for the fatal drug, I wanted to scoop her up and run away. I gulped down the urge to scream stop.

She was gone before the syringe was emptied. We clutched her body, growing cold, as we kissed that cowlick one last time. My heart broke at the sight of her little tongue, slightly protruded. But her pain was gone.

Mine was just beginning. We tried so hard to do right by her in life, and in death.


May God remember

She died at the start of Yom Kippur. I’m bordering on atheist, but still so want to believe. So I schlepped myself to memorial services. Pondered a holiday prayer that essentially posed the questions, “Who shall live and who shall die and who shall be at rest”? And took comfort in these excerpts from the Prayer for a Beloved Pet offered by my rabbi.

As we say good-bye to our beloved Ginger,

we express our deepest gratitude for the blessing of  her sweet presence. 

Through Ginger, we experienced joy. 

Through Ginger, we learned to think about someone else other than ourselves.

Through this beloved animal, we were shown the best qualities of humankind.

We were shown the greatest gift of all,

the gift of unconditional love. 

May we remember to share these important lessons with others. 

In sharing them, we will truly honor the memory of Ginger,

and keep her spirit in our lives. 

And may I add: When all else fails, eat Lebanon bologna.

And keep putting one paw in front of another.

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MLB: Go for the history, stay for the ballgame

Nice to see the New York Mets clinch the NL East title. As a longtime (as in the days of a certain guy named McGraw, and I don’t mean Tim; and even way before that), Amazins fan, we never take that for granted.

Confess I haven’t kept up with the roster for a long time. That’s why it was nice to go to a home game a couple weeks back and tap into my roots.

I hadn’t been since the old Shea Stadium. Have to say the new CitiField was a big nothing. I’ve had better vending machine grub. Outwardly, it could have been anywhere. There was no sense of history like you’d find at Fenway, Camden Yards and Wrigley Field. Too bad new stadiums can’t be built to look like old ones, with less-intrusive corporate logos.

But a tip of the baseball cap to a few attempts to capture the past.


Some vintage photos thrown around.

mets robinson

A rotunda honoring the late, great Jackie Robinson. And a mini museum I’m sorry I didn’t have time to see.

But I did have time to grab a T-shirt picked for style, not sentiment. Sported the name Granderson. Didn’t know who he was until I bought the shirt.

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