Cheering for Dom Lagana and that Full Pull

I’m apologizing ahead of time because this post has nothing to do with animals, But, Dom Lagana is weighing so heavy on my heart that I want to write about him. Besides, I need everybody sending positive thoughts to Dom and his family.

 

Cheering for that Full Pull

My cameraman and I were in Florida during a NHRA pre-season test session. We were shooting interviews with racecar drivers to use on the television broadcast. They weren’t suppose to be in-depth interviews but soundbites for bumps to breaks or glitzy pieces promoting drag racing.

At the end of the last day, Dom Lagana walked onto our set wearing his Yankees hat and lots of scruff. I had interviewed more than thirty drivers during those two days in West Palm and just finished talking to a seasoned, media-savvy racer who dropped several usable soundbites. Like “I’m a machine at the tree” or “I didn’t get to be a world champion without battling the best.” I marked each of those quotes on my mental checklist because it was exactly what I needed. At the same time, I was disappointed because the champ hadn’t given me anything new.

I’d never talked to Dom before that day, and I don’t think he’d ever been interviewed. He sat on a stool under the hot lights and fidgeted in a starched team shirt that didn’t quite fit. I sat across from him, close to the camera so no one would see me. He’d taken off his cap when I asked, but he held it in his hand as though it was a lucky talisman. A thin sheen of sweat covered his brow. His hands were stained and callused, and I realized Dom didn’t only pilot racecars, he worked on them.

I knew I might not get an usable quote out of him, but I liked Dom. His answers were rough but they were genuine. Plus, he was from New Jersey, so there was a familiarity about him. I grew up in a small town in the Poconos, right across the river from Jersey. He had the same accent, the same mannerisms of so many guys I’d grown up around.

About halfway through the interview, I was considering letting Dom off the hook and cutting our chat short. But then, I asked him about his goals for the season. He paused. His eyes lit up, as though he just remembered why he was sitting on that stool in the first place. Dom Lagana was going to race a Top Fuel dragster in the NHRA drag racing series.

“My goals? I’m just happy to make a full pull,” he answered with such humble amazement that I knew I had my bite.

In that moment, Dom wasn’t a nervous rookie but a twenty-five-year-old guy realizing a dream and thankful for every second of it. That’s when I became a Dom Lagana fan.

It’s been ten years since that interview, and I haven’t stopped cheering for Dom. I cheer for him whether he’s wrenching on someone’s car or behind the wheel of a nitro-powered hotrod.

On Sunday night Dom got in a non-racing related car accident in Brownsburg, Indiana. He’s in the hospital fighting for his life. Ever since I heard the news, I’ve been thinking about that day I interviewed a humble boy from New Jersey who was chasing a dream.

I’ve never been cheering harder for Dom to make a full pull.

Cecil and Rocky: The Perfect Couple

Have you ever met a couple you knew was perfect together? A couple that was meant for each other? That’s the way I feel about a man named Cecil and his bulldog Rocky. Over the past year, they’ve been regularly showing up on the greenway. Cecil is black, a war vet who wears a handlebar mustache, Semper Fi baseball caps, and T-shirts that read my priority is the Second Amendment. Rocky looks like your stereotypical bulldog, short and squat, all wrinkles and snorts.

Even from afar, they look like they belong together. Cecil ambles along and smokes his cigarette, while Rocky leisurely lifts his leg on every tree he can reach. For a few weeks, we greeted each other with a good morning. Then, one day Cecil said, “If I could talk dog, I’d ask him what’s so damn interesting about that tree right there.”

I laughed, and I laughed out loud. On a million different occasions, I’ve wanted to ask my dogs that same question about things that capture their attention. It was the first time Cecil made me laugh but not the last.

Whenever I see them, Cecil shares some funny tidbit about life with his bulldog Rocky. Once, he told me Rocky ordered a flux capacitor on Amazon so he could visit the Wild West. On another occasion, he said the Clarksville PetSmart banned Rocky for stealing too many treats from the stash at the register.

Cecil swore Rocky solved a physics formula about acceleration. And another time, the bulldog couldn’t decide whether to spend his allowance on Modern Dog magazine or a pack of Nathan’s hotdogs. Actually, Cecil and Rocky spend a lot of time debating the merits of food, like the texture of certain steaks or honey versus spicy mustard.

A few months ago, I started giving Rocky a peanut butter treat. Okay, maybe I give him two or three. But, I can’t help it. Rocky is quite the charmer with his squashed face and tank-like body. Every time he sees me, his whole behind sways and his snorting grows louder. I consider it his thank you.

I look forward to seeing Cecil and Rocky because they make me laugh, but also because they remind me about the special connection between people and animals. They remind me it’s a bond that crosses every race and every class.

I don’t know a lot about Cecil and Rocky, like how they became friends or when they moved to Springfield. I don’t even know why they started walking on the greenway. But my guess is all they have is each other, and I couldn’t imagine a better couple.

The Sopranos and Rosie Aprile

 

Ade and Rosie

If you have been reading this blog long enough, then you know I love the Sopranos. When I was volunteering for a local nonprofit, I named all our foster dogs after characters on the show. And I adopted two of them, Adriana and Meadow. Not because of their names, but it sure didn’t hurt.

Over the years, my obsession with the Sopranos has only grown. I’m such a geek that right now I’m rewatching the entire series and logging storylines in individual episodes. Nerd, right? But I swear watching that show teaches me something new every time. And it makes me laugh. Like out loud belly laugh. People who don’t watch the Sopranos always act surprised when I talk about how funny it is, but for those of us who love it, we know what’s up.

Lately, I’ve been hearing about the Sopranos a lot. Last year was the show’s 20h anniversary, but things really heated up in quarantine because HBO replayed the whole series. The numbers were through the roof. I read somewhere ratings were up 179%. Well, you know who was also watching the Sopranos over quarantine? Rosalie Aprile! Over a conversation on IG about Lincoln Logs, Rosie’s mom wrote to me:

OMG. So glad they replayed [the Sopranos] during quarantine, me and Rosalie watched the whole thing.

Do you remember Rosie? She had an interesting history. We fostered her as a puppy. She was adopted, then returned months later and much much bigger. When she was a puppy, I’d look at those overlarge paws and think, she’s going to be big. And I was right. She turned into a giant galoot.

During that summer I was walking Rosie, my arms looked better than ever, toned and muscular, because it took every ounce of my 125 pounds to hold onto her. I’m happy to report she hit the jackpot the second time she got adopted, and this time it’s forever.

Nothing makes my heart sing more than getting updates about my foster dogs. And a foster update that includes the Sopranos? It’s going to be a good week.

My Little Stray: One of 70 Million

Adriana wanders along the fence line. Her nose skims the grass, tail swaying, paws leaving paths through the dew. Occasionally, she’ll stop, investigate, then move on. When she comes inside, her pink nails will be clumped with red clay.

Lately, she’s been digging for worms. I think it’s a diversion until she sees a mole moving underground. But right now it’s so hot in Tennessee not even the moles are burrowing. It’s so hot that Ade won’t stay outside for longer than twenty minutes. When the weather is nice, she’ll hunt for hours. She’ll hunt until I call her inside, and even then she comes in with reluctance.

Ade is six years old now. It’s hard to believe that she was born with seven littermates on a street in Springfield. But, Ade comes from a long line of strays. Her mother was feral, and according to local legend so was her grandmother. About five months after Ade was born, her mother delivered another litter of eleven puppies, meaning one stray produced nineteen more in under six months. Even though I witnessed it happen, it still shocks me.

Did you know some calculate 70 million strays live in the US? I imagine that number is pretty rough since tallying them would be close to impossible. Most strays live in the shadows. They hide from us, which doesn’t make counting them easy.

For obvious reasons, it’s much easier to compute the amount of strays surrendered to shelters. The Humane Society says over six million end up in shelters every year. If that estimate of 70 million is even close to actual numbers, then it means about 60 million strays are born and die without ever having a home. That’s the entire population of Spain.

Whatever the number, for these street dogs it’s truly about survival of the fittest. And even then, when do you see an old stray running around? The ones who do survive puppyhood probably don’t make it to old age very often.

I think about this sometimes when I’m watching Adriana because she would never have survived as a stray. She has no backbone and never did, not even as a puppy. For instance, if our other dogs take away her chew or Kong while she’s still working on it, she lets them without complaint. Ade doesn’t know how to stand her ground, which is good for pack harmony but not for the streets. She’s too gentle to survive in the wild.

The doggie door slaps shut, and Ade’s paws tap down the hallway. Her tags create a jingle that’s unique to her. It’s like her calling card. She stops at my office door. We make eye contact, and a wave of tenderness washes over me. How lucky am I to have found this little stray dog?

I know what she wants, but regretfully I shake my head. It’s still too hot to walk again. We have to wait for the shadows to grow longer, for the cicadas to get louder. She waves her tail once then twice, telling me she understands. Her paws tap back down the hallway. Then, she leaps onto the couch. This little dog –  born a stray – will spend the next few hours napping in the AC. And I can’t help but think she’s exactly where she’s suppose to be.

An Update on Sara’s Surgery and Rehab

A few weeks ago I wrote about our howling tradition. Click here for a refresher. I have to say that poor Sara has the worst voice. Meadow, Adriana, and Floyd can all carry a tune. Their howls start low and deep, then rise until they reach a rousing crescendo. Their howls reverberate.

Not Sara’s. Halfway through the first bay, her voice cracks, and she ends up belting out a high-pitched yapping sound. Eventually, it turns into the same kind of bark she uses on our mail lady. Sara doesn’t care though. No shame. She just keeps yipping away.

Speaking of our little patient, it’s been six weeks since Sara’s surgery, and she’s been leash-free for the last two. She’s doing great. We started her on a slow but steady rehab program. At first, we only walked her for a half-mile, then we increased it to three-quarters, then a mile, and so on.

Only two weeks after Sara’s surgery, we started taking her swimming. Sara may not be the best howler, but she is a fantastic swimmer. In fact, she’s the only one who does it. Meadow stands in the water, deep enough so that it hits her belly. Floyd does the same, only he never goes farther than his knees. Ade trots back and forth along the bank. She gets soaked but never loses her footing.

Thankfully, Sara loves it. She’s like a kid who won’t come out of the pool. Sometimes, we have to bribe her with a peanut butter treat to get her out of the water. Swimming is a great way to rehab a dog’s knee. It’s easy on the joints. Since we walk along the Sulphur Fork Creek, we’ve been taking advantage of all our favorite swimming holes.

Currently, Sara’s walking two-miles and swimming for ten minutes daily. I told her if she learns to ride a bike, then she can enter a triathlon. Because we all know she sure as hell shouldn’t be entering any howling competitions. 🙂

 

 

Walking your Dog: A Tired Dog is a Good Dog

If the Farnival had a motto it would be: “A Tired Dog is a Good Dog.” Seriously. We live by this saying because when our dogs are tired, they don’t have the energy to be bad. There are a lot of different ways to exercise your mutt, including but not limited to swimming, visiting dog parks, throwing frisbees, and tossing tennis balls. These are all great choices, and I’m not discounting any of them.

But, above all of these options, I recommend walking them. In fact, walking your dog is the most important thing you can do for them. This one simple (and free) activity not only wears their cute little asses out, but it makes them happy, improves their confidence, and relieves boredom. It’s a multi-tasker’s dream. Let’s start with their happiness.

Happiness

Walking your dog makes them happy because it satisfies their primitive instincts. Just like dogs are born with an instinct to dig, they are also born with one to walk. This gene has been wired into their DNA for centuries because in the wild packs have always migrated for their most basic needs, like food, water, and shelter. It’s part of who they are. Think about it this way: when you walk them, you are honoring their heritage. More than ever, we’re learning how important it is to honor different histories. So why not honor your dog’s and walk them?

Confidence

We have four rescue dogs. We found three on some roadside or other, and one was abandoned in a trailer park. They all have issues, issues that we’ll probably be working on for the rest of their lives. To be specific, Floyd is obsessed with food. Meadow gets anxious when she’s confined or away from her pack. Sara still has nightmares, eleven years after we found her on the roadside, which clues us in to how terrifying her experience must have been. And Ade, our youngest, is shy around strangers. We can control all of these issues with one activity, and that’s walking. A walk, done properly, exposes them to all sorts of new situations and experiences, which builds confidence and eases anxiety.

Boredom

Speaking about anxiety, let’s talk about that backyard. “I don’t walk my dogs because they have a backyard.” This excuse is now a cliche because it’s so overused. Letting them roam alone around a backyard isn’t exercise and it doesn’t help them with any behavioral issues either.

Although it’s idyllic to think about your pup and that sprawling grassy space, some of the best-behaved dogs I’ve ever met are city dogs. City dogs take several walks every single day, even for the little things like going to the bathroom. They rarely get bored because they see and smell all kinds of different stimuli on a daily basis.

Think about how you felt (feel) under quarantine. Confined to your apartment, house, condo, etc. Think about that boredom. Dogs are smart. Never underestimate their sentience. They experience boredom too. And when they do, they often act out. They destroy things or bark too much. Walking alleviates boredom and all the anxiety it causes.

Pack Behavior

When I was fostering full-time, I introduced every new dog to our pack during a walk. Before anyone had a single moment to sniff one behind, we started walking. If you’re having issues introducing a new pup to your pack, try walking them together. Dogs are social creatures and migrating together (and properly) bonds them. It bonds them in the way we develop relationships when we share any experience.

Have I given you enough reasons to get outside and walk your dog? For us, one saying sums it all up: “A Tired Dog is a Good Dog.” It’s really that simple.