Tag Archives: Dogs

Puerto Rican Odessey- Cats, Dogs, Horses, and Beaches- Oh My!

A few weeks later I’m finally sharing my Puerto Rican travel journal! Enjoy our adventures attracting animals wherever we go!

El Morro, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

5/26/12

We flew to San Juan Puerto Rico and took a cab to The Gallery Inn, which may just be the strangest and best hotel I’ve ever been to. It is run by this artist woman and her sculptures, paintings, and parrots decorate the maze like halls and stairwells.

Guard Parrots, courtyard of Gallery Inn, Old San Juan

Sculptures, Nooks, and Crannies, Gallery Inn, Old San Juan

When we found our room up a spiral staircase, we opened the door to the patio and a cat ran inside to greet us. Apparently, we were staying in her room. We nicknamed her Rosalita and started buying her cans of Friskies.

Rosalita going through my suitcase at The Gallery Inn, Old San Juan

We walked around sweating in the afternoon sun and went and got dinner at La Fonda El Jabarito. Very unassuming but the locals eat there and its probably the best Mufungo I ever had.  The next day we visited the forts and got more sun burnt walking around. I bought a National Parks Passport in the gift shop and am now determined to get a stamp from as many National Parks as possible.

5/28/12

We took a puddle jumper plane to Vieques from San Juan, Puerto Rico. There were only 6 people on it including the pilot. It was scary but beautiful flying over Puerto Rico’s lush green hills and turquoise beaches.

Flying to Vieques!

When we got to Vieques’ tiny airport we got a ride from a chatty cabbie named Ruben who was a cook for 15 years but got sick of it, “Too much work.” He talked about how much his Chihuahua liked to eat grilled onions but not a certain kind of Alpo. He said his dog actually peed in his food when he tried to change it, “Little monster.” I seem to bring the animal talk out in everyone so we listened politely as we looked out the window at the wild horses roaming around on the sides of the roads.

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

We arrived at our hotel, Malecon House, in the small town of Esperanza. Malecon House is very sparse, white, and clean.

Esperanza Malecon, Vieques, PR

We took a swim in their small warm pool then had dinner at Duffy’s. Dogs roamed in and out of the outdoor bars and restaurants sniffing for scraps. Afterwards, we headed to the Green Store (which is one of the two convenience stores in the town) to meet up with our guides for a Bioluminescent Bay tour. We were early so we sat outside and ate ice cream and petted and talked to some of the dogs hanging out nearby. Most have collars, but not tags, I guess people just let their dogs roam around town all day. Finally, Vieques Adventures picked us up in a van for the Biobay tour at 7pm. We crammed into a van with a bunch of people and drove through the bumpy back roads to Mosquito Bay. There we waded through the dark and got into clear canoes. We paddled out to the middle of the bay. As it got darker and we were further from the shore, the stars shone brightly and the water started to glow around our moving paddles and canoe. Every once in a while we saw a streak of light through the water as a fish swam by. Bioluminescence is such a strange and surreal phenomena. We roped up our boats together and talked about the biobay and the constellations above. I felt the peace I can’t seem to find in the city out there on the water. I could’ve drifted out there forever but soon we headed back to shore. Thumping over the bumps along the dirt road back to town I tried to imprint the bay in my memory so I could go back in times of stress.

5/29/12

We tried to walk along the trails of Cayo de Terra a small (but bigger than it seems) strip of land off Esperanza’s Malecon. Lonely Planet’s guidebook described the trails as rambling. Next thing we know we’re off the barely marked trails in the woods and can’t find our way out until we hit a cliff. We sort of find another trail and follow it thinking it’s headed to Sun Bay beach but we hit a lagoon we didn’t even know was there. After an hour and some scrapes and swearing my Floridian girl scout roots kick in and I find the trail back. We head to Sun Bay finally and dive in to the warm blue water. I’m not really relaxing and doing nothing on my “do-nothing vacation.”

5/30/12

After having a family from New Jersey take over breakfast loudly at Malecon House we got a rental Jeep and drove to the Green beach. It was so peaceful, beautiful, and calm. Then some family with a kid came over which kind of bummed us out. We really just wanted some peace alone on a secluded beach but whatever.

Green Beach, Vieques, PR

We went to Isabella Segunda and were floored by how different it seemed from Esperanza.  We got lunch at a good place but it took forever to get the food. Afterwards, we did a two-hour horseback ride on the hills and beaches of town. The hills were so steep it turned out to be super-stressful. Dennis wasn’t sure his old horse was going to make it. Mine kept eating plants and drinking salt water.  After two hours my ass was killing me. Finally, we went back to the stable.

We hauled ass back to Esperanza vowing not to go back to Isabella Segunda while on Vieques.

5/31/12

Our last full day on Vieques we were happy, but sunburned and sore from hiking, riding, and canoeing. We drove forever in the Old US Millitary/now nature reserve until we found Playa La Plata (I think?). It was deserted and beautiful.

Playa la Plata, Vieques, PR

There was even a little wood hut someone had made for shade. We hung around there for a while then drove around looking at the creepy old abandoned military bunkers. It was like a scene from some horror movie, a couple on vacation goes to explore abandoned bunkers and finds some crazy predator like a giant rabid mongoose who hunts them. We had an amazing dinner of shrimp and lobster stuffed mofungo and roasted chicken and grapes at El Quenepo. All the restaurants in Esperanza were pretty good, Duffy’s and Banana’s had reasonably priced burgers and sandwiches and Tradewinds had great food and a great view out over the water.

Me and a 300+ year old tree, Vieques

6/1/12

We headed back to the little airport and ate at the little café outside. You can check in and then go back outside and eat there! Security is pretty lax. We flew back to San Juan and took a cab to Ocean Park to the Numero Uno Guest House.

Ocean Park, San Juan, PR

Ocean Park is the beach most of the locals go to in San Juan and it isn’t as touristy as Condado. We went to the beach for a while then got dinner at La B de Burro which had great burritos and awesome Luchadora artwork everywhere.

6/2/12

We got picked up by this guy Manny from Eco Action Tours to go to El Yunque which is a national park/ rainforest. Manny was a stresswad about all the traffic and kept saying, “Oh no, this is a crisis!” We could tell he spent some years in NYC from his accent so we tried to joke around with him a bit. After picking up some other tourists and driving about an hour we finally got there.

Me and Dennis in El Yunque

We stopped at various points of interest. One was a lookout tower, another an older gentleman’s house and farm within the park. Apparently, he had a Salvia plant that Manny was trying to get all of us to eat and get high.

Manny and Salvia plant, El Yunque, PR

Next we parked and hiked up and down hills to a series of waterfalls and pools you could swim in. It was pretty crowded but if you hiked up above the main pools beyond a barrier you could find pools with no one in them. Dennis and I found one and jumped in then realized it was freezing which felt pretty good on a hot day.

Waterfalls and pools of El Yunque, PR

When we got back to Ocean Park later that afternoon we went back to the beach for a while then had dinner at the local, awesome diner/ bakery Kasalta’s. I drooled over the pastry case as I ate my Cuban sandwich then ordered the best Tres Leches I’ve ever eaten.

6/3/12

After our last beach morning, we headed to the airport and back to NYC relaxed and ready to face it. That lasted about a week for me and now I’m ready to get out of here again! So I finally after 12 years without a car, I looked at and bought one! Perhaps, getting out of the city more even for day trips might make it more bearable. Hopefully, I can afford it….

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Dogs on the Wonder Wheel? Coney Island- June 16th!

Dogs on the Wonder Wheel- what?

This Saturday June 16th is Pet Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park!

The World Famous *BOB* will host the 2nd Annual Pet Day and Pet Costume Contest at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, on the Boardway in Coney Island, from Noon to 7 PM on Saturday June 16 (Rain Date June 17.)

Give your pet (accompanied by you, of course) a free ride on the landmark Wonder Wheel.

The Pet Costume Contest begins at 2 PM. The judges are proud pet owners Bambi, the Coney Island Mermaid, and Angie Pontani, Miss Cyclone. Entries are limited to 25 and registration is first come first-serve. Pre-register at the Wonder Wheel website by downloading an application or register in person from 12:30-1:30 PM on June 16 across from Wonder Wheel Park. The registration fee is two cans of cat or dog food — a donation to Sean Casey Animal Rescue, which will have its mobile adoption van parked on 12th Street during the event.

1st prize: Deno’s Wonder Wheel season pass and a $150 PETCO gift certificate

2nd prize: Deno’s Wonder Wheel day passes and a $75 PETCO gift certificate

3rd prize: Deno’s Wonder Wheel day passes and a $25 PETCO gift certificate

The Contest will be followed by a pet procession through Wonder Wheel Park.

I might have to break out Phoebe’s Mailman Costume!

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FIDO Brooklyn Coffee Bark April 14 & A Thousand Sparrows!

FIDO Brooklyn Coffee Bark!

There are times when I think morning off-leash hours in Prospect Park  might just be keeping my dog Phoebe and I sane living in New York City. Prospect Park is a yard and nature playground for those of us without yards. Fido Brooklyn is largely responsible for maintaining our off leash privileges in one of NYC’s most beautiful parks, which is why Susie’s Pet Care and Dogs of Brooklyn will be sponsoring their monthly Coffee Bark get together from 7-9am near the picnic house on April 14th 2012. Hope to see you there!

For more Dog Friendly hot spots in Brooklyn now that Spring is upon us please check out my Ultimate Dog Guide on Brooklyn Exposed! 

I leave you with a spring poem from Dogs of Brooklyn (Pardon the line breaks WordPress is jackin’ my formatting!)

A THOUSAND SPARROWS

The snow has been replaced with white petals falling

from the apple blossom trees. Hard green buds

breaking out of thawing limbs extending to the sun.

A thousand sparrows scream, hatched and hungry,

soon to be kicked out of the nest. Some of them

won’t make it, the dogs sniff out their featherless,

naked pink bodies scattered on the sidewalk to eat.

I won’t allow it, make mulched tree stumps instant

cemeteries. The kids from Little League parade down

7th Avenue, hoodlums wielding bats in their matching

yellow caps while in the distance ritual drums beat.

In Prospect Park people start shedding coats and clothes,

lounging in lumps in the big field, pale skin blinding

everyone. While the apartment buildings peer down

from above at their shaded flowers fighting to bloom.

We all try to suck in the sun like oxygen after months

of cold gray hibernating. I claw at my eyes and sneeze,

my body fighting even the seasons changing. Rain relief,

pollen drowning, the dogs and I trudge through fat drops

falling. Sally shakes and sulks while Eva stink-eyes me

for making them walk wet. We’d all rather stay cozy

in our tiny apartments instead of be slicked shower sick.

We dance a duck and dodge beneath splintered old building

awnings and stare at the sky waiting for the rain to run out.

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The Brooklyn Mutt Show March 24, 2012

Just in time for Brooklyn’s weirdly early and foggy spring is the Brooklyn Mutt Show at the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope! The Brooklyn Mutt show proceeds this year benefit Sean Casey Animal Rescue. On Saturday March 24, Phoebe and I will be there from 11am-6pm selling my book Dogs of Brooklyn and answering dog training questions. Phoebe will likely be entering some of the contests, like Best Ears.

Best Ears, Don't you think?

All proceeds from Dogs of Brooklyn sales at the Brooklyn Mutt Show are going to go to our cat Itty Pity’s cancer treatment. Sadly, after 17 years she was diagnosed with lymphoma and we want to make her as comfortable as possible as she passes into the next world (which ain’t cheap!).

Dennis, Phoebe dog, Phoebe Cat (in perch), and Itty Pity (on table as usual)

A good time will be had by all at the Mutt Show so come on down.

Some recent kind words on Dogs of Brooklyn/ my writing:

Good friend and excellent writer, Melissa Febos and I discuss writing, publishing, and dogs on The Nervous Breakdown.

Awesome editor/ writer Jason Boog interviews me about poetry and self publishing for Galleycat.

One of my clients interview me on poetry, Brooklyn, adolescence, and dogs on Walking the Blog.

More events etc to come! Mark your calendars for Saturday April 7 2012 at 7am-9am. Phoebe and I will be hosting Fido Brooklyn’s Coffee Bark! Come say hello and get free coffee, bagels, and dog treats in Prospect Park by the Picnic House. Hope to see you soon!

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My Life on the P List- Beaten by a 12-year-old at DWAA

I’m starting column to chronicle the d-list antics (humorous rejection) of being a poet and writer out there promoting myself. I’m calling it “My Life on the P List.” P being even further than D-list in the alphabet and miles away from the A-list. P also standing for Poetry, Promotion, Projectile Vomiting. P really can mean anything you like, but basically its my attempt to laugh at all the ridiculous rejection writers face. So read on- my failures are here for your enjoyment!

Several months ago I got a letter in the mail saying I’d been nominated for an award from the Dog Writers Association of America (really!) for my poem “St. Francis of 42nd Street” that appeared in the December 2010 of Dog Fancy Magazine.

February 12, 2012, the same night as the Grammys, I attended the DWAA Awards Banquet. So while Adele was busy getting awards left and right, I was making small talk with the real life cast of Best in Show. Appropriate considering the Westminster Dog Show is happening over the next two days. That’s right Mark Doty, Amy Hempel, John Grogan, and all you other writers who’ve had critical success writing about dogs–Eat Your Heart Out!

I have photos to prove the DWAA actually exists! When I got to the Affina Hotel, that’s right, we got swag bags! And instead of Rolex’s or whatever they give people at the Grammy’s mine was filled with dog friendly ice melt, dog chews, and other dog related products. Try to contain your jealousy!

Swag bag!!!

Wait it gets better! We checked out the writing display (my poem and Dennis’ photo was nowhere to be found)

Writing display

We find a table and wind up sitting next to some breeders. One of which had been a Westminster judge. Being that I’m a hardcore shelter/ rescue dog advocate sitting by breeders was like sleeping with the enemy! They were nice but did talk about judging “good” dogs. It got interesting when one of the older ladies started feeling sick and left to go to the bathroom with no shoes on. We checked on her to make sure she wasn’t having a stroke or something, she was ok but clearly not all there.

Dennis and I managed to eat our chicken dinners and keep our mouths shut about shelter politics.

Dennis and I playing nice

So the award ceremony starts and lots of the nominees and sponsors aren’t there which the presenter comments on saying about the sponsors “That’s okay we still have their money!” Which cracks us up. The awards are these plastic medallions and some cash awards. When they finally get to my category they announce the 4 nominees for poetry. One is at the table next to ours and she’s a fourteen year old girl that has a head band with cat ears on it. The presenter says her poem was published when she was only 12-years-old. They announce the winner and its her! She squeals and runs up to collect her plastic medallion. I stand there stunned that my 33 year old self who’s written for 20 years or more just got beaten by a 12-year-old wearing cat ears. They come over and give me my nominee certificate. I force a smile

My certificate! Almost as good as my MFA dipolma!

The highlight was I noticed Patricia McConnell who is pretty much my dog training idol sitting at the table next to us. So before we left I met her and gave her a copy of DOGS OF BROOKLYN!

Patricia McConnell is touching my book!

I grumbled my way home with Dennis who tried to cheer me up and not laugh at me too much. Its so ridiculous I actually can’t not laugh about it all.

So last week I was interviewed by Melissa Febos in the Rumpus and got mentioned by Poets and Writers,  this week beaten by a 12-year-old. Thankfully, the dogs love me no matter what–Too bad they can’t buy books!

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A Major Award?

Fragile- that must be Italian!

I got an invitation in the mail to the Dog Writers Association of America (who knew there was such a thing?) Awards Banquet on February 12, 2012 at the Affina Manhattan Hotel. Apparently, someone nominated my poem St. Francis of 42nd Street which appeared in Dog Fancy Magazine in 2010. I’m not really sure what I’d win if anything or who I’m up against but the idea of several Dog Writers at a banquet is pretty funny. I will most definitely blog about that party–Wish me luck!

Dog Fancy 2010

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How a Dog Walker Paid off a 37K Student Loan in 6 Years

Me and the Dogs

At 25 I made the naïve mistake of getting an MFA in Creative Writing at a private college in New York City. I had moved to Brooklyn, NY when I was 22 from Florida after finishing my BA in English at Florida State University. For three years I floundered around in various jobs at a tattoo shop, TV and film, public and private schools, baby sitting, dog walking, selling produce at street fairs etc. You name it I did it. One thing that’s great about New York is that you can always find work, it may not be the work you want but there are plenty of odd jobs. Somehow I paid the meager rent in my sub-basement apartment (that’s right, below ground, one small shoebox window under a sewer grate) and was able to eat. There were night I couldn’t sleep because I was so scared about money and the future, but I had hope because I was in New York and it seemed anything was possible here.

In 2003 I thought it would be a good idea to get an MFA to hone my craft and build a local writing community/ connections. I didn’t want to leave New York so I applied to three schools—two local and one low residency. I only got into one school, so that’s where I went.  There was no thinking about how I’d pay for it. The school helped me apply for and set up a student loan program.  They had no teaching assistantships or scholarships really, though I think I was able to get a yearly 2k scholarship. They didn’t care how I paid back my loans either as long as they got paid.

I hadn’t done any research on schools with funding or really given it much thought at all. I thought when I graduated I’d just sell my novel and pay my student loans with the book advance. Needless to say that didn’t happen and when I graduated in 2005, I had $37,000 to pay back. Not only that but the MFA program was super unsupportive—both the faculty and students. Despite doing well in the program and really trying to connect with people I finished feeling no better off than when I’d started. A few years later when applying to residencies and then PHD programs I couldn’t even get letters of recommendation from most of my former teachers. I had to hit up my undergrad professors who are thankfully lovely generous people who have always been supportive of my work.

In case anyone is unaware, the job market is not pounding down the doors of people with MFA’s—shocking, I know.  After graduating, I worked in publishing production for about 5 minutes. I got a job at McGraw Hill in the building above Madison Square Garden. My parents finally thought I’d made it. I had an office job with benefits and a somewhat decent starting salary. I commuted everyday to the clusterfuck of Penn Station during rush hour. I tried my best at a job I wasn’t properly trained for. I routinely got yelled to the point of tears at for making mistakes though I was really doing my best. The florescent ceiling lights and soviet block architecture had me sitting on the steps of the main library on 34th street eating my lunch with the passed out bums just to be outside of that place. I got laid off 3 months later, had to move out of my apartment, and got dumped. 2005 was a stellar year.

When things fall apart sometimes it’s for the best. Some of the most painful times in my life have lead to the best changes.  I applied for deferment of my student loans. I thought about all of the jobs I’d had so far. The only one I somewhat enjoyed was dog walking. I called up a few dog walkers I knew in the neighborhood and told them I was available for work if they needed help. Luckily one did. I worked for her for a few months then started my own dog walking and pet sitting business full time since I’d always been doing this on the side anyways.

I was so angry at the world and the writing community for not publishing my book or being supportive that I quit writing and just played in punk/noise bands for a few years. Once I was making a little money I started doing minimum payments on my loan though I was really resentful and angry. I felt like the school had taken advantage of my naiveté  by charging all this money for essentially a useless degree. Resentment though is like drinking poison and hoping the other person (or school) will die.

My dog business continued to grow as my bands fell apart, now I was angry at music for the same reasons as the writing community. I even resented dog walking despite loving the dogs, because I felt like I was this super educated person picking up dog shit for a living. The truth was I was afraid it was all I could do and that it wasn’t  “good” enough in my eyes or in the eyes of the world. I started to have problems with my health- chronic ankle pain, a burst appendix that landed me in the hospital for a while, and then getting hit by a car. Thank god I’d started to hire people to work with me at that point with the dogs or I would’ve completely lost my whole business.  I’d also met and started dating a really nice supportive guy around that time which helped me get through it.

Some time on my ass in hospitals and at home helped me be grateful for the things I did have instead of always looking at what I didn’t have. Up till then I’d had my health, a family who loved me, and a job that supported me. I started to realize the least common denominator in all of my problems was me and my thinking. I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself for all the things life wasn’t giving me and start being grateful for what I had. As for my job I was clearly in this dog walking profession for a reason and maybe instead of thinking it was beneath me, I’d just try to do the best at it I could. I finally grew up and accepted life on life’s terms and decided to go out there and do the best I could with what I had. This is when things really started to change for me.

I began to learn about dog training and help clients train their dogs to make their relationships and lives easier. I let go of the rock scene. It didn’t really do much for my mental health—it was more of a spiritual vacuum than writing ever had been. I began writing again, working on a book of poems about Brooklyn and the dogs to give a voice to this odd life of mine, and the characters, animal and human, I encountered everyday.  My boyfriend began photographing the dogs to go along with my poems to help me with my book.

I took responsibility for my student loans and began to attack them with everything I had. I paid as much as I could every month instead of paying the minimum and being depressed thinking that I’d never pay them off. The dog walking business fluctuates—some weeks it’s great and some weeks are slow. When I’d have fear about money I’d pay more on my loans, or give an employee a raise, or contribute a little to a charity. I call this daring God to financially take care of me—faith in action. I wanted proof that I’d be taken care of. Initially, I’d do it and sort of cover my eyes afterwards waiting for the ceiling to fall in. It never did. Inevitably, I’d get a new client or business would pick up with training or pet sitting. I learned that instead of holding on so tight to money, if I trusted the universe that there would be more money, there actually was.

The most amazing thing that happened was that one day my parents (who are not rich) called me up and said they wanted to help me. They wanted to give me a yearly contribution of 5K for my student loans. I was really proud and hadn’t asked my parents for money since I’d left Florida and felt weird about it. I told them I’d think about it. After thinking about it I told them I’d take it, but only if I could match it every year. I figured it would be tight but I could try to pay $400 a month or more towards loans. This was in 2008, I think. I still had 30K in loans so I figured if I did this for 3 years I’d be done.

Dogs of Brooklyn cover designed by Claudean Wheeler

In 2010 I finished the poetry book I’d been working on and started submitting it to publishers. I got the same lackluster response as my novel did, though I had some poems published in magazines and even got paid for one by Dog Fancy Magazine. After a year and a half of this I was done. I talked to a friend in publishing about self-publishing and she actually said it was the best way to go these days. I hired a book designer and worked hard with friends to edit it etc. The result, Dogs of Brooklyn, can be bought by clicking here!

I had all these notions that I wouldn’t be accepted by the publishing world if I self-published. Maybe I won’t, but I’ll have something tangible to show for all of my work and that’s all that matters to me right now. I’ve had friends publish with major publishers and barely make any money or get any help with promotion from them—it didn’t solve all their problems in other words. Once again I found I needed to change MY thinking about things. I seem to be the only one limiting my own success with narrow ideas of what success means.

Dennis, Me, our dog Phoebe at Wedding in Prospect Park

This year I also married the supportive, non-punk rock/artist, but wonderful man I’ve dated the past 3 years. I never thought I’d marry someone who works for the government, but I guess two crazy/moody artist types just makes for double the crazy. Again, not who I thought I’d end up with, I had to be open-minded, and am so glad I was. He accepts me, and my crazy animals and is smart, funny, and easy on the eyes.

I sent in my final student loan payment last night. I only had to accept 2 of my parent’s contributions. The rest I paid myself and I’m proud of that. I believe so much is possible if I can just be more open-minded. Sometimes when one door closes or won’t open, you got to take a window.  Next on the agenda, trying to buy an upstate property for dog and Susie sanity, seems impossible but who knows! Happy 2012!!!

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