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9.1.13

Gone to the Dogs

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They’re cruising in cars, splashing in surf, strolling up Circuit Avenue, and napping in the narcissus. Dogs are everywhere on Martha’s Vineyard - from the ubiquitous black Labs to the pedigreed Pomeranians and Rhodesian ridgebacks. Large or small, young or old, purebred or Heinz 57, dogs are prominent Island residents. We meet dogs who have been rescued and those that rescue others. Dogs that herd and those that need to be heard. Dogs that drool and those that swim in the pool. And while we would have loved to include many more outstanding specimens, we’ve worked doggone hard to keep it to a manageable number. Here, without further ado, is a sampling of seven of our favorite shaggy (and not-so-shaggy) Island dog stories.

Rip, working ’til the cows come home

He holds his head low, but you can feel the intensity of his gaze and the barely contained energy in his lean body. Rip, a ten-year-old Border collie, is ready to spring into action at the sound of Rebecca Brown’s voice, with the eagerness and acuity characteristic of his breed.

He and Rebecca, who lives in Edgartown, have spent much of their lives on working farms, moving cows and sheep, waking at sunrise and finishing out long days together, a layer of dirt covering their bodies and a good kind of tired in their bones.

Rebecca was born on the Island and grew up on a farm in Edgartown. She studied agriculture in college and purchased Rip a few years later. He’s traveled with her up and down the East Coast and to the Midwest, nipping at the noses and heels of livestock, forming what Rebecca calls their “deep partnership with herding as the medium.”

“He’s perfect,” she says. “He’s a dream dog.” Rebecca trained Rip for the field herself, applying techniques she learned growing up around animals, attending teaching clinics, and in books. After a few months training six days a week, Rip was ready for work.

Herding cows on a property in Wisconsin, he replaced four-wheel-drive trucks and farmhands wielding shovels. “They were gobsmacked,” Rebecca says. “But,” she adds with a mischievous grin, “they say one good dog equals seven men.”

Today, after nearly a decade of hard work, this good dog is semi-retired. With Rebecca now working temporarily as a gardener, Rip is enjoying a life of relative leisure, helping out with occasional chores on Island farms. Both he and his partner have plans to get back to full-time farming, but until then, they’ll enjoy watching sunsets at Tashmoo and playing ball, ever ready.

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From left, Hubert Bush with Linus the Viszla, and Douglas S. Cramer with his King Charles Cavalier spaniel, Gatsby, at their Vineyard Haven home.

Gatsby and Linus, living the good life

Some dogs have all the luck. With homes in Manhattan, Miami Beach, and on the Vineyard, Gatsby, a four-month-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and Linus, a two-and-a-half-year-old Hungarian Vizsla, are equally comfortable in the city and country.

Their owners, Douglas S. Cramer and Hubert Bush, have enjoyed Island life on a waterfront property in Vineyard Haven for more than a decade. After years working in Los Angeles in the television and film industry, Douglas relishes the relaxed months he and Hubert spend on their secluded three acres, abutting preservation land.

Douglas developed an affinity for Cavaliers after working in England, where the breed has served as companions to the aristocracy for centuries. “The owner of the studio would bring three Cavaliers to work...and I fell in love with them,” he explains. After returning to the States, he contacted a breeder in Maine to arrange for a purchase. “She insisted that I take two dogs, since I was alone at the time,” he says. Since then, Douglas has owned nine Cavaliers. Their sweet, cheerful dispositions have helped him overcome a paralyzing fear of dogs he developed as a child after being bitten by his family’s collie.

“They’re lovable, loyal, and incredibly dependent on you,” he describes. “And, as someone once said, they sit in royal laps so well.”

Hubert saw his first Vizsla at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, and knew it was the breed for him. After losing thirteen-year-old Buda, Hubert made two trips to Hungary to find just the right second puppy, bringing Linus home in a carrier at his feet on the plane. Expecting “sheer unmitigated hell” on the long flight, Linus instead slept peacefully and has brought his owner nothing but joy ever since.

A sleek, gentle companion, Linus spends his time romping with Gatsby, hiking, and serving as muse to Hubert in his painting studio. And while he loves the outdoors, Linus sports an enviable wardrobe of raincoats and sweaters to help him weather the Northeast’s sometimes-inhospitable clime.

As for Gatsby, he’s brought Douglas renewed vigor and a will to “get through my eighties.” Tiny but fearless, Gatsby “dominates me – all nine pounds of him,” Douglas concedes.

Ziggy, a gentle giant

How best to comfort your four children when you uproot them from their London home across the sea to Martha’s Vineyard? Go immediately to a Connecticut breeder of Newfoundlands, one of the giants in the canine kingdom, and bring home Ziggy, a goofy ten-week-old big brown bundle of fur.

“I really like big dogs,” says Elizabeth McBride, Ziggy’s human mother, in what may be the understatement of the decade. Ziggy, now four, weighs in at an impressive one hundred and eighty pounds, slobber not included. And while he does like to ride in Elizabeth’s convertible and amble through the woods surrounding the McBrides’ West Tisbury home, Ziggy is pretty darn content to, as Elizabeth puts it, “lie around the porch and drool all over himself.”

“He’s the best dog I’ve ever had,” she says. “Kind, loyal, and human-like.”

Defying appearances, Ziggy is a picky eater, and Elizabeth admits that his daily meal always includes scraps from the table. And while he is handsome, he’s too unwieldy to jump into the car by himself, requiring a human assist. Once on the move, Ziggy can be dangerous. An unexpected zig – or zag – and he’s been known to knock down an unsuspecting bystander.

Despite his subtle flaws, Ziggy is truly a giant among dogs, with a heart sized to match. He follows Elizabeth from room to room, tennis court to tennis court. Though he is unabashedly terrified of little dogs at the dog park, when she walks him in town Ziggy is nothing short of a rock star. “People just stop and stare,” Elizabeth says. “But he makes us feel secure and happy.”

Lucy, from Arizona to Menemsha

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and Lucy at work at the Slaters’ Menemsha antiques shop, where the couple first met the rescue dog that would become their beloved pet.

 

Some dogs have to travel a long way to find the right home. Lucy, a young hound mix of indeterminate age, lived on the mean streets of Tucson, Arizona, before being rescued by a shelter. Though things were looking up, no one stepped in to take her home, and dogs there are killed if they don’t get adopted pretty soon after they’re taken in. However, in the nick of time, Lucy’s quiet charms inspired a kind soul to rescue her and bring her across the country to the Vineyard.

Meanwhile, Jane and Herb Slater of Menemsha, owners of Oversouth Antiques and Collectibles on Basin Road, had put out the word that they were looking for a nice young dog to adopt. In their golden years themselves, they hoped a vigorous dog would help keep them active.

“We were only offered older dogs,” Jane says. “We were told we were too old for a young one.”

But the staff at their longtime Island veterinarian’s office, Animal Health Care Associates, heard about Lucy and put her rescuer in touch with the Slaters.

“The first time we saw Lucy, she walked into the store and got down behind the counter to lie at my feet,” Herb says.

“That’s how we knew she was our dog,” Jane adds.

Now, five years later, Lucy is a devoted companion, sleeping at the foot of the Slaters’ bed, riding in their van, and keeping a calm eye on customers. While she enjoys eating crab claws on Menemsha Beach, Lucy’s favorite food is lobster from the table.

“She’s developed expensive taste,” Herb says.

River, at your service

In the dog world, just as in the human world, there are givers and there are takers. River, a stately nine-year-old German shepherd, is a trained guide dog, who makes regular visits to Windemere Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Oak Bluffs.

He was bred to become a Seeing Eye dog, trained by The Seeing Eye, a philanthropic organization in Morristown, New Jersey, that breeds and trains service dogs and teaches blind people how to work with them. According to his proud human parents, Penny and Don Hinkle of East Chop, River was such an ideal specimen that he was selected to be a stud dog for the program. Never assigned to guide a visually impaired companion, River’s role at The Seeing Eye was that of a playboy (Don’s description), entertaining suitable females in his private suite, their tête-à-têtes resulting in litter after litter of equally well-qualified Seeing Eye puppies.

Penny and Don, who agreed on their first date nearly fifty years ago that dogs must be part of their family, fostered nine German shepherds through The Seeing Eye, providing love and socialization for puppies before they began intensive full-time training. Following the loss of their last family pet and a move to Martha’s Vineyard, they decided to adopt a retired shepherd from the organization.

Now, after five years with River, Don says, “I can’t imagine life without him.” River loves his Circuit Avenue outings with Don, and going to the beach, nature preserves, and the dog park with Penny. And his life of service continues as a therapy dog: Every Wednesday he and Penny visit Windemere, where he provides gentle, silent comfort to residents, offering his handsome head for petting. “Sometimes he brings [the residents] out. They talk to him,” Penny says.

Lest River come across as perfect, Penny and Don hasten to point out a flaw. “He’s afraid of loud noises,” Don offers. “He wakes me up and makes me go downstairs to watch TV with him.”

Blanche, dog around town

After owning a high-strung Dalmatian, veterinary technician Alyssa Venincasa was ready for a mellower breed. Living in New York City, she wanted a canine companion that could calmly accompany her on urban adventures. The result: Blanche, a one-hundred-and-four-pound Dogue de Bordeaux, or French mastiff.

“I got her when she was eight weeks old,” Alyssa says. “As she got older, I took her to bars, restaurants, and bodegas around the city. Her personality is so laid back.”

Today Alyssa lives in Oak Bluffs with her partner, artist Traeger di Pietro, along with Blanche and two kittens. While Blanche has always been mysteriously afraid of men, she has developed a deep bond with Traeger, snuggling with him almost as enthusiastically as she does with Alyssa.

Blanche, now four, is a typical molossoid dog – an umbrella term for breeds known for their athletic, stocky bodies, protectiveness, and, sadly, drool. And she is sometimes mistaken for a pit bull. “People are afraid of her,” Alyssa says. “But she’s a gentle giant.”

Blanche’s favorite activity is swimming, and she is so avid a water dog that she has to be lured back to land when it’s time to go. While she is content to lie on the couch after a half-hour walk each day (usually to Lambert’s Cove Beach or Sepiessa Point Reservation, both in West Tisbury), Blanche is also an inveterate hiker and traveler.

“She loves to be in the barn with horses,” Alyssa, a self-professed equine addict, explains. “And when I want to go anywhere, I just throw her in the Mini [Cooper] and hit the road.”

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Christine Fearey and her daughter Meg, left, and niece Hadley, relaxing outdoors with rescue Labs Cocoa and Shadow.

Cocoa and Shadow, happily ever after

To see the handsome pair of chocolate Labs romping on the Fearey family’s expansive grounds abutting Eel Pond in Edgartown, you’d never know they had been rescued from less-than-happy circumstances.

Cocoa, now eight, was raised as a puppy in a college fraternity house where he had been psychologically and physically abused, then deposited at a shelter, emaciated and cowering, at one-and-a-half years old.

Shadow had lived with a young family and was the center of attention until their first baby came along, and they decided to turn Shadow over to a shelter at just one year of age.

Both dogs were transferred to the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown, where they met Beverly Fearey, an avid volunteer and Edgartown resident who helped found the organization after the MSPCA pulled out in 2009. A mother of three adult sons and grandmother to nine, Bev presides over a waterfront family compound of six dogs and seventeen humans in the summer. She knew where these two dogs belonged.

“I got on the phone and called my son, Peter, and his wife, Christine, when each dog arrived,” Bev says. “He made separate trips from their full-time home in Sudbury to the Steamship [Authority] to meet the dogs and ended up adopting both of them.”

Today Cocoa and Shadow live in the midst of happy chaos, surrounded by loving people and canine pals. During summers on the Vineyard, Christine spends hours walking the two dogs and takes them along for errands in her open Jeep – their two blocky heads sticking out, breathing in the fresh salt air.

“Cocoa is still anxious,” she says. “But he’s also a devoted companion. Shadow is still spoiled rotten and whiny, but they remind us every day about the need for empathy and love.”

A Vineyard dog story wouldn’t be complete without Bev’s plea to support the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard, which survives solely on donations and through the help of dedicated volunteers. Cocoa and Shadow wag their tails in fervent agreement.