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News from the Doghouse
Ranger, Sophie and Chester

Dear Friends,

OK, I’m actually a dog. If not technically, then indeed an honorary one. These days it’s almost impossible to distinguish me from my dogs as I am with them almost 24/7. They are my children, my best friends, and my constant companions. Each one has their own special song which I sing to them, custom crafted melodies celebrating the unique drama of the life of a dog. I miss them horribly when I walk around the corner. They pine and whimper tragically in the window as I step outside to check the mail. They are covered with hair, I am covered with hair. There is no getting away from hair! It’s not that bad when it comes right down to it.

Ranger's Accident
DOGS ON TOUR
In recent years we have been rolling down the road with all the dogs: Chester, Ranger, Bo, Sophie and Uno. At first touring with dogs seemed daunting, and yes, it’s a bit crowded, but since all I ever did was worry about them anyway, it’s truly a perk when we’re all curled up safely together at the end of the day. Here are some of our methods for keeping dogs happy on the road: we let them out as much as possible, stopping at rest areas to stretch and chase sticks (good for passengers and drivers as well), we explore everything possible from truck stops to parking lots, greenery around shopping malls, gas stations, repair shops- of course always searching for parks- even the venues get a good sniffing at sound check. By the end of the night curious “dog people" crowd around to meet our furry traveling companions, calling them by name and giving them enough special attention to convince them that they (as we often tell them), are indeed movie stars in a modern world.
The Chew Toy Wars
Here are a few additional tips: Their favorite worn quilt from home covers the RV floor along with a well placed towel or two for nesting. This calls for lots of shaking and vacuuming, but it doesn’t take long to reduce the hair and restore order.
A special tray houses the food and water, which is replenished constantly. There are the same treats, one raw beef marrow bone each per day, and an occasional chunk of stew beef, to make it familiar and special.
Snacks on the road
The dogs are terrific off the leash and we all trot around in a sort of synchronized unity- the leash is only necessary in high traffic areas. Wherever we find (clean) water, the dogs are in it in a flash, playing and finding refreshment just as they do at home.
When the RV door opens and they hear the words “In, in, in!” they all leap up the steps, make a bee line to the water bowl, and then plop down. At show time the words “stay and protect!” work miraculously... they stand very still and make no move towards the door. They realize that this is one of their honored jobs and they take it quite seriously. As much as they are endlessly affectionate dogs, it’s extraordinary how patrol genes are built in as well and all have a major capacity for barking and growling (Sophie in particular), if something untoward occurs. Bottom line: we are family, and should be together whenever possible.
IN THE BEGINNING

Many of you have had the pleasure of meeting Chester and Ranger, the two touring Labradors who leap out of the bus at the end of the show to greet the fans. In fact they inspect each venue before the shows and give their approval during sound check, sniffing up and down the aisles and occasionally disappearing down a hallway or two. We fondly recall the night Chester found a back stairway at the Troy Music Hall and ran out into the audience. I often talk about them onstage, explaining that Chester (an incredibly sweet yellow lab/German shepherd mix), came along in April 1996 and was the cutest ball of fur for quite a while. Now he's large and elegant and has a deep throated bark, which makes him good for bus watching.

Chester smiling
One day we heard that Chester's mother, who lives on a farm in upstate New York, had a brand new litter. It was in the dead of winter during an extreme cold spell. The bad news was that Onyx had had her puppies outside and four out of five froze to death. Perhaps it wasn't time to get a second dog, but there didn't seem to be a choice, so we drove over and got Ranger, a five week old golden brown baby with a little hernia on his belly. He spent the first seven weeks of his life with us on tour and slept peacefully for most of it. One night coming home from Shirley, Massachusetts, we put Ranger outside to do his business. At minus four degrees, we wondered if he would survive long enough to produce anything, but finally he did, and it froze on the spot. We kicked it off the sidewalk and it clinked along, already solid ice. Ranger took it all in stride. Ranger has always been persistent, which must be why he made it through the coldest night of the year when his siblings did not. With an ear splitting high pitched bark, he is quick to communicate. During the great USA band tour of 1997, we spent a lot of time at the side of the road while Ranger ran about sniffing and feeling generally thrilled that it was so easy to shut down the tour. In the meantime Chester and Ranger are inseparable pals. Chester has been a doting older brother, who went from a puppy himself to an adult the day Ranger showed up in a shoe box. It's as if Chester realized he was the older of the two and that his nurturing skills would be needed- although he decided almost immediately that nursing Ranger was not going to be one of his responsibilities. Now that Ranger is the same size as Chester, it's sometimes hard to tell them apart. Ranger is definitely the bandit though, and when the rules get broken, it's most likely him.
RANGER'S ACCIDENT

One day Ranger took off across a parking lot in Wheeling, West Virginia and continued out into the road, where we watched in horror as a pickup truck slowly ran over him twice, first the front and then the back wheels. People gathered while Ranger yelped and we desperately called for a vet. A good Samaritan named John from Ron Baker Auto drove us, with Ranger bleeding in our arms, to the nearest vet.

At first it was uncertain whether he would make it. One of his legs was clearly broken and he was bleeding from the side of his face and nose, and of course there was a great danger of internal injuries. At that point he was no longer yelping but had gone into shock. Grieving horribly, we had to leave him with the vet and head on to Louisville, Kentucky, but not until he was stabilized on an IV and was resting quietly. We called from the road after Ranger had been X-rayed, and now the vet was able to say that it looked like he was going to make it. That was a good thing because I had been crying all the way down the road thinking we were going to lose our little one, and all in a strange place without us there. The following day Ranger was operated on, and although he broke his right leg fairly badly, he hadn't sustained any other major injuries. He will regain full use of his leg after a six to eight week stint with a cast and a pin through the bone. The vet says Ranger is a sweet dog (we knew that), and is standing up and wagging his tail now. In a few days we will drive back to Wheeling to collect Ranger, and when we get him home, Chester, who hasn't been himself at all since Ranger was hit, will no doubt be thrilled.

One month has past since Ranger's accident. The vet had to put a series of metal bolts through his right upper leg and shoulder, the high tech way to repair a serious break through the joint. We have strict instructions to keep him quiet and under constant supervision, and although that seemed possible for the first week, it's now fair to say that keeping him from charging up stairs with three legs is a full time job. It's pretty obvious that Ranger has the kind of personality that would allow him to do quite well without all his legs, but if we can just make it through the next four weeks without incident, he should be able to be a four legged dog again (an accident now would mean amputation). I hope the vet isn't reading this page.

Ranger
Ranger's survival brings to mind the precious nature of life. Having grieved his "death" the day of the accident, and having realized how empty things would have been returning home without him, his survival has really filled me with a lot of joy. He is somewhat miraculous to survive a truck wheel across the chest twice, so I really feel that he has been given back to us. I celebrate his rebirth daily, and remind myself how little effort constant vigilance and supervision takes in comparison to the grief of having him gone. My life experience applies this same gratitude across the board, as nothing can be taken for granted, and everything must be appreciated and celebrated, as we "know not the day, nor the hour." He may be a dog, but he has a soul too. And he certainly has a heart.

P.S. Chester is being about as good as an older brother can be when little brother is getting most of the attention. I've tried explaining things to him quietly, and he almost seems to understand, but it's a good thing that he goes out on his usual long walks daily to keep him from feeling altogether morose... (Chester is the master of the "hang dog" look, and is skilled at appearing tragically in the window, using his best and most pathetic expression accompanied by the most wrenching whining sounds, to elicit sympathy as Ranger is walked in the yard without him). But luckily for Chester, he is able to use his good looks and charm to impress all visitors, and for that he gets no end of compliments.

Great news. Young Ranger has had his metal bolts removed and is going about the business of being a four legged creature again! I rejoice, I really do. He should be taking this transition slowly, but he just doesn't get that he's supposed to run at half speed instead of all out, that he's not supposed to tangle and spar violently with his big brother, and that he's only supposed to go on half as many walks. As a result he is nursing a substantial limp when he walks, which for some reason disappears when he's running. He knows that his survival and recovery gives him Wonder Dog status in this house, and he takes full advantage of that fact. He has managed to lie on every bed, every couch, and every chair in the house, and to inveigle himself into every off-limits location known to humans and dogs, all without repercussion. We have more photos of him under the covers in the master bedroom with his head sublimely nestled on the pillow... he is on the bed every night now and has actually driven yours truly onto the couch on several occasions owing to his unwillingness to budge and the incredible largeness of his mass. Sooner or later, this will have to change, but for now, he is enjoying his semi-devine status.
Ranger singing
As summer 1998 sets in we find Ranger is now a year and a half and Chester just over two. Ranger has recovered miraculously from his broken leg, and although the bone reattached at a slight angle, he runs like the wind and if it hurts him he doesn't let on. He's far too busy with the all-encompassing job of being a dog. Chester and Ranger are admired and loved by almost everyone (noteable exception: the occasional small dog owner who does not appreciate the overwhelming enthusiasm of two large and somewhat infantile "au naturel" male dogs).
The spring 1998 tour has been a series of grand adventures, from their first meeting with two giant draft horses in Montana, hearing the howl of wolves in the night, chasing elk and even a bear, and meeting various and sundry lovely ladies from the formidable Rotweiler sisters in Ohio to the diminuitive toy poodle Bugs, and all sizes in between. Chester was pinned by a giant white Samoa named Samson and had to be rescued, afterwhich he was utterly humbled. Ranger fell off a dock into deep water and it was decided that whoever his father might be (mom is a lab), he is not a water loving breed. Ranger had to be hoisted out of the water immediately, blowing air through his nose percussively with a desperate look on his face, clawing the dock with his two front paws...
Chester and Ranger
Aside from the great fun of running in and out of venues during soundchecks, meeting enthusiastic fans and assessing every rest area between the East and West coast, their lives are in general a bit confined on tour. Back at home, daily runs through the woods and endless chasing of sticks is the ultimate good life.

SOPHIE

One day we received a call from a dear friend... a small black lab/pit bull female had been found in a desperate situation and needed a home. We didn't see how we could possibly take another dog but none the less decided to meet her. Incredibly cute and affectionate, this delicate little dog virtually fell at our feet begging to be included. It was clear that she had been roughly treated as she was shaking while at the same time charming us to death with cuteness. Our hearts melted and we took her home. We looked at her and said, "Her name should be Sophie." When I told Jorma Kaukonen we had a new dog, he said, "Dogs, ya gotta love 'em... can't have too many!" and I realized we were going to keep her. Chester and Ranger were beside themselves to welcome a female but soon discovered that she was far too young for what they had in mind. Eventually they calmed down and everyone got on with the business of figuring out how she would fit in to the pack.
Sophie began to investigate the four corners of her new world, sniffing room to room, peeking around corners, and checking out the yard- it was all brand new. Of course she tested every possible limit, left her mark on every rug, shredded a vast array of valuable items and trashed the yard with her tiny, lightening fast puppy claws. A bit of an anarchist at first, she has responded really well to firm but extremely affectionate training. I have figured out a good deal about communicating with dogs courtesy of Chester and Ranger... and she is a wonderful, super spirited little dominatrix now who growls, lords over the bones of choice and is easily able to take chew toys and treats out of Ranger's mouth by sheer bravado.

Interestingly enough, Ranger defers to her even though he is perfectly capable of the reverse. It has become clear that he is entirely sweet on her which she takes advantage of constantly. At the same time they have become extremely good friends. Once I came into the room and found them curled up on the bed, Sophie's head resting on Ranger's back. They looked up at me as if to say "Don't you think you should knock?"

Our lives are now utterly dominated by the dogs. No one ever gets any sleep anymore because they rule the bed at night, leaping on and off, stepping on us, and for some reason attempting to lie down on top of us. Sophie has long, bony little legs which she likes to extend in a nursing position and in the middle of the night one awakens to sharply clawed objects poking into the back of one's neck. Ranger likes to hover over us in some kind of a dominance stance and then plops all of his seventy pound mass down on top of us. There is a lot of pushing and shoving and grumbling, but since we haven't yet been institutionalized for lack of sleep, it continues.

All in all this strange mixture of human and animal tradition has yielded a strong sense of family. There is this inexorable feeling that the pack should grow, that a fourth dog, perhaps another female, is somehow needed to balance the picture.

I recommend a wonderful book about dog nature called "The Hidden Life Of Dogs." I believe that animals are intelligent, deeply emotional beings with souls. If intelligence is only defined by language then we get to say they are not intelligent, but if intelligence is in fact about intuition, wisdom and ability, then animals have it all. I grieve horribly as I see how we torture and enslave them and I believe that the privilege of befriending such magnificent creatures should be repaid with the deepest respect and kindness.

Courtesy of Sophie
Can two people and four dogs fit into one tour bus? Introducing Bo.

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