Now Derby day for me usually consists of me turning on the TV and realizing it's been over for hours. The other thing that happens, is stoically sitting through all the pre-race brouhaha and turning my back for a moment and missing the entire race. This time I was determined to actually see the darn thing.
      Hats, hats, hats. Yes the famous Kentucky Derby Hat phenomena. I can't say I am a hat fan. I mean they blow off in the wind, the big ones obscure your vision and poke out the eyes of your "closest" friends. Some may have found Paris Hilton's quest for the perfect hat, and dress to match fascinating but alas I found myself growing restless and wondering if I had time to wallpaper the bathroom. I did see one spectacular hat. I wouldn't have minded having that sucker strapped to my head if I were on board a crashing plane as it was undoubtedly capable of saving my life. Never mind that is was blazing fuchsia. Clearly, I wouldn't be caught dead in that one! Hooray for Derby hats.
      On and on we went, back story after back story, favorites scratching, track sloppy. Old man McCarthy with his one faithful horse. Bob Baffert trying to act humble. Pletcher with his three horses and no Derby wins. Guess entering three might help. D. Wayne Lucas, never given even a glance by the media. Woolley, with his 20 hour drive and busted up leg. Oh there's another hat. Slowly, ever so slowly I began slumping into my couch. Eventually I became quite horizontal.
      I have to admit, I have not really been following the races this past year or so. I depended utterly on the media, and I know better, for my picks. Between naps I compiled my picks, disregarding the top three they were raving about, Dunkirk, Friesan Fire, and Pioneerof the Nile. Ok well I did take Pioneer as my second choice, but I succumbed instantly to the sentimental story of the day and picked General Quarters for the win. Nice guys don't always finish last, sometimes they finish in the middle. So now I was all set, if they would just hurry up before I fell asleep.
      I perked up when I heard the sounds of LeAnn Rhymes singing the National Anthem. She had removed her hat for the performance. Possibly for acoustic reasons. It was not a bad version, but not spectacular either. What I would give to hear Susan Boyle perform that! No offense LeAnn. Moments later the fella with his horn began tooting!
      To the Gate! Nineteen horses loaded in. Naturally they broke in a sea of browns, and all I could see was that one jockey wearing bright pink. Sadly as they sorted themselves out, my favorite was nowhere to be seen. He never did show up either. Mine that Bird is meanwhile, in last place. He is proving perfectly, what every handicapper has said about him. He is outclassed and just too slow. Yep last place, right where he should be. Pioneerof the Nile is up there looking good, waiting for his charge for the finish. Dunkirk is way back too, having stumbled early and never doing much after. Friesan Fire? Who? Mine that Bird is so far back that it take a bit to notice that he is coming. And coming with the vengeance of a runaway freight train. When he finally gets in camera view he is mid pack and moving at such speed that the rest of the field appears to be on a Sunday drive. Borel stuffs him through a small hole on the rail and it's all over. He blows past everyone like they are standing still. Too slow eh? I forgive General Quarters for losing since Mine that Bird left some serious egg on the faces of the big boys.
      So why 50-1? Handicappers had nothing good to say about him. Too slow. Outclassed. Never heard of his trainer. Why is Borel riding one of the worst horses in the Derby? Borel has placed in the top three of 39% of his starts this year. I dunno about you but I like to pick winners by whose riding them. I figure they like to get paid and should have a clue about what they are riding. This year I was lulled completely by the media and did not do my research. So who knows, fluke or sleeper? I guess we find out when the Preakness runs.
      Finally, and my second favorite part of the show, was Mine that Bird's trainer being interviewed after the race. Woolley was quite grumpy and very brusquely told the reporter that maybe everyone would stop talking about his 20 hour drive now, then turned his back on him and walked off. The camera cut away to the main announcers and they promptly began to talk about his 20 hour drive again...


      For me, the best dog breed Africa has to offer is the Azawakh sighthound. A beautiful well defined chiseled piece of canine perfection on top of four elegantly long legs....yeah. I’m not biased.
      The Azawakh is considered a Pariah Dog, or primitive dog, from Sub-Saharan Africa. They are closest to the Sloughi, and other arabesque dogs of the Middle East (including parts of Northern Africa). Due to the harsh climate which surrounds their native area, the Azawakh has been genetically isolated from other breeds for over a millennia. In their home lands, they are not bred in a modern sense, however the Azawakh is a unique strain of Sahel dog, also known as Bush dog. Studies have shown the presence of GPI^B in the Azawakh. GPI^B is a rare allele that is only present in foxes, jackels, Italian wolves, and Sloughi dogs. It’s presence suggests that the Azawakh is closely related to wolves, or even from a cross-breeding of African canids like jackals.
      Archaeological studies have found art work dating back 10,000 years which closely resembles the Azawakh today. This period was known as the Holocene Wet Phase and Neolithic Subpluvial, or simply put Green Sahara. These depictions show coursing dogs, teamed with hunters. And when settlements of the Sahara were unburied, archaeologists found dog bones which resembled the Azawakh as well.
      Around this time, the Sahara wasn’t a desert like it is now. Prior to 7000 BC the climate of North Africa was very dry. This was followed by a 4,000 year wet spell. And during 3000 BC the territory began to dry up again. This climate change suggests that the Azawakh population has a unique genetic heritage brought on by the fact that the Saharan terrain was not crossable, and acted as a natural barrier.
      This kept them completely isolated from northern dogs, but the ties to the southern bush dogs are very close. They are suspicious by nature which ties into their very strong guarding instinct. Like other wild dogs, they have a complex social hierarchy, unique vocalizations, and a very strong instinct to dig dens to live in.
      France is the recognized patron country for the Azawakh, however the Sahel (western Africa) is it’s motherland, so breeding practices are completely different between the two countries. The people of the Sahel do not practice selective breeding, and unlike the Bedouin they do not believe in separating noble from mongrel dogs. Instead their approach to selection is based on a very hard to explain aesthetic factor. On top of the natural selection that the intense Sahel environment provides, the nomadic people will decide which pups will live from a breeding. The Sahel control the female lines, and the alpha male of the local population is usually the sire. Unless it’s a rather wet year, one pup is usually selected to live. Unless more dogs are needed in the future, the females are usually culled at birth.
      Color is not important to the people of the Sahel, however the dominant Azawakh colors are typically reds and fawns. They also come in grizzle, brindle, brown, grey, white, blue, and black which is more rarely seen. They can have a black mask or not, and are commonly seen with white markings, although the rare solid dog pops up. In the Sahel they are usually heavily marked with white, and while all other registries allow for excess white and piebald markings which commonly occur in the breed, the FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) faults for that. There has been many petitions to have the rules changed, but for now the only white which is allowed must only be on the tip of the tail, a bib on the neck, and white on all four legs which cannot pass the elbow. Additionally if a dog lacks colors on their legs, they

are faulted as well.
      The Azawakhs health is incredibly sound. Breeders have not found any instances of hip dysplasia, and the dogs are considered a very healthy coursing hound. Wobbler disease has rarely popped up in the breed, but only in dogs taken off of a natural diet. Many of the western dog foods are to high in protein, and as a result cause the pups to grow to quickly. Like other bush dogs, the Azawakh goes into heat once a year, and can have a litter of pups from 1 to 8, but 4 to 6 is the norm.
      The Azawakh is a pack animal; this makes them very social and emotional. They do best with other Azawakhs for companionship because of their unique social intelligence. The master needs to be able to be firm but fair as well, since they will always look to you for guidance. Unlike other sighthounds, the purpose of the Azawakh is as a guardian dog. Because of their protective nature, they develop an intense bond with their master. I think one of the reasons I love this breed so much, is because they have a Gemini personality. They can be very attentive one moment, and aloof the next, or they are affectionate (some times overly!) and yet fierce when needed. They are beautiful put together, and look elegant, almost frail, and yet they are one of the more rugged coursing dogs out there. They are not aggressive by nature, but are suspicious of new things, so when bringing strangers into the home they will naturally want to keep their distance and prefer not to be petted. But the owner is responsible to make it clear when visitors are welcome, and when further protection is no longer necessary. Even though they are raised to protect live stock, they are not innately aggressive towards other dogs or humans unless threatened, but they will vocally defend their homes. Like all dogs, lifelong socialization and firm but gentle handling is critical in raising a well socialized and trained dog to ensure they get along with other dogs, cats, children, and strangers. They have a very good memory, and will recognize the same dogs or friends after years have passed.
      This is a breed which is packed with a huge amount of energy and endurance. If you are a runner, you’ll want one of these! You won't need to go to the gym, because this dog will keep you active with all the holes you will be filling. Yes, they are a digging breed! They require a large area to run and play, and burn off some of that steam. Heat does not bother these dogs, and they can handle weather which would kill other canines. But they do not like rain and cold weather, so make sure to bring them inside. Due to the social structure they form, they do not do well in crates. They love to sleep with other dogs, and often owners will come home to find a pile of them sleeping on top of one another.
      They are very rare in North America, but more popular in Europe. However their popularity seems to be growing as the Azawakh begins to find more and more people who fall in love with them. They are currently recognized by the AKC as Foundation Stock, so they can participate in and AKC performance events. They can also be registered with the UKC and ARBA (American Rare Breed Association), or the more restrictive FCI. They can participate in any NOFCA (National Open Field Coursing Association) and ASFA (American Sighthound Field Association) coursing competitions.

"I met this awesome dog at an adoption event. She's the perfect dog; my dream dog, except she's deaf. She's a pit bull that loves dogs, loves kids, loves people, and is smart. A Breed ambassador. Do you think it would be a good idea?" - Airam

"I think it's amazing you are thinking about adopting this dog. I had a deaf and later on partly blind yellow lab. We had her trained (us trained too) by a professional trainer. She was an amazing dog." - Fuangel29

"If trained properly, deaf dogs respond just as well as non-deaf dogs. I've never had an issue with mine being startled and as a result fear biting, because she smells you or feels the vibration on the ground. She also made a better watch dog then the others because her sight and smell were heightened." - Bara of Celtic Rose

"They were bred to hunt small game, so if a rabbit or squirrel crossed your path [when off the leash], particularly with a dog that can't hear you calling (or in the case of hearing terriers, chooses not to), you may never see the dog again." - Kholran


      For many, the arrival of spring means flower blossoms and warmer days. For animal lovers, it can mean the best time to add a new dog to the family. With summer vacation rapidly approaching, many people see it as the perfect time to devote warm days to training. There are many avenues to take when considering a new dog, but one of the most rewarding for those looking for a companion is to adopt a dog from the local animal shelter.

Dog from animal shelter in San DiegoWhy choose a shelter?
      Pet overpopulation is a significant problem in the United States. It is estimated that anywhere from 6-8 million animals arrive in US shelters every year. Between three and four million are euthanized, many simply because there are not enough homes. About half of all shelter dogs are purebreds. By adopting a dog from the shelter, you save not only that animal’s life, but you open up a kennel for another dog in need of a good home. In addition, the cost of adoption is often far less than that of purchasing a dog from a pet store or breeder. In most cases, shelter dogs are not only vaccinated and given a full physical examination, but they are also spayed or neutered, and in some cases, even micro chipped for identification. Shelters will usually perform some sort of behavioral evaluation to ensure that the dogs are suitable for adoption as well. Adoption fees are usually only a fraction of the cost of each individual dog’s care, and far less than an owner would spend for the same care as an individual.

Okay, great, but I really like the look of a certain purebred.
      Not only are around half of shelter animals purebred dogs, there are breed rescues all over the country. Breed rescues specialize in a single breed, and often work with local shelters to put these dogs into foster homes until they are adopted. You may not find the breed you want in the shelter because they are all sent to breed rescue. Rescues exist for almost every breed there is, from easy-to-find breeds like Labs and Beagles, to less common breeds like Briards and Tibetan terriers. If you aren’t planning on showing (which requires a dog to be registered and in-tact), but still want a purebred dog because you love a certain breed, breed rescue is the way to go.

So what do I need to consider?Dog from Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter
      Adding a new pet to the home is a big decision, even for owners who have had many dogs before, and it should never be made quickly or carelessly. There are a lot of things to consider, from whether you have the time and money to properly care for a pet, to what your existing pets will think of the new addition. Some of the most important questions to ask yourself are:
      *Do I have the time to devote to a pet? An adult dog might be perfectly content to spend your work hours home alone, but a puppy is going to require a far greater time commitment. House breaking, training, and exercising all take a great deal of time, so it is important to be absolutely sure that you can devote the necessary care to your new dog.
      *Can I afford a dog? The average yearly care of owning a dog is between $1000 and $1200. Vet bills and food are usually the largest regular costs, but there are also things like grooming and training fees to consider. Be sure that your financial situation allows for the additional costs of pet ownership, including potential emergency situations.
      *Why do I want a dog in the first place? If you have to think about this question, perhaps it’s not the best time to add a new pet to the home. There are many reasons people give for wanting a dog, from companionship to security to needing an exercise partner. Some reasons are more legitimate than others (“fashion accessory“ for example, is not a good reason to get a dog), so be sure that your reason for wanting an animal is not “just a phase”.
      *Is this the best time for me to get a dog? If you are constantly traveling for work, planning to move in the near future, have a very young child in the home, or otherwise have a constantly changing environment, it may be a far better decision to wait until things have stabilized. Moving into a new home is stressful enough on a dog without having to deal with a constantly changing environment.
      *Is your home the right environment for a dog, and are you permitted to own one? Each individual dog has different needs. A border collie is not going to be happy in an apartment, for example, and an English bulldog doesn’t require acres to run. It is important to make sure you have the appropriate living arrangements for the type of dog you are interested in before you bring it home. In addition, if you live on a rental property, it is your landlord that will have the final say.
      *Am I prepared to give my dog a permanent home? This is one of the most important questions to ask. Pet ownership is a long term commitment, and anyone looking to adopt a dog needs to be prepared for that. In most cases, this is a commitment that will last 10-15 years. Many shelter dogs are young adults whose owners didn’t realize how much time and energy it truly required.
      *What kind of dog am I looking for? Another very important question! Dogs are as diverse as people. There are lazy dogs and energetic dogs, quiet dogs and loudmouthed dogs, stubborn dogs and easy-going dogs, dogs that shed everywhere and dogs with low-shedding coats. Even if you’re in the market for a mutt, it’s very important to do your breed research before you even start looking. After all, a mutt is likely to show traits of any and every breed that makes up the mix, so it’s quite important to have an understanding of what those traits might be. One of the benefits of going to a shelter is that staff is often very familiar with the dogs in their care. They can advise potential owners of the dog’s personality and needs, so that adopters don’t encounter any surprises. Making a list of which personality traits you can and cannot deal with will help shelter workers match you with the best dog for your household.
      *What will my other pets think? Not only should every human member of the family have a say in which dog to get, existing pets should be included in the decision too. Always introduce existing dogs in the home to any potential new “siblings” before you make the final decision to adopt. If the animals don’t get along while on the shelter’s property, don’t expect things to improve in the home; in fact, they usually get worse, often leading to the new dog being returned to the shelter or otherwise finding yet another new home. By introducing them prior to adoption, you can usually avoid any major conflicts of personality before they become a real problem in the home. Also be sure to mention any other pets in the home, particularly cats or rabbits. A dog with a strong prey instinct could be a potential danger to small animals, so be certain that shelter staff is fully aware of all animals in the home.

Dog from Life Long Friends RescueI have good answers to all those questions. What should I bring to the shelter? What can I expect?
      Each shelter has a different adoption policy and procedure. It’s best to call ahead and ask what you will need to bring with you. Most shelters will require some form of photo ID to verify basic information. If you rent your home or apartment, you may be asked to provide a copy of your lease agreement, or a written statement from your landlord, giving you permission to own a pet on the property. Of course, you should bring everyone in the family who is going to be living with the dog to ensure that all interaction is safe and appropriate, particularly when there are children involved. Prior to adoption, you will also want to bring any dogs already living in the home, just to make sure they get along. Bringing cats to the shelter is not a good idea, though! It is far too stressful on the average feline, and while it is important to make sure the new dog is cat friendly, that is best done using either a shelter resident intended for such a purpose, or in a controlled home environment.
      Most shelters have some form of adoption application or questionnaire that you will be asked to complete. These may ask questions similar to those listed above to get a good idea of whether you are truly ready to add a new dog to the family. They may ask for veterinary references to ensure that you give your current pets proper care, so be sure to bring the phone number of your vet if you do not have it memorized. Some examples of applications can be found here, to give you an idea of what to expect: Animal Friends, Pittsburgh, PA and ASPCA, New York City, NY.
      Once you find a few potential candidates, make sure the adoption staff goes over any and all information they may have on the dogs. Most shelters will keep a record of why the animal was surrendered, how it performed on the behavioral assessment and if there are any areas that need work, and any relevant medical findings during the health check. Spend as much time as you can getting to know the dog, and if possible, spend that time in different environments. You may be able to take the dog on a walk to see how he or she responds on a leash, or spend time in a play area to make sure the dog’s energy level matches your own. Be sure to get as accurate a picture of the dog as you can before making any final decisions.
      Some shelters will expect you to take your new dog home the same day you choose to adopt him or her. Other shelters have a period of time that you must wait after you have chosen a dog. If there is a waiting period, the dog is generally spayed or neutered in that time, and any home visits that the shelter requires are performed. After that, the only step left is to bring your new companion home and give your new dog all the love it deserves.
      If you are considering adding a new dog to the family this spring, give a shelter dog a chance. By adopting instead of buying, you’ll be saving the life of not one but two dogs- the one you adopt, and the one that then takes its place at the rescue. The reward? A lifetime of love and companionship from a dog that’s gotten a second chance.

      There are times that a book will grab hold of our minds and hearts, creating ripples in us that resonate for years without our being fully aware of it. Most of the time, we’ve no idea that a particular book is going to be a major shaping force on our psyches until it’s all said and done…sometimes, though, circumstances are such that we get to observe this process occurring, much like watching a sculptor create something beautiful from a rough block of stone. Like the creation of that sculpture, the process often involves a lot of (sometimes metaphorical, sometimes not) blood, sweat, and tears; the end result, however, leads us to a better understanding both of ourselves and the world through which we move.
      I remember undergoing one of these metamorphical experiences the first time I read Mercedes Lackey’s Last Herald-Mage trilogy. Some of you may already be familiar with her Heralds of Valdemar series; for those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, allow me to provide you with a bit of background information.
      Valdemar is a country in a world both similar (in some key ways) and very different (in other equally important ways) to our world during the Middle Ages; what differentiates Valdemar from other sword-and-sorcery worlds is her Heralds. A Herald, in Valdemaran terms, is an individual chosen to uphold the ideals of justice and compassion within the kingdom…the key is that they’re chosen by Companions, who are something very much more than human. A Companion may look like a blue-eyed white horse on the outside, but in reality, they have magical talents and powers that no one in Valdemar really understands. A Companion will bond with their Chosen on a soul-deep level; what this basically means is that nothing short of death can sever the bond between a Companion and their Herald.
      The Last Herald-Mage trilogy starts with Magic’s Pawn, which is the story of a young man named Vanyel. Van suffers from the affliction all too common to so many of us: he feels like he’s stuck leading someone else’s life, never quite fitting in with his peers and family members. He has the added trials of an armsmaster who seems determined to murder him, a father who seems determined to forever misunderstand him, and the passion for a vocation that none in his family (except perhaps for his older sister and his mother) seem to think he’s capable of carrying out. He’s bound and determined to find some way to escape playing out the role of Heir of the Manor so that he can become a Bard, but his plans are shattered when the armsmaster accuses him of cheating and cowardice, rather than taking the time to understand his attempts to learn a combat style better suited to him, then shatters his arm in a vicious sparring match.
      After his ill-fated efforts to try to be something closer to what his father expects of him, Vanyel is packed off to the capital of Valdemar, Haven, to study with his Aunt Savil, who is a Herald. Van fully expects that life with his “Aunt Unsavory” (as he mentally refers to her) is going to be a hell all too much like his life back at his home…what 
he never expected was friendship with one of her Herald-Trainees, a lad named Tylendel.
      In what seems like an eyeblink to him, Van goes from feeling entirely alone in the world (a feeling I’m sure we’ve all experienced ourselves) to realizing that he has the well-deserved friendship and support of his aunt, as well as the entirely unexpected and un-looked-for love and soul-deep partnership proffered by Tylendel. With their assistance, Van begins to bloom into a person of integrity, trustworthiness, and honesty…and then tragedy strikes. After paying the ultimate in soul-shattering prices, Van is Chosen by one of the Companions…but is Magic’s Price really worth paying? Only time will tell.
      I first read this novel at a time in my life when absolutely nothing seemed to be going the way I had expected it would…I was flunking out of college due to panic attacks and migraines; the long-term relationship I had been involved in was falling apart around my ears due to my romantic involvement with someone else; and I had recently lost a dearly beloved horse who was pretty much my reason for being. It felt like all the solid ground in the world had dissolved from under my feet with no warning, and I gladly dived into sword-and-sorcery novels as an escape from my troubles. When I picked up Magic’s Price, I found it almost ridiculously easy to understand how Vanyel was feeling, what he was thinking…I felt like Mercedes Lackey was writing this especially for me. The book seemed to almost pick me up by the shirtfront and hurl me headlong into shoes that, while they seemed to belong to someone else, fit me all too well….
      Lackey’s descriptive prose, her deft emotional touch, and her entirely believable characters spoke to me in exactly the way I needed at that point in my life. Through the experiences of Vanyel, Tylendel, and the other friends Lackey introduced me to in this work, I came to realize this: not only was I not, in fact, the only person to ever feel friendless and alone, but also that every stormy night of self-doubt and fear eventually gives way to morning. Vanyel showed me how to come through my particular battles with myself with grace and style, even when I thought I’d never be able to do it.
      Through the years since that initial reading, I’ve re-read Magic’s Price a great many times. I always come away from it with a slightly different viewpoint in regards to myself and the world around me…there have been times that it’s helped me to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves; there’s been times it’s helped me to be a more compassionate person; and there’s been times that it’s helped me to know what battles to choose to fight. To me, that’s the mark of a brilliantly gifted writer…few authors have Mercedes Lackey’s gift for using her own characters to teach us greater truths about ourselves.
      And besides, the Companions are freakin’ awesome! What’s not to love about a horse who can read your mind, talk to you via telepathy, and who will be with you for the entirety of your life?