Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Your SAR puppy

One of the member coordinators of my Search and Rescue team said she often fields inquiries asking what members should look for in a puppy, and asked for group input.  As I formulated a response, I thought that the information would potentially be helpful to a larger audience.  Here is what I would say to the member:

I am so glad that you asked this question!  Both you and your new canine partner will be much happier if you make a good decision, and that decision begins with research. Not every dog is a candidate for SAR.  Begin first with your end of the leash.  Being a dog handler whose actions can make the difference between life and death, or the recovery of a loved one, is serious business.  It isn't about having a dog with a cool vest and playing on the weekends in the woods.  Are you in good health? Are you physically capable of training and working with a dog?  While other types of dog activities can be adapted to physical disability, SAR isn't one of them. 

I won't break your heart yet by asking if you have considered the expense! When I am looking at pups I expect to spend between $1500-3500. Are there cheaper dogs out there? Oh yes, some breeds cost less than others and maybe you will be the lucky one.  The purchase is a minor expense in consideration for what is yet to come, with food and vaccinations, emergency expenses, seminars, crates, toys and travel. Food for thought.  Be certain that you can afford it before having your heartstrings tugged by a puppy. 

I assume if you are asking about becoming a dog handler, that you have attended training and learned what it involves to work with a dog.  If not, start there.  If you lack the commitment to attend training and observe how others handle their dogs then you probably are not going to be reliable as a dog handler.  You may be a better dog owner, as opposed to being a handler.  There is no shame in that, and it is better to realize this before you obtain the wrong dog or potentially put lives at risk.

You've already done this? Terrific!  Most likely you have asked the other dog handlers where they obtained their dogs and what their recommendations are.  Ask advice from the people who are in the position you aspire to.  Don't regale them with stories about your favorite dogs or your opinions about dog training you've never done.  Listen.  DO ask reasonable questions about the care and maintenance, travel and expenses and how a working dog is maintained in the home as opposed to a pet.  Then realize that there may be differences between how each handler answers these questions.  There is no single "right" answer.

The "right" answer depends on you.  Make a practical evaluation of yourself and your lifestyle. If you have owned or trained a dog before, what parts did you enjoy most? least?  what qualities of that dog, or dogs, drove you crazy and which did you appreciate?  Identifying your own temperament as a handler can help to steer you in the direction of the right dog for you.  If you lack patience, an excitable, reactive dog may not be the best choice for you.  Look at your home and lifestyle, as well.  Where will you be keeping this dog?  Do you have other pets in the home?
When you watched the other handlers, what attributes of their breeds attracted you? 

Which breed to choose?  Remember the square peg-round hole concept?  Choose a breed that suits the job.  There are many people competing in dog sports who love a particular breed and will do the best they can in their venues, accepting that the breed may not be the ideal choice. For them the breed is first, the task secondary.  This is fine for sport.  It is entirely unacceptable for SAR.  We cannot cajole and bribe a dog into wanting to search when the day is long and difficult; the desire must be innate to the dog.  The most commonly used dogs are herding and sporting dogs, with hounds joining the ranks as single purpose trailing dogs.   So what do you want to do?  Tracking, trailing, Urban Search and Rescue, detection work (HRD), area search are all examples of the opportunities available to you. What are you interested in?  Next identify the breeds most suited to that task.  If you can't live with spit towels and gobs of saliva spewed on your walls, take the bloodhound off your list no matter what you plan to do; neither of you will be happy. 

All dogs within a breed are not created equally.  There are hounds that are bred specifically for trailing and whose breeders are well-known within SAR circles, and there are hounds bred for conformation shows.  Conformation shows judge a dog on how well they conform to the breed standard.  It does not judge their scenting ability, willingness to work for a handler or any other attribute than movement and appearance. Also, conFIRMation is not the same. Look it up.  They are not used interchangeably and if a breeder tells you the dog has good confirmation, either ask if they are good Catholic dogs or run away screaming!  In most breeds there are splits between the conformation, or "show dogs", and the working dogs.  In some cases, such as the Labrador you have even further divisions which include the show dogs, hunt test dogs, field trial dogs and British dogs.  You need to understand the differences before you go looking for a dog.  There is a distinct difference in the work ethic in a dog that has been bred selectively for generations for scenting ability and hunt drive, and one who has not. 

Once you have selected a breed and a type, familiarize yourself with the abbreviations commonly associated with the working and genetic tests for that breed. The reason for this is so that you can ask good questions and not be overwhelmed or "snowed" by a seller who throws unfamiliar jargon around in order to impress you.  Know the difference between a MH (Master Hunter), FC (field champion) and CH (conformation champion).  Understand if the SchH, VPG or IPO titles (schutzhund) are more important to you than an OTC (obedience trial champion).  Is your breed predisposed to ocular degeneration and require a CERF test, and are the hips and elbows of both sire and dam proven to be free of dysplasia by either OFA or PennHip? 

I prefer to look for working titled parents, whose work I am familiar with. I know what they bring to the table as natural characteristics, and what is a result of training.  One of the most basic things evidenced by a title is the dog's willingness to work with and for a handler, their trainability. You can see this is some certifications, but they will only bear weight if you are familiar with the testing organization and what was required; otherwise it is just an interesting piece of paper.

Will you get a male or a female?  This decision may be made for you by virtue of your personal preference or by the existing animals in the household.  In general-- and this is a broad statement--- males work more independently, but you don't have to deal with estrus (heat period).
If you bring a young female into the home and you already have an unneutered male, you will need to be familiar with the signs of estrus and prevent unwanted mating.  Do your research concerning the effects of an early spay/neuter, as this may affect the working life of your dog.  Early spay/neuter results in more long bone development.  Males do not develop secondary sexual characteristics, and therefore will look more feminine. More importantly, it can lead to incontinence in females and has also been shown statistically to have a higher incidence of ACL tears. Ultimately, your lifestyle will determine what choice will be best for you in this regard but you should make an informed decision.

I'm sure by now you are thinking "but I just wanted to know what to look for in the puppy!!!"  Yes, I know.  That is why I have emphasized that you need to look first to your end of the leash.  Finding the right SAR prospect is less about the dog than about knowing yourself.  If you are honest with yourself, you will make a good choice.

Which leads me to this question: do you get a puppy or a dog?  This, too, is a decision made by knowing yourself.  Without a doubt, puppies are adorable! What is your experience with training puppies?  A puppy will require several years of training before testing for deployment and that means years of making sure you have provided the right foundation of training to shape pup's abilities.  Puppies are a crap-shoot.  Even in the most carefully planned breeding, there can be an aberration and you need to consider up front what you will do if this puppy does not work out.  Is your household able to take on an additional dog if this pup has health issues or you do a poor job of training?  Or will you drop out of SAR and have a nice pet? My advice with puppies is to find a responsible breeder that you trust, that has been recommended by other dog handlers in your same area of interest. Ask the handlers for both positive and negative opinions of locations they searched for candidates. Be aware that many good breeders will not sell their best dogs to someone who is unproven.  Anyone can make claims of what they plan to do; it's another thing to demonstrate what you have done to prepare and come with a reference.  Make sure the breeder carries out the proper genetic testing as recommended for the breed.  Do not take their word for it; ask for documentation. No responsible person will be insulted by this. Once you have made a choice in the breeder and the litter, you will be asked to place a deposit and wait for the puppy to be born.  Sometimes you will begin your search at a time when a puppy is immediately available, but the biggest red flag to a breeder is the shopper who wants a puppy NOW. 

If you have done your research and developed a relationship with the breeder, they are the best source to select your puppy.  In all likelihood, your decision will be made with your heart and not your head.  Selecting your SAR partner based on the odd patch of white, or the one that is clinging to your leg, rather than factors that a breeder observes day in and day out, is a poor decision.  As puppies grow and develop, they change.  The pup engaging in dominance play today may be tomorrow's underdog.  Pups are more active at certain times of day, and spend much of their time sleeping.  If you make one or even two visits, you may not be getting a complete picture of personalities just due to timing.  The breeder is in position to make daily observations.  The Volhard test is geared to pet dogs and can give you some information but with my own litters, I did not find it to add any information that I had not already gained via observation.  The age at which puppies go to their new homes is too young to perform many searching tests but there are several things I look for.  I want the pup who checks in with me (does not ignore my presence) but who is not clinging to me.  I want to see it out and exploring as we walk, which means the pup will follow and respond to "puppy, puppy" calls.  Do not choose the one who is underfoot or shy, no matter how cute.  Let them follow you into tall grass or over unstable footing.  Ideally, this is done in an area unfamiliar to the pups so that you have a true impression of how they handle new experiences.  I prefer the pup who shows strong prey/chase instinct.  It is less important to me that they retrieve the item, because I know how to train that, but for a novice having a strong retrieve drive may make things easier.

Because I engage in other activities with my dogs, I look more closely at the puppy's strike and grip on a toy, as well.  This can reveal nerve strength, but isn't something that a novice would be aware of.  This is another reason why it is important to find a breeder that you trust, who is familiar with what you are looking for and knows how to select the right candidate.  Take another handler with you as a second set of eyes, to make impartial observations.

Are there successful dogs who have come from nondescript, newspaper-ad litters? Sure.  But if your intention is to make an educated, informed decision and to mitigate problems you will do everything possible to be in the "statistically likely to succeed" column.  Recognize the knowledge that you do not possess, and use the experience of those who have tread that path to assist you.  It is to your credit that you are at this point and asking what to look for in a puppy, instead of presenting it to the team and asking "will this work?"

There is another option.  You can find a young, adult dog that has been selection-tested for working qualities.  This is a more expensive option but you will have a dog that you can immediately put into a preparatory program.  You know that the dog is in good health, that the hips/elbows/eyes/ other genetic issues, are all good and that he or she has the drive and ability to do the job.  You also know what the adult temperament is like, and whether this dog is something you can live with.  Most of such candidates will be imported from Europe.  This may seem a more expensive option, but remember that you are paying not only for the health but also the time someone else spent in teaching a proper foundation.  For the novice, this is an excellent option.  It will also provide you experience that you can use should you elect to obtain a puppy in the future, with a more complete understanding of the qualities you need.

You may wonder why I have not suggested a shelter dog.  If you are looking for a puppy, consider all the hours of planning and genetic testing that a responsible breeder performs in order to create a healthy, willing canine partner. They carefully nourish the pregnant bitch, and then the puppies.  They provide environmental enrichment and challenges to help the puppies grow and explore with confidence. Vaccinations are done sparingly and over time, to minimize the issue with site cancers and immune-deficiency.   Contrast this with an abandoned litter, likely without proper gestational nutrition and genetic testing, raised in a concrete kennel, vaccinated and neutered young; the choice is clear.  Occasionally you may find a young adult dog in a shelter who is simply too much for the owner to handle, but not a bad dog in terms of fear or aggression.  If you know what you are looking for and the shelter allows you to test the dogs, you may find a gem.  It still does not address the health issues and you will need to decide whether you will pay for Xrays on a dog you may not keep, or whether the shelter will even allow this to be done.  Some shelters are better than others about allowing dogs to go to working homes, and they remain a possibility, with considerations.

Finding a puppy is so much more than merely looking at a litter! You would be wasting time if all you did was run from newspaper ad to ad, checking out the "free to good home" section.  Or even some of the exorbitantly priced AKC Champion pups that are pretty pets.  So when you ask "what do I look for", you first need to know the answers to the questions above and narrow your search so that you are selecting the best candidate from the best potential litter.  The best turd in a pile of turds is still a turd.

After you find your canine partner, and are astonished at how quickly he or she learns and how wonderful it is to look at the years ahead, it will your turn to shake your head when someone asks "what do I look for in a pup" and say, "Well, let me tell you....."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tracking with Fiona and Cooper on November 25

Sue and I met for tracking yesterday.  We have been doing alot of "in the hand" work with our dogs lately, shaping position and playing doggie games, and we had not tracked for some time. Sue had her two dogs and I had Fiona and Cooper with me.  Fiona is a young female German Shepherd that I have her to train and title, and I had her for a few weeks when she developed panno and returned home.  I had been working scent pads and the beginning of tracking with her, so I was anxious to see if I had lost any of the training in her absence.  Cooper had a foundation in tracking before he made a career shift to USAR.  After Jinx got sick and Cooper had to step up, my attention was to get him trained and certified and the tracking was put on hold.  Once we passed our Type 1 test last month I decided it was time to get back to schutzhund with him since he doesn't have to recertify for two years, and I can get his SchH3 done by then.

I laid a track for each one of them.  Fiona had only done scent pads and very short tracks prior to this, and since this was meant to see where we were at with things to make a training plan, I laid a track that was approximately 50 feet to a right turn, and another 50 feet to an article.  I have a particular way of teaching the article indication and have not finished that with Fiona, so in placing an article at the end of the track I move along side her to that position and cue the down for now.  The tracks were aged approximately 45 minutes- 1 hour.  I was very, very pleased with the fact that Fiona had not lost any of the foundation.  Both dogs wear a boettcher to track so that they have an additional physical cue to the activity.  Particularly for Cooper, this is important to make clear that tracking is different from other behaviors.  In USAR he goes "naked" and is released from a slip collar to search.  I stayed along side Fiona as she track to reinforce that she check every footstep and she did well with that, as well as the corner. 

Cooper wasn't as calm at the start of his track as Fiona was.  Fiona is highly food motivated and was intent on the scent pad, but Cooper showed his "I'm crazy to get going" behavior where he revs forward and back.  He was less interested in the scent pad than what was beyond, and I had to show him that he wasn't going to run down the track.  After that, he demonstrated nice attention to the footsteps and nailed the multiple corners.  The food I used blended with the grass surface and the grass was just long enough that it fell into the footprint indentation. Perfect!  The dogs couldn't look up ahead and see food, so were less tempted to skip steps.

I was very pleased with the tracking behavior.  Both dogs will need a gentle reminder that they cannot skip a footstep, and must check each one, which will require a minor equipment addition, and Fiona will need to learn her article indication.  Cooper knows it, and gave me a nice down at the article, so we will move in the future to what we learned from Debbie Zappia and place multiple articles in a row, concealed.  I have come to enjoy the challenge of tracking and look forward to putting all these pieces in order!

The only bad part about our track yesterday, is that I like to continue my progress by letting the dogs earn their meals on the track in the beginning.  I had plans to meet other schutzhund club members this morning but came down with a bad cold and between the rain and the sore throat, had to make a decision not to make myself more sick than I already was.  That doesn't get them off the hook for training, however; instead, we worked on heeling position INSIDE!  Tracking will be continued next week.....

What I am Thankful For

1.   I have a husband and partner (fortunately the same person!!) who is supportive of my passion for dogs.  He never whines that I am leaving for yet another competition, certification, or training or questions the ridiculous sums of money spent on maintenance and vet bills.  It doesn't hurt that he loves them, too.

2.  None of my dogs passed away in 2011.  I lost Digit in December of the previous year and our oldest dog in the kennel now is Donar, who will be 13 in April.  We have dogs who will turn 10,11 and 12 this coming year and I am thankful to have this "experienced" group in good health and spirits.  While it is a shock to lose a young dog, we can't overlook the lessons learned in the lifetimes of these old guys and how they have shaped the person we are.

3.   Our health.  Aside from a few aches and pains, both Tom and I are in good health.  When I meet or hear about people who struggle with chronic ailments or injuries, I have to give Thanks for our health.  From one day to the next it cannot be taken for granted.  There is always someone who has overcome worse.

4.  Advances in technology that allow me to be "friends" with someone half a world away and share their knowledge of dogs.  The internet opens a world of travel to the training techniques of someone in Belgium, or a seminar in South America.

5.  I am Thankful that all of these things serve to improve me as a trainer so that I can help other people and dogs to become better partners.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier, aka The Creed for the Disabled

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things.

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy.

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

I asked for strength...

I asked for strength and
God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and
God gave me problems to solve.

I asked for prosperity and
God gave me brawn and brains to work.
I asked for courage and
God gave me dangers to overcome.

I asked for patience and
God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for love and
God gave me troubled people to help.

I asked for favors and
God gave me opportunities.
I received nothing I wanted
I received everything I needed.

My prayers have all been answered."

Author Unknown

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cooper goes to College

Cooper went to College yesterday.  I was asked to speak to a class at UW-Oshkosh where the students are to find topics that interest them about dogs, and write about them.  Because there was reportedly a wide range of interests I said I would answer whatever questions they had and let them steer the conversation.  So, I introduced myself and my experience and opened it up for questions.  Nothing.  Zip, nada, zero.  I spent the remainder of the time doing free association, asking the students what their topics were and addressing those.  In the meantime, I was pondering the wisdom of having Cooper as a side-kick because the kids just wanted to pet him!  He is an entertaining fellow, and highly social.  Several times he leaped from a stand still onto the table, and they enjoyed watching his tug play.  I was able to point out that I could command him from a whisper and that dogs actually can hear without being yelled at!  We never did address what he does (Urban Search and Rescue) at any length, despite the fact that the professor had advised several students were interested in 9-11 and the search dogs there.  I was prepared to talk about some of the associated scams, as well.  In the end, they may only remember that there was a cool, friendly dog in the class room but I hope they left with a wee bit more knowledge about dogs and training, or a spark of interest in learning more.   Someone commented, "so it was a waste of time?"  No, it was not.  I never consider it a waste of time if I have the opportunity to leave one person with a desire to learn more, or put to rest some myths about dogs and training.  If I can influence one person, they can share and the circle widens. I might never know that I reached someone with my presentation, so it cannot even be weighed by immediate feedback (though I do love that!). Mr Cooper was happy to travel with me and meet new people, and he was a wonderful ambassador.  It's all good, but P.S.- could you please give Cooper an honorary degree?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Titan training on November 12, 2011

Our recent snowfall left conditions perfect for meandering snow trackings, with serpentines and corners that can be done without flags and markers.  Titan's track took him the length of our national-level proportioned schutzhund field.

You notice that the kibble on the track is visible.  It was only after I noticed that Titan was skipping steps to see the treats that I was reminded to use tracking treats that match the ground surface, to avoid this.  The other reminder is to step deeply toe-first, so that there is a little cave to drop the food in and the dog has to stick their nose all the way in there to find a treat.

You can see below that the length of stride is pretty well perfect. The dog should flow from step to step.  If the steps and treats are too close together, the dog will hunch up and come to a stop, sometimes turning sideways.  If the steps are too far apart for a young dog, they may start to search out where it goes using the other sense available to them instead of keeping their nose to the ground.

This is Titan working out a corner. He has taken one step forward of the corner but is still on the track.  Because it is in snow, the handler can clearly see those fine details.  You can see Rich's hand in the photo, clasping treats.  He will drop the treats on the corner, behind the dog, and then tap the leash directly back if the dog continues another step forward, not as a correction but as guidance, and act like there was a party that Titan missed.  Where did those treats come from??!

In this instance, Titan does not continue off the track.  He notices there is no scent where his nose is, and moves back to the track

The puppy should check every footstep.  The handler walks along side, if necessary so that if so much as a single step is not checked, they can drop treats and tap the dog back.  Also, from the beginning, the handler sets the speed for tracking.  The puppy is not allowed to race down the track.  You can also surprise him now and then by having a jackpot midway or at a location on the track other than the end.  We communicate that every footstep contains information and has value.

After tracking, Titan did protection work.  He is teething, but other than one ear being somewhat soft, there is no difference in him or his working attitude. Here Titan puts on his Game Face and barks to make the helper go active.

This final picture is my favorite....  in addition to the nice front extension, Titan is clearly telling Rich that he worked hard for the rag and it is HIS!  He is quite proud of himself!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Miss Tiki

Bob Hanus was a Milwaukee police officer who bred and trained dogs.  My patrol dog was purchased as a green dog from him.  He also bred malinois, and Tiki represents one of the last bonds between what he created and what he passed on to Tammy.  Tiki has earned multiple SchH3 titles.  Not long ago she was diagnosed with cancer.  This first set of photos are during the period of treatment, which left her feeling sick.

and here is Tiki, after Tammy discontinued treatment..... doing protection work with Greg Doud and feeling spunky!  She is clearly loving her quality of life at the moment!

This photo just proves she's been hanging around too much in Milwaukee


other club dog photos






ROYA (retired)



training pics from November 12, 2011

I originally grabbed my camera so that I could document Cisco's first track, but then took a few additional shots of some of the other dogs who were working.

Zoe, owned by Eric R.

Ozzie, owned by Lisa B.

Titan, owned by Rich T.

Otto, owned by Linda H.

Yoli, owned by Eric R.

and last, but not least..................


Cisco learns to track

Meet Cisco.  Cisco is a 5 year old Yorkie-poo. He wears a coat.  Thankfully, his coat does not match Linda's but I hesitate to mention it because it may happen in the future. Apparently, Linda channels Cisco, as she asked "what about Cisco? Cisco wants to do something!' at schutzhund training today.  I accept part of the blame for encouraging them.  He's just so darned cute!  And he is very food motivated and willing, so it's fun to teach him behaviors.  Last week we had him doing a spunky relay between Manners Minders.

We had been "blessed" with a recent snowfall that left the conditons perfect for puppy serpentines in tracking.  That mushy, snowball-packing snow that leaves a perfect impression of your foot when you walk, is great for laying meandering, multi-turn tracks because you can see exactly where they go!   No need to throw markers or place flags.   There are only a couple things you need to remember.  One is to walk toe-first, so that your toe digs an impression where you can drop the food, and the second is to use food the same color as the surface.  String cheese is a good choice.  The caution is that if you use a dark colored treat, the dog will use his/her eyes and simply run from treat to treat instead of using the nose.  With a small dog such as Cisco, depending on how large your own feet are, you may need to place food in both the heel and the toe.  After all, the length of my foot is roughly the same length as his body!

Cisco starts his track. 

 Linda laid the track out of sight of Cisco and took him to the scent pad; once he saw there was food there, he thought Linda was pretty clever for figuring out he would like to follow where some silly person dropped food on the ground!

Here Cisco works out the corner

Tracking on a loose leash


good thing we reminded Linda that they have to complete a BH before moving on to the TR1. 
Look out, world!

My testing adventure! The travelogue.

As you know by now, Cooper and I traveled to Collierville, TN.  The tests were offered by the USAR Foundation and the Tennessee Task Force. It was extremely pleasant to travel with a dog who doesn't destroy his bed or get nervous diarrhea, let me tell you! The weather was good for our drive down here, which, other than being long and extremely boring, as fine. Hwy 57 and 55 took me the length of Illinois. Straight, flat and dull. I passed one "drug check point" where they announced the check point was just up ahead... and oh gee, there happened to be an exit prior to that location. I had to pee but was not about to take that exit!! My route also took me into Missouri and Arkansas.  That was slightly unnerving and left me momentarily wondering if I had somehow taken a wrong turn.

The Days Inn hotel that I stayed at was across the street from the Schilling Farms development.  It has wonderful green space around it to exercise dogs and each room exits outside, which makes it nice for hauling in crates and such.

Cooper and took a walk through the Schilling Farms area.  For anyone interested in a little history check out: to read about the Schilling Farms development. I thought it must be part of a historic site, perhaps a family farm sold, but as it turns out it is the vision of the developers. Amazing! It reminded in some ways of the Greenbelt community of Greendale. The developer created a multi-use space with green areas, that maintained the intregrity of southern architecture. The hotel is located across the street from the Schilling Farms development, which is bordered by beautiful white fences and gabled buildings. Collierville was actually burned to the ground after a battle during Sherman's "March to the Sea" and was later rebuilt.

The following photos were taken on our walk about Schilling Farms:

After our test, we visited the Town Square of Collierville.
It was very quiet, with several people sitting on park benches and reading. There was no loud music or squealing tires.  Cooper and I walked around the Square, reading the signs commemorating the Confederate bravery.  It leaves a Yankee with a different perspective because you realize that all those lives lost were the sons and fathers of someone who loved them and believed they were fighting the right cause.  My great-great-grandfather is buried in Dickson, TN, having been killed in battle as a Union soldier.  There are a number of plaques located around the square, explaining the significance of pieces of Collierville history.

I thought that it would be nice to eat dinner there, perhaps get a taste of regional cuisine.  Since I noticed a cafe right there on the Square, I popped in.  The proprietors appeared to be of Asian ethnicity, and I saw a buffet.  I was still optimistic.  There could be redneck Asians, right?   I ordered a bowl of something I recognized to be a southern dish, more cajun than Tennessee, but what the heck.  I asked for a bowl of red beans and rice.  In modern parlance, apparently what I got was "fusion".  A bowl of red beans (kidney beans) and sausage that did have a delightful cajun flavor, and on the side.... sticky rice!  I do love sticky rice and found it quite good along with the beans and sausage, but it certainly wasn't the customary dirty rice.  The fortune cookie on the table made the final twist to my palate!  Unexpected, but still very good.

"Unexpected, but still very good" can also describe my drive home.  I was up at 4 am, packed and on the road by 5.  I wanted to get home before dark and avoid the suicidal deer that had littered my drive down.  Near Perryville, Missouri, my van broke down. Again.  One minute I was whipping right along, passing a semi, and the next.... no to the side of the road I coasted.  It seems to be a matter of routine to be towed in each state I visit and by now, I just take it in stride.  AAA should be on my speed dial.  I'm just grateful that they don't have a cap!  A wrecker was dispatched and apparently AAA, after discovering one dealership had a 3 day waiting time for an appointment, wanted to send me 40 miles back the way I had come.  The wrecker driver, bless him, knew a local shop that he said specialized in getting stranded motorists back on the road.  Go for it, I said!  He took me to TLM Auto Body in Perryville, Mo.   If you are EVER near and need help, this is where you want to be!  I hauled Cooper's crate out and perched myself out back on a log while they worked on my van.  Tim, the owner, is assisted by his father and another man; his father brought out dog biscuits for Cooper.  At lunch time, he invited me to share their meal and we ate heartily of ham hocks and beans, with cornbread, cooked up there in the crockpot.  Oh my goodness, was it delicious!  I have never been treated so well at any of the places I have broken down before.  These are genuinely nice people.

What could have been a horrible day, was brightened by the goodness of these folk.  My distributor was chewed up and had to be replaced, and once that part arrived and was installed, I was on my way again.  This made my day later than I had hoped and it rained for the last few hours of my journey.  Friends in Milwaukee had invited me to stop there if I was tired, but when I was within three hours of home, I just wanted to press on.  It was a good thing I did.  Within an hour of arriving home, sleet was pelting the window and the next morning I was greeted by a blanket of snow.

So there it is, another cross-country trip where I had unique experiences and met great new friends! I'm looking forward to returning to Tennessee for another visit.  In a new vehicle.