Manhattan’s answer to the Starbucks Empire is the proliferation of independently owned neighborhood coffee bars. You should not confuse these small spaces with the old coffee shops of another era where a guy in a white paper hat slammed down a splashing cuppa Joe on the Formica counter as he offered you a cheese Danish for dunking.

Many of these new Manhattan coffee bars have a lot to do with dogs. They all show some attempt at flamboyant style with various attempts at décor that are expressive of the owner’s aesthetic sense. The ubiquitous coffee caves have become a welcome pied-à-terre for those with an urgent desire to get out of their small apartments for a while and converse with other people or at the very least hear the sound of the human voice. They are like an extension of one’s living space, big city style. It’s a new spin on having a hangout. Of course, many of the coffee sippers not only bring their laptops for work or recreation but their dogs as well. They tie their dogs to the outside railing, carefully watching them or smuggle them inside in a small, inconspicuous carrier. The sipperies have become an office in a coffee cup with YouTube on the side and a new way to be with your dog. They are making the dog run a superfluous city institution.

Dick Sebastian ’08.

The one on my block, the Mojo, a cozy den with wood paneling and original artwork has two long benches outside and has become a place for dog owners to congregate because the New York Health Department’s archaic regulations do not allow pets inside eating establishments. In the late afternoon you may find as many as 15 dogs of every stripe (and their owners) enjoying the day. The wise partners of the Mojo have provided their canine patrons with an extra-large metal bowl filled to the brim with ice cubes as well as an antique tin box with dog biscuits. The doggies of the neighborhood steer directly for Mojo on their scheduled walks because it is a guaranteed cool slurp and a crunchy biscuit.

Well Here’s Good News!

Carol Lea Benjamin, that marvelous author of dog books and mysteries has returned to her original genre, the dog training book with something new and ground-breaking. I will make no bones about this, the lady is a very old friend and colleague, and if I seem to gush, it is because her new book, See Spot Sit, has me very excited. This one, in its way, is as ground-breaking as her classic, Mother Knows Best, which is still a bestseller. Apart from her considerable talent in the mystery field, she is a consummate dog trainer, and knows her stuff. In my book, she is way up there with Captain Haggerty, Matthew Margolis, Brian Kilcommons and Cesar Millan. Her approach to training a dog is up front and personal, one to one. She has her own ways.

In New York, there are thousands upon thousands of dogs out for a stroll on the sidewalks every day. Of late Ms. Benjamin and I have observed with dismay that far too many of them are a pack of untrained pets doing as they please in a human environment straddled by quick moving traffic and well intentioned by-standers distracting them with attempts at relating. Part of the problem is about dog owners too intimidated these days to be firm with four-legged responsibilities and their lack of dog training knowledge.

See Spot Sit. 101 Illustrated Tips for Training the Dog You Love (Skyhorse Publishing. $12.95 paperback) sugar coats the pill with short, concise and enjoyable information bites (Oops.) that sink in to the unsuspecting dog owner. For me, however, it is the clever innovation of Ms. Benjamin’s cartoons that really do the teaching. I do not recall any book that uses delightful cartoons to teach the serious business of dog training.

Author, Carol Lea Benjamin and Sky.
Photo by Stephen Lennard

I learned to read in the first grade so many years ago and worked from the remarkably effective Dick and Jane primers like all the kids did for the past 40 years. They were deceptively simple. Through uncomplicated situations, the books delightfully dramatized ideas with simple sentences such as “This is Spot. See Spot run.” They assembled thoughts, observations and actions in step-by-step constructions and various forms of repetition. The Dick and Jane books were brilliant and so is Carol Lea Benjamin’s new teaching primer for uninformed dog owners, See Spot Sit. I would love to see a larger, more expanded work teaching the specifics and the essence of effective dog training using serious cartoons and illustrations. I think that time has come. Ms. Benjamin writes about and illustrates her great knowledge of dog behavior and dog training, making it all seem so easy. Once again she is on the cutting edge. This easy to understand and enjoyable dog book is a gem.

Love For Sale

Back in the free-wielding 60s there was a young man with a goatee who had set up a folding table and two chairs on the Corner of Bleecker and Seventh Avenue. As there were teeming throngs of curiosity seekers in Greenwich Village at the Time, before JFK was taken from us and we thought young people could do anything, he had a small sign that said, “Advice. 25¢.” I was amazed how many people sat down and dropped a quarter in his cigar box. The guy was very young and I often wondered what useful advice he could offer. Nevertheless, he had many takers.

Now we have a new web site called Designing Poet. Personalized poems for pets and people and it’s being offered by a distinguished dog person, Arlene Klein, a top breeder and exhibitor of Yorkshire Terriers. Ms. Klein’s accomplishments include serving on the board of the Morris Animal Foundation since 1991. She is an author, a poet, and a long-time member of the Dog Writers Association of America. Now she is offering online personalized poems written specifically for pets and people. These are customized poems for all occasions and written specifically for those willing to pay. She will donate a portion of the proceeds to the Morris Animal Foundation to fund animal health studies. You can get all the details at her site: Arlene, Arlene. The poet Arlene. You are blessed with the rhyming gene. It would be mean and maybe obscene to decline the poet Klein? Okay. Okay. I’ll stop.

This Just In From the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health, has been selected as the first recipient of the Penn Vet World Award, given annually to a veterinarian who has dramatically changed the practice and image of the profession and substantially influenced the lives and careers of others. The award consists of $100,000 in unrestricted funding to the recipient and the project of his/her choice.

DWAA Hall of Fame

In case you haven’t heard, the Dog Writers Association of America has given three new persons their ultimate honor, which is induction into the DWAA Hall of Fame. Dr. M. Josephine Deubler, Lois Meistrell, and yours truly, Mordecai Siegal. Dr. Deubler of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine was the first woman to graduate from Penn Vet School in 1938 and the first woman appointed to their faculty. She has been an outstanding educator, genetic researcher, breeder of Dandie Dinmont Terriers, and AKC show judge, culminating with Best In Show Judge at Westminster in 1998.

Lois Meistrell was a writer, author and the first woman trainer during World War II training dogs and developing methods and techniques for the war effort involving tracking, communications, and teaching dogs to spot enemy parachutists. She and her husband Harlan joined the Professional Handlers Association and became professional AKC dog handlers. She is the author of several dog books.

And finally, I was honored by being inducted in the DWAA Hall of Fame for a lifetime achievement of authoring 33 dog, cat, and horse books as well as hundreds of magazine articles and columns, mostly about dogs and for presiding as president of DWAA for seven years. I am currently president emeritus of DWAA and an honorary member of the board. It is the greatest honor given to me in my professional life. The award was first presented at the DWAA banquet at the Affinia Hotel in New York City and again the next night at Madison Square Garden during the Westminster Kennel Club Show, between Group Judging in the center ring. My head is still reeling from it. I have been attending the Westminster dog show every year since 1970 and this was the first time I ever had the honor of stepping into the center ring in front of 20,000 serious dog lovers. It took my breath away.

Mordecai Siegal presented with DWAA Hall of Fame plaque by his son, TJ Siegal. His son’s presentation was a moving surprise arranged by Charlotte Reed and DWAA Secretary, Pat Santi.
Photo by Mary Bloom

Mordecai Siegal’s most current book is “Dog Spelled Backwards. Soulful Writing by Literary Dog Lovers” (St. Martin’s Press). He is also the author of “I Just Got a Kitten. What Do I Do?”(Simon & Schuster/Fireside); “The Cat Fanciers’ Association COMPLETE CAT BOOK. The Official Publication of the CFA” (HarperCollins), comparable to the AKC’s Complete Dog Book; “The Good Life: Your Dog’s First Year” (Simon and Schuster). His most durable books are “Good Dog, Bad Dog” (Henry Holt); “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” (Little, Brown); the 10th Anniversary Revised Edition of “I Just Got A Puppy. What Do I Do?” (Simon & Schuster/Fireside); “The Cornell Book of Cats” (Villard); “The Davis Book of Dogs” (HarperCollins); and “The Davis Book of Horses” (HarperCollins).


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