Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Duke of San Miguel

By Mark Saunders

According to a recent article in the newspaper, there’s a new class of guard dog, named the “executive protection dog,” that can cost a prospective owner north of $200,000 to purchase. It’s usually a highly training German Shepherd who’s good with kids and bad news for the bad guys. Like a four-legged cross between Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis, the executive protection dog chews his way through villains, finds lost children, snuffs out fires, and still has time to play fetch with the family … all before dinner.

Next to these guys, Lassie was a slacker. Arguably your best home security alarm in Mexico is a dog, which is why the biggest market for these cost-as-much-as-a-house dogs is Mexico.

On the other hand, our dog was an “as is,” free to good home acquisition. Duke, a 75-pound, apricot-colored Standard Poodle, is seriously cute and looks like a baby Wookie who hasn’t figured out how to walk upright on two legs yet. When we take him with us along the narrow streets of San Miguel, he invariably draws a crowd and often gets photographed. The people taking the picture usually tell us to move out of the frame, for obvious reasons. Duke, of course, loves it.

And therein lies the rub.  Duke’s a lover, not a fighter. The only time he shows aggression is when he’s around smaller dogs and that’s only if they start barking first.

Now, most dogs will bark, bare their teeth, and warn a stranger not to take another step. However, when a stranger comes to our gate, Duke barks and smiles broadly, with an expression that’s almost giddy and his happy tail wags like a spinning propeller. Instead of saying “Get out of here,” it’s more likely he’s saying, “Eeee-hawww!!! We have company. Let’s party!” Simply put, Duke is not a guard dog.  A party animal, yes.

Don’t get me wrong. Duke loves to bark and, in fact, has the deep bark of an opera baritone who is enthralled to hear his own voice. I’m training him to bark to “Old Man River,” thinking if I can pull it off we’ll both get on the Letterman Show… or at least Dr. Phil. 

But if masked intruders break into our house in the middle of the night, we have to hope one of them is carrying a barking little dog under his arm. I’m afraid that’s the only way Duke will rise to the occasion. Otherwise, we can expect El Dukerino to sleep through the night. We won’t but he will.

Questions, suggestions, objections?  Feel free to contact me at:


Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Uncategorized


You can’t swing an artist in this town

By Mark Saunders

I live in San Miguel de Allende,Mexico, ten hours by car from the Texas border and more than six thousand feet above sea level, in what’s called the central highlands.  You can’t swing an artist in this town without hitting a writer.  And if the writer ducks you’re bound to hit a jazz musician. 

That’s just one of the many reasons why I love it here.  I’d much rather live in a community that appreciates and promotes its artists, than in a city that brags about its pro sports team.  And I make that admission as a guy who is all too often caught on Sunday reclining on the sofa, TV remote in hand, switching from game to game.

If you’ll indulge me for a past life moment, I’m going to enter Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and set it to when I was in college.  At the time, one of my favorite poets was an American contemporary named W. D. Snodgrass. I was intrigued by his use of persona in his poetry and bought a copy of his book of monologues titled The Führer Bunker, all written in the voice of Hitler and his cohorts when the end was nigh.

However, what I remembered after all these years was a silly refrain from one of his poems that was not in the Bunker book.  The repeated line at the end of a stanza was: “Snodgrass is walking through the universe.” Mr. Snodgrass spent part of the year in San Miguel and five years ago I got to meet him, ever so briefly, at a book fair. Sadly, he passed away in 2009.

A couple of months ago, back in the near-present and here in San Miguel, I had the surreal experience of dining in the late poet’s Mexico residence.  Our neighbors are writers: one an accomplished short story writer, the other an equally accomplished poet.  Both have been published widely.  Through them we met another successful writer and her husband, who were renting the house where Mr. Snodgrass had lived.  They invited us over for dinner.  And that’s when the tidbit hit the fan. 

During dinner, someone told me that Charles Portis, perhaps best known as the author of True Grit, lived in San Miguel for a time and wrote parts of True Grit while living there.  Coincidentally, that week I had been re-reading The Dog of the South, one of my favorite books by Portis, and that book, too, had a San Miguel connection.  The book’s protagonist goes on a road trip that takes him briefly through the town. Hmm.  Could this have been an omen, perhaps even a salted one? 

Okay, duck!  Here comes the shameless plug.  For more about omens, please check out my book, Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak by FUZE Publishing.  And remember, an omen is a terrible thing to waste. 

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Uncategorized


Cassie comes before Lassie in the phone book

By Mark Saunders

We called them the Pug People. They lived in our subdivision, twenty miles outside of Portland, Oregon, and every where they went they took their dog with them, a Pug.

Now I’m sure Pugs make decent enough pets and, indeed, they have the reputation of being a much-adored addition to anyone’s family. In fact, I don’t dislike Pugs in general. Asian royalty loved them. Goya painted them. And one of my favorite bizarre Hollywood performances of modern times was a Pug named Frank in Men in Black.

The real problem with the Pug People was they took their dog everywhere and carried him in one of those close to the chest baby carriers with Velcro straps. Not only that, they dressed him up and, get this, their dog had more than a dozen outfits from Nordstrom. When it comes to pets I’m fairly open-minded but I have no interest in a pet that’s dressed better than I am.

Cassie, our black standard poodle, moved with us to Mexico.  She may not have dressed better, but she was my superior in other ways.  One look at her and you could tell she had class.  Looking at me and you wonder what class I had dropped out of.  Standard poodles, by and large, are graceful creatures. They don’t run so much as they gallop, like a well-trained circus horse. Cassie, on the other hand, ran with such enthusiasm that her butt would swing out ahead of the rest of her body, much like a gate swinging back and forth. Even her walk was something of a fashion statement. We called her walk “ditty-bopping” and it seemed to fit. 

Standards are hardy and strong, and they like to pull. An Alaskan named John Suter ran a team of standards in the Iditarod many years back, and they performed quite well. At some point, the Iditarod folks changed the rules so that only “northern breeds” could compete and that was the end of that. I like to think the poodles were in the lead in their first Iditarod until they hit a saloon with a cheese spread and show tunes on the jukebox. They’re smart and know their priorities.

The history of poodle ownership is dotted with famous names.  John Steinbeck, of course, owned a standard poodle named Charley. Other writers who owned poodles include Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Thomas Mann, Gertrude Stein, Erma Brombeck, Neil Simon, and James Thurber. Many poodle owners come as no surprise, from Josephine, the Empress of France, to Marilyn Monroe to Mary Kay. Other owners, such as Vladimir Putin, are head-scratchers. 

I came across a veritable dog crate of ownership stories from poodlelore and wish to close this blog with one such, uh, tale. When Sir Winston Churchill’s mini-poodle was run over and killed, a fan offered him one of her bulldogs. She was appropriately thanked and then told, “If Mr. Churchill has another dog it will be a poodle again.” I fully understood the sentiment, for having Cassie had pretty much ruined us for any other breed.  Standard poodles set a very high standard.

Cassie died in 2008.  When she passed away, I thought of the words from the song “Mr. Bojangles,” the dancer whose dog “up and died, he up and died… And after 20 years he still grieves.” 

A good dog is hard to find and even harder to lose.

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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Uncategorized