Archives for February 2012

The View from Cedar Hill

Intrepid Pup at Cedar HillFebruary is Black History Month, and the Intrepid Pup wants to share a true gem of the National Park Service: the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. The house, known as Cedar Hill for the preponderance of cedar trees on the 9.75 acres, was the residence of an aging Frederick Douglass from 1877 until his death in 1895. This handsome estate in southeast Washington, DC’s Anacostia neighborhood sits atop a promontory commanding a truly magnificent panorama of the capital city and is a site tourists should venture beyond the National Mall to see.

For those only familiar with Douglass (c. 1818 – 1895) from his 1845 autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, a visit to Cedar Hill takes the longer view, providing a more comprehensive treatment of Douglass’s life and legacy. A 17-minute introductory video, “Fighter for Freedom,” in the adjacent National Park Service visitor center chronicles Douglass’s childhood in slavery in Maryland and eventual escape to New York, marriage to free black Anne Murray, rise as a distinguished orator in the anti-slavery movement both in the United States and abroad, and continuing influence during the Civil War, Reconstruction Era, and women’s suffrage and civil rights movements. The only way to access the historic home is via a ranger-led, 30-minute tour, for which a nominal ticket fee is charged. Photography is permitted inside the house so long as it’s without a flash.

Growlery at Cedar HillOn the day of our visit, we had an exceptionally knowledgeable and engaging young ranger. He deftly hit the highlights of Douglass’s public life but also gave insights into Douglass’s more personal side, pointing out Douglass’s extensive library, the violin he played, and the free weights he used to maintain his personal fitness. Referencing the various portraits throughout the house, the park ranger expounded upon Douglass’s social circle and relationships with abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown; Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Hayes and Harrison; Underground Railroad champion Harriet Tubman; and abolitionist and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. He explained the importance of Douglass’s family life and—after wife Anne’s death in 1882—controversial second marriage in 1884 to Helen Pitts, a white woman and women’s rights activist and publisher. And we learned-lesser known details, such as Douglass’s appointments as Charge’ d’Affaires for Santo Domingo and as Minister to Haiti. Before departing, we checked out the rustic outbuilding at the rear of the property. It’s a reconstruction of Douglass’ self-proclaimed “Growlery.” Evocative of a lion’s lair, it served as Douglass’ personal retreat for writing and study.

Dogging the Details

38°51’48.53″ N,  76°59’6.66″W
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, DC


Cedar Hill ranks a 1 on the Wag-A-Meter for its ease in being able to experience.

This National Park Historic Site has ample free parking. Dogs are not allowed inside the visitor center or house but are welcome on the grounds so long as they remain on leash. A ticket is not required for strolling the grounds and taking in that fabulous view! Summers in the nation’s capital are hot and humid, so if you’re coming then, be sure to bring along water for your dog.

There’s a steep set of 85 stairs from the visitor center to the house itself; an alternate route is via a slightly less steep but winding access route that passes a landscaped garden and comes out adjacent to the Growlery.

Dog Power: Tales of a Therapy Dog


Tavish's therapy dog work
The journey that is Tavish is ever-evolving. Though his muzzle now sports a few flecks of gray, people still ask the age of our “puppy.”  He has traded living in northern New England for the mid-Atlantic region. Now that his “backyard” includes the nation’s capital, the Old Dominion, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, Tavish’s intrepid pup escapades have grown to encompass national museums, monuments and Civil War sites. He has new regulars that he sees on his walks. There’s the mom with the young toddler who screeches in delight each and every time he passes. The guy who uses the loop road at the park to practice racing in his custom wheelchair and always coasts to a stop long enough to give Tavish a neck rub. Then there are the more spontaneous encounters like the random callouts from passersby of “Hey, pointer dog!” or “Vizsla!”  A banjo player on the boardwalk abruptly shifts his tune to “Hound Dog Blues” when Tavish strolls past. A homeless man approaches to pat Tavish on the head, says he’s sorry he doesn’t have a Milk-Bone® to give him, thanks Tavish for his time, and tells us to “have a blessed day.”

We’ve always thought that Tavish is special, but it has also become clear over the years that Tavish’s natural capacity for making other people happy is a gift that is easy to share.  And so in 2011, Tavish earned his official AKC Therapy Dog certification by volunteering with children and the elderly through a Washington DC-based organization that specializes in animal-assisted therapy.  He regularly visits seven different venues that include nursing homes, a center for emotionally-troubled youth, and several libraries. With the latter, children read aloud to Tavish to build their literacy skills, improve self-confidence, and foster enjoyment of reading. Many young readers participate simply for the novelty of reading to a dog that listens non-judgmentally. Others are recent immigrants and first-generation English speakers. Some are dyslexic or visit speech therapists. Still others are trying to overcome a fear of dogs.

So in volunteering, Tavish thus becomes an ambassador not only for his breed but also for dogs in general, and an outing with him typically involves fielding numerous questions about his traits, habits, and care. Within his first year of volunteering, Tavish had literally touched more than 200 lives: people of all ages, nationalities and creeds. Occasionally they speak foreign languages or are unable to speak at all.  Sometimes they are shy, lonely, or infirm. And so, Tavish’s story now intersects with many others’, often in the most astonishing of ways. Here are just a few:

Nine-year-old Patrick* has just met Tavish at the library. Seems like a good time to show off a new trick in Tavish’s repertoire:  balancing a biscuit on his nose for an instant before flicking it up and catching it in a lightning-quick blur. Tavish does it on cue, eliciting a hushed, “That’s AWESOME” from Patrick, who then reads Tavish a storybook and departs contented. Minutes later, Patrick returns with the librarian in tow. “I hate to interrupt,” she says, “But Patrick would like to know if it’d be all right to give Tavish a hug.”


It’s unclear how long it has been since the woman in the nursing home has been able to speak coherently, her body weakened by ailments both visible and unseen. Much of her day is spent seated in a common area with other residents, where she impassively watches whatever film classic happens to be showing on the big screen TV. Yet the arrival of Tavish brings about a startling transformation. Her eyes focus. Her placid, smooth features become animated. And with arms outstretched, she begins to weep. While disarming to those around her, Tavish takes it in stride and approaches her chair. In a rising crescendo she moans, “Ohhhhhhhh,” and buries her hands into Tavish’s fur, grinning broadly, fat tears streaming down her cheeks.


The boy is polite and has a winsome smile. His name is Milo*. Of all the visiting dogs gathered in the courtyard at this center for troubled youth, Tavish is the one who has instantly commanded Milo’s attention. Over the course of several visits, Milo gets to know Tavish pretty well, works on commands with him, and even introduces Tavish to some of the younger kids and patiently instructs them on how best to walk him. One afternoon Milo brings his therapist out to the courtyard and proudly points to Tavish, “See, Mrs. C.?  That’s who I’ve been telling you about. That’s my dog.”


Fourth-grader Aziz* is from Eritrea—a “whole day away”—and he says right up front that dogs in his homeland just aren’t like Tavish. He explains that dogs where he’s from are often feral or otherwise kept as guard dogs. The book Aziz has selected to read to Tavish at the library is a classic boy-and-his-dog story from the “Henry and Mudge” series, and Aziz asks if, as he reads, he can replace Mudge’s name with Tavish’s. It sounds like a good plan. He settles into the story, and Tavish rests a paw on the book. As Aziz finishes reading, he becomes pensive. “It must be nice to come home to a dog like Tavish,” he muses.


From time to time, this blog will continue to reflect upon remarkable moments in therapy dog work with Tavish.

*Names of the children have been changed to protect privacy.

“…First in the Hearts of his Countrymen….”

Tavish at Mount Vernon“First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen….” 

When it comes to being truly intrepid, one has to look no further than America’s first president, George Washington. The above words were spoken by Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee in 1799 in a public eulogy upon Washington’s untimely death and have aptly endured for generations.

With George Washington’s 280th birthday approaching on February 22, 2012, Team Tavish figured that Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens would be a fitting topic for the Intrepid Pup’s inaugural blog post.

The extensive grounds are indeed dog-friendly (see “Dogging the Details” below), perhaps in a nod to Washington’s own affinity for dogs. In a tidbit of canine trivia, Washington is credited as being the father of the American Foxhound breed. He imported several hounds from England in 1770 and received more from France’s Marquis de Lafayette in 1785. According to the American Kennel Club, more than 30 hounds are referenced in Washington’s records, and it isn’t difficult to imagine them accompanying Washington as he surveyed, hunted, and managed the 8,000+ acres that once constituted the full extent of his Mount Vernon estate.

Tavish has visited on multiple occasions. He has had to leave touring the meticulously-restored mansion and experiencing the impressive educational complex—which opened in 2006 and comprehensively addresses various aspects of Washington’s public and private persona and legacy through immersive presentations, interpretive exhibitions, and more than 1,000 artifacts—to Team Tavish. But if you think there might not be much else for a dog to do, you’d be wrong. Consider sitting in one of the Windsor chairs on the back porch and admiring the sweeping view of the Potomac River. Explore the treading barn at the Pioneer Farm site and sniff the blooms grown from heirloom seeds in the ever-changing gardens. Walk solemnly past Washington’s tomb and the slave burial ground memorial. Greet visitors arriving by boat down at the dock. Peer through the fences and snuffle at any number of heritage breed animals that include hogs, oxen, and even Liberty (the National Thanksgiving Day turkey officially pardoned by President Obama on November 23, 2011, living out its days at Mount Vernon)! And if it’s the holiday season, follow in Tavish’s paw prints and be sure to check out the live camel. It’s true. During the Christmas season of 1787, George Washington paid 18 shillings for the novelty of temporarily boarding a camel to entertain his holiday guests. Mount Vernon keeps with the tradition by having a “Christmas Camel” on site during its annual Christmas at Mount Vernon festivities.

Dogging the Details

38°42′29.65″ N,  77°05′07.67″ W
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, Alexandria, Virginia

wag-a-meter set at 2Bring your annual pass, dog, and a leash! Mount Vernon earns a “2” on the Intrepid Pup Wag-A-Meter for generously giving annual pass holders dog-walking rights on the grounds during regular daytime visitation hours. If you plan to visit Mount Vernon more than once in any given year, then the annual pass is well worth it.  The usual rules apply:  keep your dog on a leash and be sure to clean up. Dogs aren’t allowed in the mansion, outbuildings, Ford Orientation Center, or Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, but with ~500 acres of grounds, gardens, and woodland trails, there’s plenty outside to explore. Mount Vernon has a few strategically-placed water bowls on the grounds for its canine friends, but if you’re planning an extended visit, bring along extra water for your dog. Mount Vernon attracts approximately 1 million visitors annually. On President’s Day, admission to Mount Vernon is free, but be forewarned that it’s also one of the Estate’s busiest days of the year!