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Encounters Along the Way

For The Love of Uggie

Every once in awhile you are caught off guard by an act of human kindness. That is not to say that there is not kindness all around. But the reality is that our dreams are often held hostage to the actions of others – and kindness is not even in the equation.  Sometimes we are hopeful, yet sometimes someone puts up an obstacle. Sometimes no matter how we yearn for positive outcomes, we simply hit roadblocks. So when someone showing kindness can make a dream come true, now that’s, well in a word, magical.

In this instance, a dream come true was about meeting a dog. Yes, I said dog. I know you may find it unbelievable for anyone to have a dream like this. But you’ve never met a dog like Uggie.

Uggie stands up to greet us - we were taken in by his charm.

Uggie stands to greet us – we were taken in by his charm.

Uggie, you see is a Hollywood star, the show-stealer from the 2012 Oscar-winning film, The Artist.  Uggie began his Hollywood career as a commercial-actor stunt dog, a side-winding marvel on a skateboard. He was rescued by Omar von Muller, dog trainer to the stars, who had a stable of motley canine rescues –  prodigies and wonderdogs  – already in his corral. Uggie happened along when behavioral problems with his first family were about to lead him straight to the pound. In steps Omar to the rescue to rehab and reshape Uggie into superstardom. This is where I come in – simply as a dog lover, a film lover, and an art lover. Voila! The perfect film for me – The Artist, a 21st Century silent film, a deeply moving, humorous and beautiful tale of a fading star in the golden era of Hollywood – all told in glorious black and white. French actor Jean Dujardin won the Oscar for his portrayal of The Artist. Uggie, the loyal and brave companion of Dujardin, won the hearts of everyone else including, perhaps especially, me.

I enjoyed Uggie’s renown on Facebook, followed his Tweets, watched him as a Special Ambassador on the Rose Parade broadcast, even bought his auto”paw”ography, ghost written, possibly a claim, by a renowned writer from England – so perfect. I watched star after star vie for a chance to meet Uggie –  the ever-so-charming Jack Russell with an attitude (who blames him?). I watched Uggie go on a book tour and be hounded, yes I said it, by the foreign press in London and Paris. He made the talk show circuit here as well. Leno, Kimmel, Ellen, here, there, everywhere. I watched lucky fans greet him at signings.

Superstar Uggie leaves his pawtograph at Grumman's Chinese Theater, Los Angeles

Superstar Uggie leaves his pawtograph at Grumman’s Chinese Theater, Los Angeles

      I watched Uggie   immortalize his paw prints at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in L.A. I watched Uggie become spokesdog for Pet Adoption and the Mayo Clinic. I watched Uggie receive accolades, attention, and love.   I watched Uggie grow old.

 Yes, dear Uggie was fast approaching 12 years old and I feared any chance to ever shake his paw might forever escape me.  There was just something about him – that face exuding sweetness, his good-natured spirit, his spunk.  This was definitely a dog with pizazz and aplomb.

Jean Dujardin and Uggie

Jean Dujardin is upstaged by Uggie in the Oscar-winning film, The Artist.

As time rolled on, I noticed Uggie had gently excused himself from the limelight to lead a quieter life. Months passed with no posts, no pics, no hope – no hope of ever seeing him on tour or special appearances. I knew this was the best thing for Uggie considering his years of hard work and dedication to his craft, but secretly, I still wished for a brief moment to say hello to him, to pat him on the head and say, “Good Boy. Job well done.”  I wanted some small connection to someone who had made me smile, made me cry, and inspired me to be a little kinder. Yes, dogs are good that way.

Long before this time, I had seen Uggie’s ‘pawtographed’ photos sell for hundreds of dollars for charitable endeavors. I always admired his giving side, but I never could afford to purchase one of these coveted photos. Until that day. Omar von Muller sent out a simple Facebook post saying Uggie was offering “signed” photos – just in time for Christmas, for that special someone – yeah me!  It could be yours for $15. What? I couldn’t make it to PayPal fast enough. And of course, I couldn’t stop myself from enclosing a PayPal message to seller (who ever does this?) explaining that my pugs Hattie and Henry (true, but you know who) are such big fans of Uggie. And that it would be a dream come true to meet him. And on. And on. Finally, I politely invited Uggie to do a book signing, a charity event, or any personal appearance in my neck of the woods – Texas. But surely Texas seemed as far away as Siberia for Uggie. He was retired. And Texas is a million miles from Hollywood for a dog.

Uggie holds a place of honor among other portraits of our canine family members

Uggie holds a place of honor among other portraits of our canine family members

Days later after my order was processed, I noticed that the seller had replied. No, not some auto response, but a real response. It was from Omar von Muller, THE Omar von Muller. Uggie’s Omar von Muller. “Uggie will be on set in New Mexico this summer if you would like to visit him. Is that convenient for you?”  Read again. “Uggie will be on set in New Mexico this summer if you would like to visit him. Is that convenient for you?” Nothing flashy or pretentious. Just a simple invite, my message of Uggie worship notwithstanding, just a simple reply.

No doubt you can fast forward to the day my husband and I drove from Big D to the remote beauty of northern New Mexico. All this time there had been just a few messages in-between Hollywood and us. The secrecy surrounding the meeting did not deter our enthusiasm, it just added to the allure of encountering this remarkable canine celebrity. But our anticipation was met with an even greater surprise.

As we awaited the moment of Uggie’s arrival, expecting a leash-toting Omar von Muller, from behind a pillar partially obscuring our view walks Uggie – alone. Yes, for a moment, he was by himself. Then one, two, three, four, and five others were accompanying him. No, not just any entourage, instead a real family – the Von Mullers – Omar, Mercy, daughters Terry and Sabrina, and cattle dog brother, Jumpy. (More on him later.) The family was in New Mexico for the summer so Jumpy could star in a film with Ethan Hawke.

What we thought would be a brief hello and how’d-do turned into an all afternoon visit, photo session and all-around indescribable day. The Von Muller canines, both Uggie and wonderdog  Jumpy, entertained us and amazed us with acrobatic feats – walking on two legs, making paw gestures, dancing, backflipping for Jumpy and other marvels.

Dancing magic - Terry and Jumpy don't miss a beat.

Dancing magic – Terry and Jumpy don’t miss a beat.

Both dogs posed for photos with us and made us feel special. Astonishing!  Jumpy won a place in our hearts alongside Uggie. His agility, intellect and prowess is unrivaled in the dog world. You simply cannot believe Jumpy’s athleticism. And we learned that Jumpy is emerging as a Hollywood superstar in his own right, making older brother Uggie proud.


The Magnificent Jumpy poses with the Author. His eyes are spectacular!

The Magnificent Jumpy poses with the author. His eyes are spectacular!


But as much as this moment seeing Uggie meant to me, I saw something even greater – a kind and beautiful family with loving hearts and a generous spirit, a family not afraid to openly reach out to others and share something meaningful and personal for them. With their simple reply to me, completely unknown to them, they allowed me to share a moment with a dog. Yes, that dog. Uggie was not only obedient, he was also decorous, dignified and gracious – everything you would hope a big star like him would be. But his family was equally gracious, loving and remarkable – their enthusiasm in meeting us was just as great as any celebrity they had met or Hollywood event they had attended. Their love for each other and those extraordinary canines radiated from every part of them.

The Von Muller Family

A family of fellow dog lovers with biggest hearts in Hollywood- left to right: Terry, Sabrina, Mercy, Uggie, Jumpy and Omar von Muller.

Jumpy plants a wet one on a unsuspecting Omar as Terry smiles with delight.

Little Sabrina and beauty Terry were all smiles, Terry wise beyond her young years, and toddler Sabrina an angel. Mercy, is not only a knock-out, but she also has a heart as big Texas, with a soft, caring spirit – humble, enchanting and real.  Omar, his passion for animals barely contained, beamed with pride for every carefully choreographed maneuver perfectly performed by Uggie and Jumpy.  He revealed more to us than he ever knew, however, as his eyes sparkled with delight when he talked about his girls – Mercy, Terry and Sabrina. The Von Mullers’ hospitality and kindness left me wanting to emulate them. If ever I could act like that, treat others like that, love like that, then I would feel I had lived a good life.

I will remember the magic of that day with Uggie for the rest of my days. But the lasting impression is the human element, the simple act of kindness in allowing a perfect stranger to realize a dream come true by removing any barriers to make it possible. I will never forget this lesson. You never know when it will be your time to turn a simple gesture, a single act of kindness into someone else’s dream come true. You may just receive more than you ever imagined – not at all a bad lesson to learn from a meeting with a dog.

Master dog trainer Omar Von Muller poses with superstar and four-legged son Uggie and this author who was overwhelmed by the entire experience.

Master dog trainer Omar von Muller poses with superstar and four-legged son Uggie and this author who was overwhelmed by the entire experience.

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Encounters Along the Way

Standing Stones and Serendipity along the way in Scotland

We headed out of the hotel on the high street to take our luggage to the car. There was a heavy morning fog which had rolled in from the harbor. Actually, you couldn’t even see the harbor, but we knew it was there having driven past it a dozen times searching for a parking spot the night before. The Viking heritage here was not lost on us – imagery and ancient-ness seemed to ooze from this place. Symbols of Norse dragons and place names from Viking settlements of centuries past helped to color the otherwise homogenous landscape and all beige eco-architecture that is Orkney. The previous evening we dined amidst an assorted crowd of locals, seafaring types, families and scarce few tourist at the Kirkwall Hotel. Dinner was lovely, dessert was even better. I don’t remember what we had, I just recall that it hit the spot after our nearly eight hour journey by road and then ferry from John O’Groats to the Orkneys from deep within the Scottish Highlands. This morning at dawn, we were on a mission to see the Ring of Brodgar, a mere 10 mile or so drive from Kirkwall on Mainland, Orkney.

Too bad for us, the heavy fog prevented seeing anything of this ancient place. Even on the drive we were lucky to make out road conditions just beyond the front end of the car. Mostly, the fog won the day. Yes, in many ways it was the winner as it prevented us from ever making it to the World Heritage Site that I had longed to see. Instead, we found ourselves a short distance – well, actually less than 1/8 mile – from the Ring within the Ness of Brodgar at the neolithic Standing Stones of Stenness, possibly the most ancient of all henge sites in Britain. We were none the wiser, thinking we were at our planned destination, and limited by fog to know anything else.

 

What we witnessed at Stenness was a mystical sunrise burning its way through the cloud cover to reveal the flat green pastures filled with sheep and the mist covered Loch of Stenness where a bevy of white swans glided across the calm water. Here at this prehistoric site we felt the presence of those ancient connections, and in a broader sense, we were connected to the very essence of it.  We absorbed the near supernaturality of this moment and left with a feeling of deep appreciation for a land echoing the past with no desire to leave it.L1070297

Back in Kirkwall at the car, I was nudged by a spirit, or so I imagined having just experienced that sunrise-over-Stenness phenomenon most would consider other-worldly. I was jolted back to reality when I looked down to see a massive white dog whose fur and shining eyes were brighter than any light we were yet to see in Orkney. L1120234As I attempted to figure out the moment, a blue wooden door opened in front of me on the high street just past the sidewalk in front of the car. While I had been rummaging through the trunk to reposition belongings and make way for the return ferry crossing to John O’Groats, I had been watched unbeknownst through the window near that blue door.

A tall, robust fellow, however elderly, wearing overalls (most uncharacteristic for a Scot) and a bright blue shirt emerged from behind the door to greet me and retrieve his curious dog. “That’s Xyza, my companion,” he said.

L1120227I was delighted to make their acquaintance, “Zi-za, you say?  How do you spell it?”

“That’s X – Y – Z – A – Xyza, meaning of the sea. And I’m Wally,” he explained.

Wally went on to reveal that he was very much ‘of the sea’ himself having spent a lifetime on the waters in the RoyalNavy and having lived here in the seaport of Kirkwall for oh so many years. He had lost his wife last summer and had recently suffered a stroke. He had little cottonballs covered by bandages along his arm where his blood had been drawn to test the current state of his health.

“I’m 80, you know. And now all I have here is Xyza.  My son visits from the mainland. I just don’t know how much longer I can remain in my home. I will miss it. I’m pleased to meet you,” he smiled.

As Xyza pranced around me, I could see the joy she brought to Wally with her saucy spirit and gentle soul. I could sense a lonely heart in Wally, but I knew he was in great company in between family visits from far away.  I also knew this was a man who had known love and was deeply loved now.  And while this encounter lasted only moments, I took with me something that has sustained.

L1120230As we savored a cup of tea and biscuits on the ferry crossing back to the craggy coast of Scotland’s most northerly point, I noticed the discarded wrapper that had housed my wee stack of cookies to dunk. There on the label was an image of the Ring of Brodgar, an image that in no way resembled the Stenness Stones we encountered through the fog and what we thought was THE Ring. As it sunk in that indeed we had gone hundreds of miles out of the way to see the wrong henge monument, falling short by a literal stone’s throw, I realized that this was a moment of different monumental proportions –  not the standing stone variety. This was ‘the-journey-not-the-destination’ moral that is preached in the sermons of travel.

While at first I was profoundly disappointed by the magnitude of our error – of course, ‘the fog’ was to blame – later I saw the profound beauty of the moment – the sunrise over the most ancient stones, the surprise of the enchanting Xyza, and the smile of a gentleman Scot. I can still see them clearly now, realizing it is not only what, but also who we encounter along the way that leaves an imprint on our souls. And on this day serendipity made it even better in a place of such mystical origins, a place of the sea, a place called Orkney.

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Magical Moments

A Sunrise Walk on Iona

 

 

 

We awoke to a diffused orange glow peeking from under the clouded sky in our eastward view room. The anniversary bouquet replete with thistles and white roses sat on the open window ledge facing the morning mists. It seemed like the perfect occasion for a walk, so we set out along the path, er road, the only road in Iona, which finally leads to the remote north shore. As we took to the gravel path, a smallish tabby with a white chest emerged from under the hedgerow to greet us. Cats like this usually are not predisposed to friendliness, but much to our delight, this feline set out on our journey to the end of the isle. There and back again she led us, frolicking and prancing to the rhythm of nature. It was as if Miss Puss was inhabited by some ancient soul who guided us to the ultimate payoff of our little trek at dawn.

There at the north shore which had certainly seen its share of Viking raids, the sun broke out from the morning cloud cover and revealed the glorious antiquities of Iona in a subtle reddish light. A celtic cross stood guard as some locals played magical flute melodies that floated through the air. Kitty, undeterred, held straight on the path, unimpressed by the sweet music she had no doubt heard a thousand times.

Heading back as the sun rose even higher, Miss Puss stopped to take in the abbey view framed by fresh pink roses. Finally, as this unlikely trio found its way back to the St. Columba Hotel, our magical celtic companion lingered by the garden gate unwilling just yet to say goodbye. As reward, I offered our new friend a saucer of milk which was surreptitiously procured from the breakfast room.

 

 

Celtic Cross on Iona

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Hidden Gems

Riches of the Ca’ d’Zan

Hidden among the majestic palms and lush landscape of Sarasota Bay sits the Venetian Gothic palace of circus magnate John Ringling.  A translation of  the name from Venetian dialect is simply, “House of John,” but its exotic counterpart is the enchanting Ca’ d’Zan – a veritable Shangri-La, an oasis of stunning beauty and splendid architecture, art and by-gone glamour on the southwest coast of Florida. Come along as we tour the riches of the Ca’ d’Zan. Photo essay by The Pug and The Parrot.

 

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Encounters Along the Way

Rising Son

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is a hot new construction by Sean Ono Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl whose collaboration has produced one of the coolest records of the year, The Goastts’ Midnight Sun. Along the road, we were among the lucky few to catch this rising son as he and the talented musical company delivered a hard-rocking, dare we say semi-avant-garde, yet expertly crafted performance. Sean has emerged as a master guitarist, not to mention wizardardly wordsmith and artful songsmith. With a confident and engaging stage presence, Sean held the audience captive. But the music kept them there.

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Hidden Gems

Ghosts and Gunslingers in the Land of Billy the Kid

Lincoln, New Mexico is a slice of Wild West history frozen in time. It’s situated in a valley between rising hills somewhere in the center of the state. The entire town is an historic preservation site, and thankfully, not much has changed since Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett walked the streets. The old Lincoln County Courthouse still stands – this is where Billy the Kid was held prisoner before taking down his two jailers and making a bold escape. Across the street sits the Wortley Hotel, once owned by Garrett, where outlaws and lawmen dined. Today, the hotel is a unique place to stay, dine and contemplate the mystique that is Lincoln. The amenities include no television, no telephone, and an expansive wooden porch with rockers to enjoy the moonlit evenings. Photo Essay by The Pug and The Parrot. Travel Well.






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