‘Pop’ expert writes ‘dog’ of a book

Michael Stockinger

People do funny things with their dogs ?” dress them in clothes, put them in strollers, bring them to doggie day spas and pamper them as they would a baby.

So it would come as no surprise that a type of lifestyle exists between dog owners and their pets.This “dog culture” will be examined in “The Golden Coast: Up the California Coast with a Golden Retriever” an unfinished book by Sacramento State communications professor and popular culture expert Nick Trujillo.

“It’s about dog culture and it certainly has a scholarly component to it because I write about the meaning of relationships between humans and canines,” said Trujillo, who plans to finish his book this summer.

During the summer of 2002, Trujillo and his golden retriever, Ebbet, went on a road trip traveling up the California coast from the southern border. The book serves as a travelogue for dog owners wondering where and how to vacation with pets.

The idea for the trip began with the shared bond between dog owners that Trujillo noticed when taking his dogs out for walks and to parks.

“I’ve been a dog person for years, and I always make an effort when traveling around to stop at dog parks and I’ve got a golden retriever who is very friendly and photogenic,” Trujillo said. “So I’ve met a lot of people through Ebbet.”

Trujillo finished his last book, “The Meaning of Nolan Ryan,” about the Hall of Fame pitcher, and was in between projects when he decided that he wanted to study the relationships between dogs and humans by taking the trip with Ebbet.

“My wife, Leah, thought I was joking, but when I told her I was serious, she looked at me and said, ‘If anything happens to Ebbet, don’t even bother coming home,'” Trujillo said with a laugh.

Trujillo began to make phone calls to see where the journey would begin and found people interested and enthusiastic about the book.

“California is very diverse, so I tried to find as many people I could who work in dog industries,” Trujillo said.

The 8-year-old dog was named after Ebbets Field, the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Trujillo and Ebbet began their journey with the border patrol where Ebbet was tested to see if he was good at sniffing drugs. He wasn’t.

The pair visited Marine dogs at Camp Pendleton, bomb-sniffing dogs, pet therapy groups, dog boutiques, pet stores, dog day-care centers, dog hotels and dog spas.

Maggie the Dodger

When in the Los Angeles area, their five-week journey took the two of them to meet celebrities, dog and human.

“My favorite part of the trip was when I called up the Dodgers, and said I’d like to interview a concession worker who owns a dog and who serves Dodger Dogs at the park,” Trujillo said.

In order to get an interview with a concession worker, Trujillo was told that he would have to call the company that handles the concession stands. They never called back. Trujillo called the Dodgers again.

“They said, ‘We’ll find someone in-house for you to interview,’ so I think it will be someone at the novelty store who sells pennants,” Trujillo said. “I call them again and they say, ‘We’ve got someone for you:’ Jim Tracy.”

Trujillo was shocked. Tracy was the manager of the Dodgers at the time.

He was given a field pass to interview Tracy about his Beagle, Maggie, on the field 20 minutes before a game.

“I felt kind of silly, there’s reporters everywhere,” Trujillo said. “I had been there for a couple hours and the reporters were asking, ‘How are you going to handle Randy Johnson tonight? How’s your pitching rotation shaping up?’ and then I got to say ‘Tell me about your dog, Maggie.’

“He turns around and says, ‘You want to ask me about my dog?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, I feel really stupid,’ but he said, ‘Don’t feel stupid’ and spent about three minutes talking about his dog, Maggie,” Trujillo said.

Trujillo said this experience showed the love and appreciation people have toward their dogs.

Star treatment

Trujillo figured they had to meet a celebrity, but it should be a dog.

“I searched the internet for dogs that have appeared in TV shows and movies and decided on Eddie, the little Jack Russell Terrier from ‘Frazier.'”

He searched and found the trainer of the dog, who had eight other celebrity dogs that have appeared in movies and asked if he could interview her about training methods.

“I asked her if I could get a picture of Ebbet with Eddie, whose real name is Moose,” Trujillo said. “It’s a fantastic picture with Ebbet and Eddie.”

The two later headed off to the Hollywood Walk of Fame where Trujillo and Ebbet visited the star of Lassie.

“There were a lot of people out looking at the stars that day and there are probably 20 people with Ebbet’s picture on the Lassie star, who asked if they could take his picture. I should’ve charged I could have made a couple hundred bucks.”

Trujillo also got to meet and interview those who work for celebrities such as the guy who created a business cleaning up after dogs, “The Poopmaster.”

“He said it’s a s—-y job, but somebody’s got to do it,” Trujillo said.

Golden cause

Aside from the fun of the trip with his dog and the idea of the book, Trujillo decided to turn the journey into a charity event as well, making a goal of collecting $1 for every mile of the California coast and donating it to Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue & Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization.

“It’s a little less than 1,100 miles, so that was my goal,” Trujillo said. “I ended up raising $3,000 for Homeward Bound, which was great. That’s a fantastic foundation that takes any golden retriever and places them in homes, while taking care of the vet bills.”

The organization runs a golden retriever sanctuary for dogs that have been surrendered or were homeless, where they are treated by vets, fed, housed and placed in homes for adoption.

“(Nick Trujillo) refers plenty of people to us and since he meets so many people, we are always getting calls from people who say Nick has referred them to us,” Jody Jones of Homeward Bound said in a phone interview.

The organization doesn’t get donations of that size regularly, so Trujillo’s donation was definitely helpful, Jones said.

“We have $10-12,000 a month in expenses, mostly for the care of the dogs and their vet bills,” Jones said.

Jones said the book is a fantastic idea.

“There absolutely is a dog culture. We call the goldens our ‘Velcro dogs’ and Nick can vouch for that since he takes his dogs with him wherever he goes,” Jones said. “It’s like having a child and showing them the world.”

Dog’s best friend

The most dog-friendly city is Carmel, which allow dogs into most places many cities wouldn’t, according to Trujillo.

“Dogs are allowed in the hotels, several restaurants have dog menus and that’s the only place where Ebbet and I ate dinner inside the restaurant,” Trujillo said. “It was just accepted that I brought the dog into the restaurant.”

Trujillo didn’t have a hard time getting interviews for his book, but the one company rejected an interview8212;the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth.” Disney wouldn’t let Trujillo interview the person inside the Goofy costume, who also owns a dog, not the character himself.

“They told me that Goofy is not allowed to speak and that it’s against company policy,” Trujillo said with a roll of his eyes.

Full circle

The book was shelved in 2004 when Trujillo’s wife, Leah Vande Berg, also a communication professor at Sac State, died of cancer.

Trujillo, on sabbatical for the school year, is using the time to write the “The Golden Coast” and is co-authoring “Uv Ou: Loving Through Cancer, Living Through Grief” with his wife, through 25 hours of audio she left behind.

Work on “Uv Ou” resurrected the long shelved, “The Golden Coast.”

“The book about my wife’s death is very important and I think it will really help people,” Trujillo said. “I had so much fun on the dog trip and I’m committed to helping people understand dogs and dog culture.”

Trujillo said the book is over 70 percent completed and aims to have it done by the end of the summer.

Anyone who owns a dog or knows dog owners understands the therapeutic elements and joys of being a pet owner. This is especially evident with the story of Margaret and Buster, said Trujillo, which mirrored his own story.

“This woman, in her late 60s, early 70s, named Margaret, was walking her dog, an old Labrador retriever named Buster. He was a nice dog, so we got to talking,” Trujillo said.

Trujillo asked her what the story was with Buster and the woman replied: “Well, he was my husband’s dog, and my husband died last year and Buster was his dog.”

Margaret told Trujillo she never felt close to Buster, because he was her husband’s dog.

“They were married for like 50 years, and she said ‘I’ve had a really hard time until I started taking Buster out for walks and he’s helped me grieve, and now he’s my dog,'” Trujillo said.

A month after Trujillo’s wife died, he walked not only his dog, but her dog, a Wheaten Terrier named Hawkeye, everyday.

Since then, the story of Margaret and Buster became more important to Trujillo due to the loss of his wife.

“At the time my wife was healthy and I realized dogs aren’t just there for play, they can help a woman grieve the loss of her husband,” Trujillo said.

“After that interview with her I thought, ‘Wow, this is very profound stuff, this isn’t just about a guy talking about dogs8212;these animals are very special.'”

Michael Stockinger can be reached at [email protected]