Meet Chewie: The dog who’s the neighborhood garbage man

Chewbacca Villalpando has his head deep into a bag that once held mahi mahi. He found it empty on our neighbor’s lawn. Nicole Villalpando/For America-Statesman

April is Earth Month, and while I’m not sure that my 1-year-old German shepherd/retriever mix has any concept of the calendar, Chewie (short for Chewbacca) is a one-dog neighborhood cleanup crew.


Every morning and night on our walks, he’s looking for something tasty — someone else’s trash — that he can bring home for all of us to enjoy. Of course, the best part for him and for us to watch is the 20 seconds it takes for him to turn whatever he’s found into tiny pieces.

Most dog owners might think this is a disgusting habit. I say Chewie’s helping to clean up the neighborhood, and he’s speeding up the decomposition process.

Chewbacca Villalpando has torn this bag to shreds. Nicole Villalpando/American-Statesman

Just in the past month, Chewie has brought home for us to enjoy:

1 plastic wrapper that once contained mahi mahi

1 empty Styrofoam meat tray

1 dirty diaper

3 fast food bags

6 fast food napkins

7 plastic water bottles

1 plastic sinus rinse bottle

1 2 liter empty bottle of soda

3 old dog toys

In addition other people’s treasures, he’s also quite fond of the Villalpando recycling bin. We’ve quit buying him dog toys because the empty milk jug and paper towel rolls are so much more fun for him and don’t cost us anything.

Once he’s had his way with the recycleables, we just sweep up the mess and recycle the bits. It’s amazing how much more we can fit in the recycling bin once Chewie has compacted it.

Now if only we could train him to sweep up and put everything back in the recycling bin.

What can you do in an hour? Walk a dog with 1 Dog 1 Hour

Catelyn Silapachai and friend Melissa Massello DuBeau started 1 Dog 1 HourChelsea Laine Francis
Catelyn Silapachai and friend Melissa Massello DuBeau started 1 Dog 1 HourChelsea Laine Francis

1DOG1HOURhires-13Catelyn Silapachai, co-founder of Vintage jewelry and home decor site The Distillery, has started a new venture with friend Melissa Massello DuBeau. 1 Dog 1 Hour wants to help get more pets adopted from the Austin Animal Center.

Here’s how it works: Stop by the center, 7201 Levander Loop. Follow the signs with instructions on how to walk a dog. Any medium or large dog with a green dot on the kennel card can be walked. Once you walk your dog around the fenced-in shelter grounds or play with them in one of the fenced-in dog runs. You take a pick of your friend and post it to Instagram and tag 1 Dog 1 Hour’s Instagram @1Dog1Hour. Post some things you liked about the dog and log your walk on the board before you leave the shelter so other volunteers know who has been walked.

The hope is to expand the program to other shelters. Find out more at

What’s the secret life of your pets? We asked and got some answers

Over on our Raising Austin blog, we have a contest for a family four pack of tickets to “The Secret Life of Pets” movie. We asked people as they entered to tell us what they think their pets secretly do all day.

Here’s some of their answers:

Luna drinks espresso all day, according to owner Tes Sawyer.

I’m pretty sure my dog, Luna, drinks espresso, surfs the internet and does yoga while I’m away. — Tes Sawyer

While my parakeet, Ringo, died several years ago, I always imagined him dictating The Great American Novel while I was out of sight. He loved to recite his repertoire of words and phrases as long as he felt he wasn’t being observed; who knows what he got up to when he was home alone? — Melissa Aellos

“Blue-y” the fish probably would say “All drains lead to the ocean and has been planning his escape for sometime” Either way, he’s been great for our 8 and 1 year old. — Jesse Rivera

Our family thinks our 8 year old kitty takes joy rides in the pink toy convertible Barbie car we have.  Sometimes we find it out

Kika watches squirrels all day. Bibiana Beardsley
Kika watches squirrels all day. Bibiana Beardsley

in places we know we didn’t put it there.  The cat has to be having a blast in it when we leave. — Melissa Garcia

DH works from home so pups don’t get away with much. This is Kika. She keeps watch to make sure the squirrels don’t get in our yard! — Bibiana Beardsley

We think that our dog Harley gets on the couch after we leave and stays there and sleeps. — Kristen Mellring

Blanca as white as the snow would wait for us at door. I think she would look for food! — Mariela Trujillo

Our pet, Rusty is a smart, little, scruffy dog we adopted from the shelter. Sometimes he is too smart. Rusty sleeps most of the day on top of his house up until the moment he hears us opening the front door. He jumps down and runs to the tree to make it look like he is chasing squirrels and earning his keep. Then he comes to up to us to get ears scratched for being such a good guard dog. He is such a good little dog and makes us look forward to coming home everyday! — The Fuentes Family

Tinsley does hair according to owner
Tinsley does hair according to owner Taylor Skinner.

My family has a 1 year old diva puppy English Cream Golden Retriever (white golden) named Tinsley, and she is definitely the princess her name suggests! Tinsley most likely spends her days preening her feathering in the mirror to ensure she is the prettiest puppy in the neighborhood. She then practices her sashay to show off her tail feathers to the other dogs in the neighborhood. At some point, she goes and gets her mud facial in the backyard (this we know for a fact).

When she is not being a little pretentious diva, she tends to Milton, the white kitty who she thinks is her child. Not wanting to have an ugly misshapen child, Tinsley bathes and coifs Milton’s hair. She then carries him around the neighborhood showing off her pretty puppy (kitty) to the neighborhood dogs. The rest of the day she lays on the couch being a slug pup so as not to get too hot and ruin her fluffed feathers. — Taylor Skinner

Our family has a french bulldog and a shih tzu that live inside and roam our homes while we are away. Our shih tzu Sam, probably spend his entire day plotting how to escape the yard during his next potty break, as that seems to be his favorite pastime. Fire, our bulldog literally spends her days plotting her next meal and dreaming of the treats I will bring home from the store. Sam is for sure smarter and more crafty, but Fire loves her family with her big heart. — Mellissa Alvarado

My grandkids think our pets watch TV and sometimes mess with our DRV while we are out and that’s why some shows we have set up don’t tape correctly…lol They also think they take naps on their beds but hop up as soon as they hear us come in 🙂 — Laura Floyd

Our dog, Mali, is an 11 year-old black lab. Due to her thick black coat and brutal Texas heat, Mali is an “inside” dog. Since both of us work, Mali is home by herself all day. She is rather particular about her domain, dog pillows are simply not up to her high standards for comfort. So, despite her age, she spends most of her day in the comfort of our queen bed. I am sure that the first item on her agenda for the day is to search every nook of our bedroom for any food that may have been forgotten in a bag or in a pocket. If she is lucky and finds something edible, we will be blessed to come home to a ransacked bag and food wrapper on the floor (she likes to consume the food with the wrapper then spit the wrapper back up later, she is nice that way). The rest of her day consists of long naps, dreaming of catching cats and jumping on counters to claim any food items that were not properly put out of her reach. She occasionally hops down from the bed to stroll right past the nice fresh water we put in her bowl everyday to take a nice refreshing drink from the toilet. Her most exciting part of the day is certainly when she hears the garage door open for as soon as it does, we can hear her tail banging against the walls as she anticipates her next feeding (her excitement has little to do with actual human interaction). And that is what she likely does all day long.  — Kristin Seibel\

I think my dog sleeps all day and waits for his daddy to get home! — Jennifer Jones

As for my house: Mew, the chinchilla, is a secret agent, while her dog and cat friends sleep all day.  — Nicole

Ava Villalpando holds secret agent Mew. Nicole Villalpando


If you want to enter the contest for the 7 p.m. Tuesday screening at the Regal Metropolitan, send an email to nvillalpando@statesman by Friday morning with the subject line “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Tell us what your family thinks your pet does all day long and send me your name and phone number as well.

I’ll draw entries out of hat on Friday morning and let the winners know that day.



Wag!, like Uber, but for dog walking with your dog’s business tracked by GPS

Wag! Let's you schedule a walker for you dog and then you can watch by GPS where your dog is and what your dog is doing.
Wag! Let’s you schedule a walker for you dog and then you can watch by GPS where your dog is and what your dog is doing.

Now the secret life of your dog’s walks will be revealed.

Wag! a dog walking app allows you to set up a walk for your dog. Once you connect with a walker, the walker will take your dog on a 30-minute for $20 or 60-minute walk for $30. The app also alerts you when your dog has been picked up and allows you to follow your dog with the GPS Puppy Tracker.

If you’ve ever wondered how often your dog does his business and what kind of business it is, Wag! walkers will put a pin on a GPS map with an poop or pee emoji everywhere your dog did that particular business. It lets you know your dog’s favorite spots as well as how often his bowel or bladder is talking to him. (It also might make you want to do something nice for that neighbor whose lawn your dog seems to love.)

Wag! also sends you video of your happy dog. And when the walk is finished, you get a Pup Report with the distance and time traveled and the “pee and poo” record.

This week Wag! also introduced pet sitting and boarding. The rates starScreenshot5t at $50 a night for one dog, $30 for additional dogs in the same house.

The Wag! app is available on Apple App Store.

Before you get a puppy, get prepared and be realistic

As the expression goes, we needed a puppy like a hole in the head. Two kids starting new schools, an upcoming surgery for Grandpa, two busy careers and tons of volunteer commitments — what were we thinking?

Chewbacca "Chewie" Villalpando arrived three weeks ago.

Yet, 11 days after our 11-year-old dog, Penny, died unexpectedly, my husband brought home an 8-week-old German shepherd/retriever mix puppy my daughter found at Austin Pets Alive. It was love at first sight. Instantly, we had a new baby — this time the furry kind.

We launched head on into Raising Chewbacca, Chewie for short. It’s our first foray into being puppy parents. Penny was 6 when we brought her home. The dog before, Jet, was almost 2.

Puppies are like 2-year-olds, says Dr. Stacy Mozisek from Firehouse Animal Health Center. They are mobile and get into everything. “Don’t give him a lot of free rein or he’s probably in trouble,” she says.

Eventually puppies become like a preteen child or a teenager, says dog trainer Steve Haynes of Fidelio Dog Works. They know what the right thing to do is, but they don’t always do it.

They can’t be left unattended until about age 1, they say.

I’ve even written about how a puppy is a horrible idea, especially not for Christmas. You can read that story I still stand by the think-before-you-leap wisdom, but who couldn’t love Chewie?

Here’s what we should have done and known before Chewie came home, according to Mozisek and Haynes:


Buy the crate before anything else. Because puppies can’t be trusted, they have to be contained in a safe place whenever you can’t have all eyes on puppy. That means at night, when you leave home, when you’re eating dinner, etc.

Think of their crate as their den. It should be a happy place with fun toys, not used as punishment. To get them to like going in there, consider throwing their food on the bottom of it or put treats inside.

Don’t put in anything soft like bedding because it’s an invitation to urinate on it. Also, it shouldn’t be too big, just big enough to stand up and turn around in. Too big means they will find a corner to make their bathroom.

Young puppies also can’t spend more than four to six hours in a crate at once. First their bladders and bowels will be barking at them. Second, they need a lot of socializing and they are missing that if they are locked up. If you work full-time, have a plan for someone to let them out in the middle of the day. You’ll eventually increase time in the crate as they age. Eventually, you might be able to do time out of the crate and unsupervised, but probably not before their first birthday.

Be ready to spend a lot of time outside. Puppies could have urinated outside and 20 minutes later urinate inside. They have tiny bladders and no control. When they are out of the crate, plan on visits outside every 20 minutes or so. Don’t leave them unsupervised outside, either.

Block off areas of the house. They don’t need to be in bedrooms, bathrooms or anywhere near the cat litter.

Remove the temptations for urinating. If you have shag carpeting or a sisal rug, it’s an invitation to urinate there. Block off those areas or roll up the rugs for now. Don’t use puppy pads because even when they are old enough to not use the pad, they’ll want to still go in the place where the pad once was.

Limit the food and water intake. They need to eat and drink often, but they also have no regulator on food and water. If water is available, they will keep drinking it and keep urinating. Same thing with food. Plan on feeding them two to three times a day, but not after 5:30 p.m. if you want them to sleep through the night. Water should be removed by about 7:30 p.m.

Puppies don’t do well in bed with you. Sure they are sweet and cuddly, but they’ll wake up every time you roll over or make a noise. They need to be in their crate in a dark place away from you. Unless, you want to have puppy play hour at 2 a.m., which has been a popular activity at our house. Get them to sleep in the crate. You might have a sleepless night at first, but it’s better than a sleepless year. You can put an old shirt that smells like you in the crate to ease the transition.

Puppy activities need to be limited. Until age 14 or 16 weeks when they are vaccinated and have built up immunities, they are at risk for serious diseases like parvo. Walking around Lady Bird Lake or going to a dog park will have to wait. Plus they don’t have dog manners, yet.

Puppies need to be trained. Start early with teaching sit, stay and shake. There are even puppy training classes to take or you can have a trainer come to your house. They learn easily at this age and you want you to be imprinted on them.

Puppies need to experience new things all the time. Expose them to a lot of different noises, including loud ones, and a lot of different people. Play with their ears and feet, because they don’t like it, but it will serve you medically later on.

Puppies chew and chew and chew. Keep a rotating cluster of puppy-approved toys at the ready. Don’t be surprised if they try to eat all the wood in the house including table legs and window sills around 16 weeks when the puppy teeth start to make way for the adult teeth. To help that teething, you can buy toys that can be frozen or wet a rope and freeze it.

Puppy proof like you baby proof. Consider anything on the floor is theirs. As they get bigger, anything on the couch or chair or kitchen table and counter also could be theirs.

Puppies ingest a lot of things, too. And those things can get caught and have to be surgically removed. Socks and underwear as well as stuffed animal stuffing don’t go well with puppy stomachs and intestines.

Keep foods, plants and medications away. Watch out for chocolate, grapes and raisins, and sugar-free gum and candy with xylitol. The ASPCA has a list of toxic plants on its website, but common ones include Sago palms and lilies. All medications, including Advil and Tylenol, need to be locked up.