Monday Mischief 2: Three Dog Walk

This post is part of the Monday Mischief Blog Hop.

There was lots of mischief to be had this weekend as Moses’ First Wife, Juniper the Bernese Mountain Dog was over for a visit.

Moses and his Sister Wives*, Alma and Juniper

Having Juniper around is a lot like having a second Alma around and the three of them with – with the two cats – definitely makes a fur-filled full house.

Moses sits quietly and looks at the two of them getting a little over-excited and bouncy when I pull out the leashes and it’s time to go for a walk; I can only assume he’s thinking “bitches be crazy”.  At least that’s what I’m thinking.

And speaking of a walk, I’ve now set a personal record for most pounds of canine companions in one walk:  370!

The three of them are a treat to walk.  Though, it becomes a bit of a spectacle in the neighbourhood, and passers-by gawk or stop and want to meet the dogs, so it does make it a bit difficult to get anywhere quickly.

But I thought I would share the sight and set up a little video to share.

*Apologies to any Mormon readers who may take offence.  Unless you’re Mitt Romney; you know what you did.

On Veterinarians

Why does a visit to the vet sometimes feel like a trip to the used car lot?

Sure, I admit that, although I fancy myself a relatively well-informed pet owner, I do not, in fact, have a degree in Veterinary Medicine or even Biological Sciences.   Perhaps it is this necessitated deference I therefore must pay to the professionals that in turn heightens my doubt and cynicism.

Or perhaps it’s the way everyone in a vet office baby talks to my pets.  It’s uncomfortable to watch.  (We actually visited one vet who baby talked to both Moses and us.  It was jarring. We did not go back.)

At a certain point, I do feel that the average pet owner’s lack of expertise and love for our companions makes an easy target for price gouging and misinformation.  And the increasing popularity of pet insurance should not be a license to charge even more.

Maybe my mistrust comes from clinic shelves stocked with food like this, peddled to trusting clients, unaware that the main ingredient of this very food is corn and not even aware why that's a bad thing. Seriously. Look it up yourself: (Also source of photo.)

Of course, there are exceptions to my complaints and there are lots of good vets out there.  Vets that don’t want to have them overnight for observation for no real reason. Vets that don’t recommend unnecessary blood tests.  Vets that don’t go to lengths to argue wild canines have grain-heavy diets.  If you find or have one, hang on to them!

For us, however, we could nearly fill a recreational kickball team with our team of vets.  Or at least a travelling band.  We seem to collect them like trading cards, noting opinions and specialities, often trading one in for another.

Yes, it is true; we are veterinarily promiscuous.

But I find everything I wanted in one vet, maybe I wouldn’t need to call in a second opinion.  I want a holistic opinion to compare with the one that’s more “western medicine”.  And I want to have that information when we see a specialist.  I want a thorough explanation of the problem, prognosis, and the options for treatment – no sugar-coating.  I want to be able to understand what’s going on and be able to Google it at home later.  And I want to trust that I’m not being taken advantage of, instead of having to compare the price for services across the city, because the realisation that one place can charge you $200 to neuter your dog and another can be upwards of $600 is ridiculous.

Because even though we have pet insurance, I’m not going to put Moses or Alma through unnecessary treatments and I’m not going to pay an exorbitant mark-up on services just because.

So yesterday when Alma was unusually demure and I found the cause in a lower incisor, I was not looking forward to the forthcoming rigamarole.

A dental cleaning with potential extraction is in order.  Let the shopping around begin.

Why can't you just be straight with us?

I better work on my pokerface, too.  “$485 base price for a dental cleaning?  Extraction on top of that?  And post-op meds?  And an additional pre-surgery check-up?   And pre-anestheric bloodwork for the low, low price of $80? No, no, that all seems perfectly reasonable.  Mere pocket change. I assume you can break a $1,000?”

I wish.

Long Distance Rescue

As you likely know, the Husband and I adopted Alma at the end of October 2011.

This is Alma.

We had discussed and researched adding another dog to the family for well over a year before Alma joined us.

In the summer, we started getting more serious about it, and had decided we would like to adopt a young adult dog rather than get a puppy from a breeder.  That was not to say our experience with Moses has been anything less than ideal, and I still wholly support reputable breeders, but we wanted to adopt and wouldn’t necessarily miss the house training phase that accompanies a puppy.

Puppy Moses - cuteness definitely makes up for any house training headaches.

We looked for a long time for our rescue dog and cast a wide net.  When you’re interested in pure bred rescue, patience and an open mind are essential.

We had our short list of breeds we’d adopt: Newfoundland (obviously), Great Pyrenees, St. Bernard.  Should we come across a Leonberger or Tibetan Mastiff, they’d also be up for consideration; the main goal was to find a second addition with a similar temperament and energy level as Moses so the transition into a two-dog-household would be comfortable for all.  Sure, there are tonnes of border collie and shepherd crosses up for adoption through Calgary rescues, but our goal is to be a happy forever home, and we have to be honest with ourselves about what we want and what kind of dog would be a good fit.

Our other main consideration was age; we wanted a younger ‘sibling’ for Moses.  A puppy wasn’t even necessarily off the table, since many puppies go through the rescue system, but we also knew puppies don’t often have a lot of trouble finding an adoptable family and we’d be happy to adopt a young adult dog who could quickly become a hiking and camping companion.

With that criteria, the search began. I checked Pet Finder obsessively (there’s an App for that!).  I’d browse the websites of other local rescues that did not take advantage of Pet Finder’s reach (note to rescues: use Pet Finder!).  I canvassed number of breed-specific rescues in western and central Canada.  We made serious inquiries about both a St. Bernard and a Great Pyrenees, only to find we lived too far away to apply to adopt the St. Bernard and the Great Pyrenees had just had a successful home visit with her future family – bittersweet news.

This handsome male St. Bernard is currently up for adoption through Calgary Animal & ByLaw Services. He is neutered, about 2 years old, and has been at the shelter since December 27, 2011. Had he arrived there a few months earlier, there is no question we would have made serious inquiries about him.

Then one evening Alma (under her former name, Winnie) appeared on Pet Finder as adoptable through the Montana Companion Animal Network. I sent an email instantly and the rest is history.

I mean, sure, we had to drive to Montana to meet her and bring her home.  And Montana IS in another country.  But it’s also a lot closer to home than Manitoba Great Pyrenees Rescue, for example.  Finding a dog in Calgary would’ve been convenient, but we were prepared to travel a little if the fit was right.

Given this lengthy back story, you can imagine my interest was piqued when I came across this article in the Calgary Sun.

The issue was sparked in the media by this heartwarming story about a teacher who came across a stray litter of puppies while volunteering in Afghanistan.  He got the puppies vaccinated and found forever home for a few of them in Afghanistan, but when he couldn’t re-home the rest, he worked to have them brought home to Alberta, and they finally arrived earlier this month.

And while this may be a unique example, importing rescue dogs is not really that uncommon.  For example, a local rescue agency, Pawsitive Match, brings dogs in from countries such as the US and Mexico to find them forever homes in Calgary.

The debate is simple: should we be importing homeless dogs to Calgary when we already have many up for adoption here?

For the Calgary Humane Society and Calgary Animal Services the answer is simple:  NO.

As far as they’re concerned, we need to take care of housing homeless animals within our own city limits before bringing in more pets in need.  Both the City and CHS are continuously burdened with increasing intake numbers, and the adoption of a dog from Mexico, for example, may take away from one at the CHS.

Which means adopting Alma from the Montana rescue means I’m part of the problem – as far as they’re concerned, anyway.

But I’m not particularly bothered by that.

I do not expect Calgary Animal and ByLaw Services to have priorities outside of city limits.  I do, however, expect them to put the welfare of Calgary’s animal population first.  So for them to make a statement against importing more homeless pets into the city, it completely coincides with their purpose.  And it’s Calgarians’ tax dollars that keep them up and running, so I’m sure no one would be pleased if they spent significant funds taking care of foreign rescues.  I get it.

Even the Calgary Humane Society’s position doesn’t surprise me too much.  They are the only ‘kill’ shelter here and should have similarly strict priorities.  Really, an adoption of a pet through any other rescue agency means the adoption didn’t go through them;  just the way internet and pet store sales detract from potential adoptions.

But I don’t think the answer to these concerns is to come out against the actions of others involved in rescue agencies.  A negative message cannot honestly be fostering relationships in the tight-knit rescue community.   I’d much rather see each rescue focus on promoting their own concerns and finding homes for the dogs under their care than cutting down the actions of others.  After all, all animal rescue agencies really have the final goal of putting themselves out of business, so there’s no sense in being in competition with one another.

It’s like criticizing your friends for donating to humanitarian aid elsewhere when, on any given night, there are over 4,000 homeless people in Calgary.

Not to mention, there’s a strong argument to be made that the biggest threat to the local pet population is the lack of responsible spaying and neutering, and this sort of petty argument really detracts from the real issues and the work people are trying to get done.

The bottom line is that it’s not a competition and everyone has different priorities.  Valuing one over the other is just a matter of opinion.

I mean, isn’t helping… helping?

Call me crazy, but as far as I’m concerned, and when it comes to pet adoption, as long as a pet who didn’t previously have one finds a loving forever home, I’m happy.

If those doing the adoption are adopting and not going through an anonymous backyard breeder on Kijiji or buying at a pet store,  I say it’s a good thing.  Rather than trying to guilt or shame those who do not act directly within your organization’s mandate, why not commend them for helping animals in their own way?  Sure, specific priorities may not directly line up, but the common denominator (companion animal welfare) is still there.

If those people looking to adopt really fall in love with an available pet that just happens to have come from across the border, I say it’s a match! Because the goal is to match people and dogs as forever companions – not just settling with what happens to be available at Animal Services even though a husky cross may be too exuberant for your lifestyle.  That’s how rescues get returned.

Given the popularity of Pet Finder and the way it sorts available pets by location, all local rescues would really be better off to make use of its visibility and it may even help to promote and increase local or short-distance adoptions.  Because as it is, it doesn’t take many ads for adoptable Newfoundlands for me to see results from Texas.

Yes, we ‘imported’ our pure bred rescue from across the border; I wouldn’t have it any other way.  After nearly 3 months with Alma, it’s hard to imagine any other dog taking her spot.

I could not be happier that our search lead to this result:

Just another forever home.

BtC4A: A Note on Being the Change

It’s that time again!

Each quarter, Blog the Change for Animals participants write about a variety of worthy causes and how even small actions by the rest of us can actually affect positive change for companion animals.  Puppy mill awareness and pet store sales. Dog auctions.  Responsible spaying and neutering.  Fostering and volunteering at rescue agencies.  Heightened awareness of pet over-population and adoptable animals.  Just click for the blog hop list to check them out.

But I want to take a moment this time to put the changes aside and focus on the communications made about those changes – a frequent pet peeve of mine (no pun intended).

Because even though your message may be very important and passionate, how it is received is what causes not only the general public but also corporate executives and government officials to act.

I mean, we all know that pets with better photos on rescue webstes get adopted faster – that very concept should be expanded to the whole of animal advocacy.

Basically, what I’m saying is that the delivery is just as important as the message itself.

And this sentiment has two parts as I see it: technical and rational.

The Technical

This is most simple, if you ask me, but oh-so-frequently disregarded.  What I’m calling the technical is how you frame your message – literally.  I’m talking proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation and easy to navigate websites.

This kind of neglect irks me regularly when Facebook friends frequently show off how the public school system failed them and their inability to distinguish between your and you’re.  For some reason, sloppy sentence structure and punctuation abuse seem almost more rampant with the voices of animal causes.

Sure, we all can make mistakes and the occasional type-o – I get that.  Should an inadvertent error appear in my post here, the irony will not be lost on me.  And given most of the audience of Blog the Change is other bloggers who write on a regular basis, I may even just be ineffectually preaching to the choir here.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t still regularly come across websites, blog posts, Facebook groups, and online petitions advocating for animal welfare that have seemingly thrown concerns for the English language out the window.

And that kind of thing can make it hard to respect the author of the message.  In some cases, it even makes it difficult to read and understand the message.  Sure, you may have passion on your side, and may even be completely legitimized in your argument, but I hesitate to share or jump on board a poorly packaged cause.  This is even more the case when trying to appeal for legislative changes with your local government, since no politician will hitch his wagon to a sloppy campaign.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to rush off and complete a Masters degree in English.  You don’t even need to master “whom” or how to use a semicolon.  But I am saying proper capitalization goes a long way.  And for the love of all things furry, learn to restrain yourself when it comes to exclamation or question marks and ellipses.  Heck, these days spell-check does most of the work for you, so there’s really no excuse anymore.

An example of terrible web design from the list. I don't know about you, but I'm not buying what they're selling.

How you deliver the words is also more important.  Comic Sans font in sparkly yellow atop a camouflage background?  You’re begging not to be taken seriously.  Haven’t updated your website since 1998?  Have a 25 minute Flash intro with no ‘skip this’ option?  Just like any other organization, some web design common sense and logical, user-friendly layout should be priorities, especially given the web is the hub of so many causes.  I won’t pick on anyone in particular, but let’s just say that if your website at all resembles any of the ones on this list, you have a problem.

Basically, think of your writing as scenery on a drive, and the words and punctuation are the road that you travel to see it.  The drive is a lot smoother – and you can take in the scenery much better – on a nicely paved, error-free highway.  On the other hand, if you’re travelling on gravel with potholes and washboard, your attention is divided trying to navigate the bumpy road and you aren’t able to focus as well on the sights.   You want the reader’s drive to be easy.  (Thanks to an English prof long ago for this analogy that clearly stuck with me all these years.)

The Rational

This PETA ad, Everyday Dogs, sure stirs up some controversy and emotion, doesn’t it?

It’s no shock to see PETA try to push buttons, is it?  It’s kind of their ‘thing’.

But just because it works for them doesn’t mean that is the right strategy for your local, grassroots campaign.

“Activist” is a dirty word in politics and the media, and your opponents are going to do their best to label you as a crazy radical who shouldn’t be taken seriously.  Trust me – this “tofu-eating dolphin marry-er” knows from personal experience with ASLC.

Expect your message to be taken out of context, misinterpreted, and hyperbolized.

Starting with shock value can result in the focus being zeroed in to that alone and the rational argument and facts behind you may be ignored entirely.  If your goal is to educate ‘Joe Public’ on a certain issue or petition government for legislative change, like I’ve said, you and your cause need to be taken seriously.

Do positive, feel-good ads risk being boring by comparison? I doubt this particular PETA ad sparked the usual firestorm.

Pictures of the horrors of puppy mills, for example, may draw tears and spark outrage, and may even result in important media coverage – and I’m not saying they should necessarily be hidden away entirely – but I don’t think your campaign should rely on them.

Think, for example, of the ingenious I Hate Balls campaign that appeals to humour in a hilarious viral video that makes the point just as well as, if not better than, depressing photos to the tune of Sarah McLachlan.  Better, really, if you consider that I will actually watch and share the entire I Hate Balls video.

Too much in-your-face material, too much anger, slander, guilt, preaching, or reactionary rants can really scare off your intended audience.  You do need a well-presented rational argument at the heart of your issues to garner long-term support and a serious audience willing to take action on your behalf.

The Bottom Line

Animal causes are hot topics and speak to issues very close to home for many people, but they are rarely ‘sexy’ issues in the eyes of politicians that lead to quick legislative action.  Everyone knows advocates are passionate, but they are also intelligent, informed, and educated – I just wish those qualities were just as obvious.  There’s no point in creating bigger hurdles for ourselves by not packaging the messages as neatly as we could.

I’m Baaaaack!

It was just this morning that the Doc gave me the go-ahead to ease back into my technology-dominated lifestyle, so you can see I’ve wasted no time returning to the Soapbox.  It’s been a long month!  (Despite my frequent rule breaking over the last couple weeks.)

Belated sharing: Moses and his Christmas present

And with the time off comes so many unwritten blog posts.

I missed showing off the spoils of my winnings in the Shutterfly Christmas cards from the wonderful My Brown Newfies (pack that away for next year’s holidays?).

I missed the obligatory New Year’s post – whether it be about resolutions or the equally common stand against them.

I’ve missed trying to figure out exactly wtf Triberr is and how to work it (sorry Tribe members, I’ll get on that – where the heck is Jeff Probst, anyway!?).

By mere days I even missed out on the Pet Blogger Challenge, which I participated in last year (do I get my sidebar logo revoked?).

I’ve yet to even mention that January is Train Your Dog Month (who decides these things?), and I’ve had to repress the unexplainable crazy person urge I have to post photos of my dogs online that aided in the creation of the Soapbox in the first place.

And while I’m sure I’ve left a dark, lonely void in all your hearts with my hiatus, I’ve missed out even more being unable to keep up with regular reading of my favourite blogs.  Or – offline – reading the great books I got for Christmas, including Inside of A Dog.

Suffice it to say I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Alma liked (disemboweling) her Christmas present, too.

But it’s good to be back.

The pups on a walk from a couple nights ago. While it’s nice to get back at ‘er, I have enjoyed the extra time with Moses and Alma. And yes, that’s green(ish) grass.  In January.  In Calgary.