February is ‘What’ Month?

Is it just me, or do an overwhelming number of causes seem to be staking their claim to the month of February?

Without raising awareness for any number of causes, February is already pretty busy with perhaps some of the most ridiculous cultural observances.  Groundhog Day is on the 2ndWorld Nutella Day is on the 5th (not ridiculous).  Valentine’s Day is on the 14th.  Family Day also brings the year’s first long weekend (also not ridiculous), and occasionally February has an extra day, which isn’t very remarkable and is mostly a just pain when it comes to calculating certain kinds of interest.

February 5: World Nutella Day

I don’t exactly know what it is about February that is so attractive for Random Cause Awareness, and I also don’t know why it just struck me this year, but there seems to be a lot going on these 28 days.  Is this because it provides for the shortest possible campaign?

First and foremost is Black History Month, which is not only the most legitimate cause staking claim to the month, but it’s also been in place since 1976.  The rules of shotgun are pretty clear.

Second most renowned would probably be American Heart Month, drawing attention to heart health and cardiovascular disease, and marketing the connection with Valentine imagery.

And as I’ve recently learned, people concerned with our teeth have also decided February is the month to target (not November – post-Halloween?), declaring it both National Dental Month and National Pet Dental Health Month.

So, while questions arise about whether or not an awareness month means we can or do neglect certain issues the rest of the year (I don’t know about you, but I brush and floss outside of February, too), I also wondered, what other ‘month’ is February?

As it turns out, lots.  Perhaps winter boredom means we have more time to dedicate to various causes?  Or perhaps certain companies have figured out that declaring a day or month in the name of something leads to easy and efficient marketing?  And is there something to be said about the plethora of odd February causes detracting from the few legitimate ones?

In any event, some of February’s highlights include:

Great American Pies Month
Library Lovers Month (maybe this should be year round)
National Bird Feeding Month
National Boost-Your-Self-Esteem Month (after those failed New Year’s resolutions?)
National Canned Food Month (because winter means less fresh food?)
National Care About Your Indoor Air Month
National Get To Know and Independent Real Estate Broker Month
National Grapefruit Month (canned?)
National Hot Breakfast Month
National Snack Food Month
National Chocolate Lover’s Month (buy yourself Valentine’s chocolate without the guilt?)
National Sweet Potato Month
National Time Management Month
National Weddings Month
Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month
Spunky Old Broads Month

It’s getting a little ridiculous, isn’t it?

Now, instead of having to pick and choose where your focus will be throughout February, I think I’ve figured out a way to knock out all of less significant observances in one shot: one meal at a library with a spunky old broad who just happens to be a real estate broker, serving heart-shaped crepes with Nutella and canned grapefruit, and a side of sweet potato hash browns, finished off with a slice of pie and some pretzels.  While heading out to brush you and your pets’ teeth, you scatter some birdseed and breadcrumbs, and return a couple of shopping carts –all while wearing formal wedding attire.  I think completing all of the above would be some excellent time management, which, of course, should boost your self-esteem.

Done.

Burt Reynolds celebrates his birthday in February. Isn’t that interesting?

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Pet Insurance? Or Assurance?

I’ve been asked more than once about whether or not I’d recommend pet insurance, and I’m always sorry to say that there’s unfortunately no clear answer to that question.  Not that you’ll get from me, anyway.

Moses is insured.  And personally, I’m very glad he is, because that didn’t always used to be the case.  And then – BAM!  Bloat.  At midnight.  On a Friday.  In another city.

Yep, we sure wish we were insured then.  Because even though we would’ve had to fork over the cost of his emergency surgery up front anyway, at least we would’ve got $5,000 of that back under our current plan.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

But I can really see why many people opt not to get pet insurance.  Heck, that was our first decision, too.  And our cats still aren’t insured.

The reasoning is simple: if you have a well-trained dog and put them on a good quality diet, those are insurance policies of their own.  The quality diet can prevent against many illnesses and allergies, and a well-trained dog is less likely to get into some sort of rare kerfuffle or incident that could result in medical attention.  Simple.

If you have a pure bred dog and did extensive breeder research beforehand, there’s another important precaution taken care of.

Easy initial and daily preventative measures can mean a long, healthy, high quality life for your dog, and also mean that pet insurance for you just might turn out to be a waste of money.

Alternatively, to prepare for any sort of “freak” incident, many people simply put away what they’d pay in premiums into a savings account, so the money is there if you need it, but still in your possession if you don’t.  That was our plan, too, but when Moses bloated at 18 months old, we had barely $500 in the Contingency Account.  So perhaps a large lump sum early on is the way to go with this plan.

For us, however, it took one Several Thousand Dollar Event to change our minds on pet insurance (even though we have yet to make a claim on it – knock on wood).  And, unfortunately, I know more people who didn’t have pet insurance and later really wish they did, than who did purchase a plan and later found it to be an unnecessary expense.  Of course, I also know many people who don’t have pet insurance and have never needed it and are quite content.

So I’m afraid I can’t offer any clear advice; it’s a pretty personal decision.

However, I can offer some important considerations.

Finances. If you’re rolling in dough and won’t be financially affected by paying several hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars for a procedure, I probably wouldn’t worry about it.

If you’re leaning towards insuring your pet, you also have to consider your long-term investment and what you can afford monthly or annually in premiums.  For example, $40 per month over the course of a 14 year lifespan would mean paying the insurance company $5,760 at the end of it all.  Do you think you will recover this amount in claims?  Or is your “peace of mind” worth that much?

Your Pet’s Age.  Just like our own health insurance, premiums for pet insurance are cheaper the younger your pet is, so if you’re on the fence, it’s often better to make a decision sooner than later, and see if the policy has any guarantees about premium increases over time.  Some breeders, like ours, even insure your puppy for you up to 6 months old, so it could be an easy procedure to just maintain that policy.  Some companies won’t even insure a pet once they’ve reached a certain age, so it’s worth looking into.

Old age will also be a consideration, because even if a certain procedure is covered and can prolong your pet’s life, questions about quality of life may arise.  Insurance is nice because it takes out the “can we?” when it comes to a major medical procedure, but you can’t neglect the “should we?” considerations.

Medical History.  You have to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions beforehand when applying for insurance or you risk voiding your policy, so it’s best really best to obtain the insurance before anything arises.  We disclosed that Moses had previously bloated, so our insurance coverage now excludes future episodes of bloat (obviously).  Thankfully, his stomach is now tacked and future bloat isn’t a huge concern for us, but this could be a deal breaker with many other medical issues.

Breed.  Shop around when considering a policy, and check to see how different companies assess insurance for your dog (or cat)’s breed.  When we were looking, some companies listed Newfoundlands (among several others) in a riskier category as other breeds, and wouldn’t cover certain things like bloat or hip dysplasia regardless of the particular dog’s medical history.

Lifestyle.  Is your dog well trained?  Does he or she get a quality diet and plenty of exercise?  Are you diligent about keeping him/her out of harm’s way?  If so, you may not want to bother with insurance.  What about considering who else looks after your pets – dog walkers, dog/cat/house sitters?  Sure, unusual and unpredictable things can happen, but, on the other hand, how much are you willing to pay for the rare just-in-case scenario?  This is why our cats aren’t insured:  they stay in the house, are fed well, are miscellaneous stray-mixes, and neither of them have any self-destructive habits such as eating plastic, live electrical cords, or poisonous plants, so serious medical problems or injuries really aren’t a major concern for us.  Could we have made the wrong bet?  Sure, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get there.  (Fool me once…?)

Type of Coverage.  Like any other form of insurance, pet insurance comes with many different levels and inclusions and exclusions.  If you just want to insure for the just-in-case scenario, but take on daily preventative care issues yourself, most companies can accommodate.  If you want 100% coverage, including regular medical check-ups, dental care, and even massage or acupuncture (not kidding!), they have that, too.

Vet Considerations.  Some companies allow you to see any veterinarian you want, which means you can keep your current one (if you like them).  Read the fine print and make sure the company you’re considering doesn’t just allow for claims from certain vets in your area, unless you’re already using one or want to make a change.

Past Experiences.  This will probably be the biggest factor: experiences you’ve already had with your pets, or perhaps ones your close friends or family members have had.  If your gut simply tells you to get insurance, and it will make you feel more secure, then just find a good option and go for it.  If you’re certain it will be a waste of money, then who is to say otherwise?  It’s Colbert’s “truthiness” at its finest.

Can you believe it has taken me this long to work Colbert into my blog?

Really, the hard part when considering pet insurance is to think about it as objectively as possible.  And this is tough not only because our pets are generally considered beloved family members, but also because each company selling pet insurance “fear mongers” to a certain extent, playing on your love for your pet and how you “want the best for them”.  You do have to remember that these companies wouldn’t exist if there weren’t a profit to be made.  Like we put off writing our own Last Will and Testament, considering the what-ifs is just one of those necessary evils of being responsible.

No, it is true, I will never come right out and tell someone not to get pet insurance, simply because if they do turn out to be part of that population that opt out and then something terrible happens, I could never live with the guilt; I prefer to err on the side of caution, thus accounting (now) for Moses’ insurance policy.

On the other hand, I can’t (won’t) tell you outright whether to get pet insurance, either, but I will certainly advise to do as much research as possible and be sure you’ve made an informed decision, whatever that decision may be.

In conclusion: there are more questions and considerations than answers.  Sorry ‘bout that.

Moses had both had and not had insurance. Each time, we've been content with our decision.

Don’t Let TV Train Your Dog

When we decided our household needed a dog – long before we actually got one – I started an All Things Dog project.  I researched breeds and breeders, read books about dogs, and started watching television shows on dogs and dog training.

Puppy Moses

And then when Puppy Moses came along, what did we do?  Obviously, we signed up for training classes and professional help.

…Or maybe it’s not so obvious.

There is a growing population of television personalities who will teach you about your dog, from He Whose Name Shall Not Be Whispered, to Some British Lady, to a Canadian with a Receding Hairline.

On the face of it, I suppose I am generally happy for a number of reasons that these people are out there doing what they do.  The increasing popularity of these dog-related “reality” shows brings an added emphasis to dog training, and I hope the result has been that more people have an interest in training and properly exercising their pets.  These shows also acknowledge that those with “problem dogs” can seek and receive help, and all of the people mentioned above emphasize that issues can be resolved, also noting that they often originate with (or at least are exacerbated by) the owners.  In addition, these TV trainers often use their increasing profiles to bring more widespread awareness to a lot of animal issues, including promoting rescue organizations and adoption, proper pet health, and drawing attention to the problem of puppy mills.  So yes, there are definite benefits.

On the other hand, there are also draw backs.

Just like I can’t expect School of Golf to teach me all I need to know to achieve a handicap under 10, these dog-related television programs should not be considered substitutes for real life, hands-on help and training.  On-course lessons with a golf pro will be time better spent improving your game than hours sitting on the couch watching the experts do their thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these shows can be highly entertaining, and I still watch them myself.  It’s a very satisfying formula:

  1. Montage of frustrated owners with “dog from hell” who have “tried everything”;
  2. Enter Guru;
  3. Guru works magic on dog;
  4. Guru works magic on owners;
  5. Owners attempt to apply learned magic to dog;
  6. Guru improves technique, assigns homework;
  7. Relative degree of success;
  8. Happy, optimistic owners;
  9. Happy dog.

Almost without exception, there’s a feel-good happy ending.

However, to take a 30 or 60 minute program as a realistic representation of any dog training process is a mistake.

The producers of these shows know the formula and they know what gets ratings and how to get the series renewed.  A lot of information about the hows and whys of what goes on is left out for both time constraints and to appeal to a broader audience; we are never given the complete picture.  Instead, we are shown the “best TV”, which emphasizes the dog’s bad behavior in the beginning, the improvements at the end, and a small, simplified version of how they got there.  Often, it’s not explicit that sometimes the Guru visits several times of the course of a week or month, and a lot of the work is done off-camera through the homework assignments the owners have been given.

Yes, when asked, each Guru emphasizes that consistent, hard work and dedication on behalf of the owner is the ultimate key to success, but all of the televised representations reinforce a “quick fix” ideal.

And this is the problem.

Despite any “seek local, professional help”-type warnings, people (likely always) will still try it at home.  This is how the holiday season a few years back ended in so many house fires; people decided they wanted to deep fry their turkeys, too.

Problems arise when dog owners take techniques or information they see on TV, apply them partially, incorrectly and sporadically without knowing why, subsequently fail or maybe even make things worse, and then assume that this counts as a legitimate training attempt.  Now they’ve “tried everything” with their dog and then become frustrated and even more despondent.

The other problem is that the Super Fans grow to consider themselves experts.  They’ve watched every episode, read a book, maybe even attended a seminar.  They grow to believe that what they’ve learned from television is good enough, and that seeking professional help from a local trainer is extraneous.

And, fine, I will concede that if you’ve got your dog where you want them behaviourally without help, that’s great, but believe me, you’re either the exception to the rule or have way lower standards.  Most often, owners have incorrectly diagnosed their dogs (perceived “aggression” or “stupidity” are personal favourites), so not only are they trying the wrong thing or worrying about the wrong behaviours, it’s an extra obstacle to get them to let go of these preconceived notions when they do seek professional help.

At the end of it all, I guess I’m just complaining about something that will never change.  Though I suppose the benefits of the popularity of the TV dog trainers probably outweigh the negatives, there will always be these significant drawbacks.  People will always mimic the actions of celebrities (Kanye’s Venetian-blind-like sunglasses? Really?), and will always try to save a buck by watching some TV instead of paying for a course (I’m still waiting for the History Channel to award me my viewer-earned Bachelor’s Degree).  And it sure is easier to sit down on the couch for an hour than to go out, interact hands-on, and be accountable to a trainer or instructor.

I get it; I just don’t like it.

Nuptial Annoyances

Warning: The following blog post contains strong opinions that are jaded, cynical, and probably insulting.  Please be advised that if you have ever held a wedding, attended a wedding, or daydreamed about your future wedding, some – if not all – of the following will offend you.  If it makes you feel better, yes, I too was guilty of some of the points that follow, but if I don’t get lenience, neither do you.  Continue reading at your own peril.  Reader discretion is advised.

Introduction

Weddings are inherently cheesy events.  It’s something about bringing together distant relatives and long-forgotten friends, groups of people that only find themselves in the same room at weddings and funerals, and forcing all these folks to sit and watch while you prove how much you love your significant other.

And there’s actually an interesting paradox when it comes to weddings.  Those who embrace the cheesiness seem to wind up with the best weddings: they’re fun, relaxed and everyone has a good time, including – and most importantly – the honoured couple.  The others who take the whole thing too seriously, constantly stress about planning, and honestly believe their wedding is perfect and entirely tasteful are usually blind to the fact that the kitsch has taken over, while remaining wound too tightly to enjoy themselves on their Big Day, or allow anyone else to either.

Weddings are becoming less a ritual about life-long commitment, and more a display of wealth and extravagance, as couples become convinced they must buy dinner for anyone they’ve ever met and cover each chair in only the finest linens.  There is always a feign of resistance to the default wedding format, as the couple tries to incorporate personal touches, but in the end nearly all weddings turn out the same, and the personal touches seem to only create caricatures of the individuals themselves.

So, exhibiting my penchant for complaining by way of itemized list, please find below The Ultimate List of Wedding Grievances, written in conjunction with a Con List cohort.

Because someone needs to say it.

xkcd shows us how it all begins

The Ultimate List of Wedding Grievances

1.  Glass clinking during reception to coerce the bride and groom to suck face for the crowd.  It is disruptive and the perverted enthusiastic guests and children often get out of hand.  No one wants to see people make out with mouthfuls of prime rib.

2.  The receiving line.  While über-traditional and practically the only way you’ll get to see all of your 300 guests, the 40 second interactions are hardly meaningful.  The guests queue up for an eternity, and your crazy old aunt will always think it’s appropriate to talk to each wedding party member for a full 8 minutes, thus holding up the whole production.  Those receiving lines that include the entire massive bridal party and all parents and siblings are the worst.

3.  “The Chicken Dance,” “The Macarena,” “The Locomotion” and “The YMCA”.  Self-explanatory.

4.  The cake cutting.  In case you didn’t know, the mid-dance cake cutting is the exit cue for guests who are bored, tired, or just want to leave.  This probably sounds familiar: “I’ll wait until they cut the cake, then I’ll go.”  By the time the cake is cut, most people are too tired, drunk, or full to want another dessert.  They either want to leave or to just keep partying uninterrupted.  It really slows down the night’s momentum when you to make everyone stop and gather for the photo-op.  And if the couple smashes the cake into each other’s faces… well, it’s been done.  It’s not original, funny, or cute.  It should also be noted that most wedding cakes are not delicious: taste is inversely proportionate to aesthetics.

5.  The mother/son, father/daughter dance.  If the groom wants to dance with his mother, fine, he probably should at some point.  But do we need to pause the party so everyone can watch?  Not necessary.  Full bridal party dances fall under the same criticism, and even the all-important First Dance treads dangerously here, since all most couples do is sway back and forth.  Bor-ing.

6.  The lame wedding favours.  What am I going to do with 1 oz of maple syrup?  How long am I obligated to keep it before I can throw out the dove-shaped paperweight with your initials on it?  Seriously, your guests won’t miss these cheap trinkets if you decide to opt out.  A third of them don’t even take them home in the first place and 6 months later the rest won’t even remember what you gave them.

7.  The notion that money is an appalling, impersonal gift.  Myth!  While the Mother-of-the-Mother-of-the-Bride may be mortified at the suggestion, most contemporary young couples, especially those who have lived on their own or lived together prior to the nuptials, will be very appreciative; they already have a toaster oven.  Not only is money or a gift card acceptable, it makes gift shopping much easier.

8.  Any speech or toast longer than 5 minutes; 3 minutes is ideal.

9.  Children.  Evidently, putting a kid in a pretty dress or a mini tux is a free pass for any and all forms of misbehaviour.  And an open bar/family gathering apparently gives dutiful parents the excuse to be distracted or blatantly ignore the ruckus.   Sure, who wouldn’t want to take their shoes off and run around screaming in their dress clothes?  But if I can’t do it, neither should your child.  Unfortunately, this is generally unavoidable, as most parents will take personal offence if you attempt an “adult-only” wedding.

10.  Pets and/or children as part of the ceremony.  There’s a reason Hollywood lists these two things as the most difficult to work with (close third: Christian Bale).  Temper tantrums (or dogs running amok with wedding bands) trump “cute” every time.

11.  Every-man-for-himself reception seating.  This usually ends in groups of friends being split up, dubious seat-saving, and complaints.  Make a seating plan – place cards are cheap, and you should have a good idea of who should/can sit where.  If for some reason your new mother-in-law doesn’t arrive early enough to get her spot at the best table, you will hear about it for the rest of your life.  “John’s speech was so touching.”  “Well I don’t know dear, I was so far away I couldn’t hear him, let alone see him up there.”

12.  Brunch/lunch receptions.  I’ve never been to one, and I wouldn’t go if invited.  Okay, maybe I would, but I wouldn’t be stoked about it.  If it’s a budget thing, cut down the guest list and host a dinner like a normal person.  An evening cocktail party reception could be an acceptable middle ground if done properly.

13.  The dreaded “cash bar”.  It’s striking how those so often concerned with “tradition” and “custom” still opt for the cash bar – a major faux pas in traditional wedding etiquette.  And it automatically labels you as “cheap” (sorry), since asking people to pay for anything at your wedding is generally in bad taste.  If it’s a cost issue, consider how out of hand the size of your wedding has gotten in the first place, or make some sort of compromise such as providing wine, but not spirits, or discounted drink prices.  In three years, people won’t likely remember what wedding favours you provided, but they will remember whether or not they had to pay for their booze.  Of course, it could be worse; you could have a “dry” wedding.

14.  Ceremony/dance-only invitations: there’s a dinner, but some of you are not invited.  Ouch.  A guest considered for the dance-only invitation should not be a guest at all, plain and simple.  It’s not like the dance-only invitees will be completely unawares of the dinner that occurred just before their arrival, and receiving the second-class invite is insulting.  Expect these guests to arrive only for the open bar – if they come at all – and not to bring a gift (could you blame them?).  This is truly a do-unto-others situation.  Not to mention, if you have a group of dance-only guests, you are now obligated to provide a well-stocked midnight buffet.

15.  The plethora of wedding-related events: bridal showers, bachelorette parties, engagement parties…. And your guests are expected to bring gifts to all of them?  Prepare to lower your expectations.

16.  The Bridal Party.  Being asked to be a member of a bridal party should be a request made to close friends you’d like to share the experience with – not to recruit free manual labour.  Brides and grooms should acknowledge that it is expensive to be in a bridal party, and that few people have the balls or the foresight to say “no” when asked to be a part of one.  Keep their costs reasonable and their time commitments manageable.

17.  Facebook event invitations.  I’m all about losing useless and out-dated traditions, but really?  Too far.

18.  Outdated and over the top decorations.  Miles of tulle draped from the ceiling of a dingy community hall or a plastic gazebo does not magically transform it into the Banff Springs Hotel.  You’re not fooling anyone, so keep it simple.

19.  Throwing rice/confetti.  Someone has to pick that up!  Is it really appropriate to show how happy you are for the bride and groom by throwing food at them?  I think not.

20.  The notion that this is the most important day in everyone’s life.  It may be one of yours, but chances are your old college friend or second cousin doesn’t care nearly as much.  Please keep this is mind when you make demands of your attendees.

21.  Spelling and grammatical errors on wedding invitations.  You will be judged.

22.  Weddings during long weekends.  Perhaps a bigger deal here than in warmer climates, but Alberta/Canada sees a limited number of long weekends in a summer, and I certainly don’t want one to be monopolized up by your wedding.

23.  About the bridesmaid dresses: “Oh, that’s versatile, you can totally wear it again”.  No, you cannot.  Use of this and similar phrases should be ceased immediately.  Regardless of how it looks, it is and will always be the bridesmaid dress from so-and-so’s wedding.  Therefore you can’t knowingly wear it again to another event, especially one that people who were at the wedding will be attending.  Even if you’re at a totally unrelated work Christmas party on the other side of the globe, Facebook photo tagging will reveal you.  Besides, the majority of these dresses all have that everlasting bridesmaid-y feel to them – even the black ones.

24.  “This tastes like ‘wedding food’.”  Maybe I watch too much of TLC’s Four Weddings, but this is the most ridiculous complaint.  There’s no such thing as “wedding food”.  It’s mass-produced banquet food that shows up at every event with 75 or more guests.  With few exceptions, quality is lost to quantity.  If you prefer not to be subject to this grievance, forego the frequent menu tastings and spend your time trimming the guest list.

25.  Do not invite people you don’t expect or want to come just to be polite, and then panic when they come.  You had that coming.

26.  Also do not invite people who are not invited to the wedding to your wedding related events (e.g. shower, stagette).  If they come, it’s just to make a scene or make you feel bad, so doing so just means you’re asking for trouble.

27.  The thank-you is NOT an outdated tradition and proper thank you notes should be sent to everyone and sent promptly.  This goes for wedding and shower gifts.  Some people will have you believe you have a year to send these notes, but anything after a couple of months will have guests raising their eyebrows.  That same tradition says guests have a year after your wedding to give you a gift – would you be okay with waiting so long?  Just get these formalities over with.  The acknowledgement is always appreciated.  And as with invitations, you cannot use Facebook for this.

28.  Guests who do not dress appropriately.  I don’t care who you are or what the venue is, 99% of the time denim is not appropriate.  Just because they have collars, plaid and golf shirts are still not acceptable.

29.  Keep your registry under control.  You need a wide range of price points, and a lot of items in the reasonable $75-$125 range.  A huge registry with lots of expensive items will be interpreted as greedy or delusional.

30.  The infamous Bridezilla and her lesser-known minion, the Groomonster.  Serving as a G-rated euphemism for “crazy bitch”, perhaps the daily use of the term “Bridezilla” on TV networks such as TLC has desensitized friends of the bride to the full meaning of the term and their impending doom.  All brides have Bridezilla moments – it’s basically unavoidable.  The less you think you are being a Bridezilla, the more likely you are a behaving like a complete psycho.  But just because “everybody does it” doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.  Try to have empathy and try to remain calm if something goes wrong.  At least one thing goes wrong at every wedding – accept it and move on.  Yes, it’s “your day”, but you invited the rest of us and we have to put up with you.

31.  Gift-openings.  Yawn.  They are boring and no one cares.  If you had a registry it can easily be deduced that you received many things from it.  I don’t feel it necessary to check and make sure.

32.  Going somewhere warm and far away for your wedding because you’re too cool to do it locally like everyone else? “Oh, a wedding in Hawaii! Real original!”  – Peter (Jason Segel), Forgetting Sarah Marshall

33. Wedding photos by formula. I have this picture; you probably have (or will have) one just like it.

Tenant Roulette

My husband and I rent out our basement suite as a separate unit.  Between Kijiji and good ol’ word-of-mouth, we’ve never had much trouble keeping the place occupied.  However, sharing the slightest amount of living space with another person – even just a back yard – can be quite the gamble.  If you’re going to roll the dice, you better be ready for the possible outcomes.

The Close Friend or Relative:  The biggest of all the gambles in my opinion, and a grey area we’ve never been ballsy enough to test.  The possible benefits include a nice, responsible, respectful, promptly paying tenant.  The possible downfalls include a gradual blurring of the lines of personal space until you wake up one morning and stumble into the kitchen to find them drinking your coffee out of your favourite mug and having just finished off the milk.  They’re less of a tenant and more like a houseguest who never leaves.

The Friend-of-a-Friend / Acquaintance:  The safest of all bets, because you have some sort of mutual connection to ensure that the person is not a raving lunatic or serial killer, but you’re not at the kind of heightened social relationship that can lead to abuse of boundaries.  Safe indeed… unless combined with any of the following categories.

The Recluse:  Seems like the safest of all bets, right?  Rent to a total hermit and they’ll be quiet and keep to themselves.  A little Xbox noise pollution in the early morning is easy to cope with.  Not so fast!  You still need to ensure this person leaves the crypt often enough to take out the garbage, and perhaps purchase cleaning supplies.  Trust us.  Make sure you do regular quality assurance checks so you can just replace an old space heater rather than allowing them to forego all human interaction and improvise simply by cranking the oven and opening the door.

The Slob:  Often in combination with The Recluse, I suppose because few people are open to hosting guests in a pig sty, but there are always exceptions and you definitely cannot make assumptions based on physical appearance.  These people will cost you – literally, when it comes to cleaning up mystery carpet stains, older food than you can imagine out of the fridge and freezer, and cat litter out of the cupboards.  A Magic Eraser’s worst nightmare.

The Obsessive Compulsive:  We’ve never had one, but I can imagine it would be like renting to myself.  Rent would always be early and the place would be kept in great shape, but you best be on your toes as a landlord, because the perfectionist will notice when even the slightest obligation or quality lacks (23 hours and 27 minutes notice for the furnace guy to enter the suite?  Unacceptable.).  And I would point out all the spelling and grammatical errors in the lease document.

The Multiplier:  It starts out as renting to one guy.  Then that guy’s former-ex-but-now-current girlfriend moves in.  They get a cat.  Then a Chihuahua.  Then the girlfriend’s sister becomes a “long term guest”.  The girlfriend’s sister has a newborn.  Before you know it, our 900 square foot suite looks more like a haven for human traffickers.

The First Time Renter:  They can actually be a decent bet if you get someone excited about exercising his or her new found free will by keeping odd hours and never being home.  On the other hand, they can exercise their free will in a wide variety of noisy and disruptive ways, too.  The consistent downfall is the regular check-up calls received from the poor, worried, overbearing mother and her empty nest: “So how is my little so-and-so doing?  Does he seem to be keeping out of trouble?  Oh, he didn’t tell me he moved?!”

The Drama Queen (or those who date them):  Screaming lovers’ quarrels in the back yard at 6:00 am?  No thank you.

The Host/Hostess:  Very nice, personable people who should probably just have their own place, so they can host and entertain to their heart’s delight.  These people are often very courteous and considerate, and therefore feel guilty if their guests are even slightly disruptive.  Then they check with you and apologize profusely, transferring the guilt on to you, as the intolerable gremlin landlords.

The Animal Lover:  Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, but they need proper space, exercise, and attention.  Cats and dogs can seem to multiply almost asexually it happens so fast.  Beware before your suite turns into (and starts to smell like) the next Noah’s Ark.  Reasonable non-refundable pet deposits are learned from experience.  Our place will always be pet friendly, but “well-behaved” and “quiet” are definitely relative terms when it comes to pets.

The People Person:  Best only if you, the landlord, is also a people person, so you are content to be trapped into an endless conversation whenever crossing paths.  Taking out the garbage?  Look forward to hearing a complete and detailed account of their weekend.  A minor inconvenience, not to be confused with…

Your Future B.F.F.:  Whether they’re new in town or just plain lonely, this person is needy and suffocating and just wants to hang out, relentlessly attempting to abolish the distinction between landlord and tenant so you can play Ouija together.  “I made too much for dinner, care to join me?  I just got a new blu-ray player, we should watch SATC2.”  The answer is always “no”.

The Major Life Revelation:  Some major change in the person’s life has caused them to seek housing from you, whether it is a relationship change, leaving a long-term residence, or moving to a new city.  Whatever it is, this person will be going through a period of self-discovery, necessitating that the person who signed the lease is not the same person who will be living in the suite in six months.  Sometimes changes can be for the better, but often those people are buying property.  Instead we get to witness rebounds, party phases, and addictions to daytime TV.

The Do It Yourselfer:  They want to add a coat of paint and maybe do a couple minor upgrades that not only you will appreciate, but all future tenants will too… or so they say.  It may seem overly cautious, but close supervision of these types is recommended, because a damage deposit can’t undo everything.  And yes, duct tape will rip off the paint when used to hang mirrors. 

The Lone Wolf:  Reveling in their new found oneness and on a path to self-discovery, this person takes pride in how independent and self-sufficient they truly are.  Touting themselves as a low-maintenance, easy going renter, this person loves to problem solve and live the single life.  They are finally making it on their own – in your face their mom/ex/whomever!  Or so they think.  Their home fix-it remedies escalate minor issues to the point that you’re motivated to double check the lease for the signature of Tim Taylor (Home Improvement reference… anyone… no?).  Their dedication to self-reliance often means they choose to ignore that which they cannot repair, leaving many surprises upon move out, including burnt out lights, blown breakers, chipped paint, and appliances in need of repair or replacing.

The Unsavory Character:  Think they might be testing the waters for a new grow-op locale?  They probably are.  Evict immediately or ensure you get a cut of the profits.

The Codependent:  The.  Worst.  Often disguised as responsible, self-sufficient adults, these are folks either on their own for the first time ever or in a very long time.  They are personable and interview well and can dupe you into a quick lease signing before you know it.  And then the questions, e-mails, and concerns begin, literally from the day of move-in if not before.  “Why does my television only get thirteen channels?  If my toilet clogs, can I call you?  It’s cold.  I don’t like these light bulbs.  I broke my deadbolt.  The dryer made a funny noise.  The fridge was too warm, but I turned it down and it got colder, but you should probably take a look at it.  This space heater doesn’t work.  I saw a spider.”  It.  Never.  Stops.

… Of course, one day you could be so lucky as to find the end of the tenant rainbow:

The Constant Traveler:  Jackpot!  Responsible, organized, and never home = quiet and very little wear and tear on the property.  Just make sure they’re not handing out spare keys like candy in order to allow significant others and in-laws to “crash” when they’re not there.

Freedom of Speech: Does not justify being a douche

A recent exchange of… let’s call them opinions… on my Facebook page got me thinking about the concept of free speech.

The short-form background is that I shared an article about the Salvation Army’s clear anti-gay agenda, and alluded to the fact that I will not and do not support this organization.  A Facebook… let’s say acquaintance… of mine then openly endorsed ol’ Sally Ann’s platform.  Upon clarifying this… opinion, I promptly deleted the comments.  I did not think Facebook was the appropriate forum to engage in such a debate nor did I want my profile associated with that kind of sentiment. 

Of course, my censorship of my profile was met in protest: “well, so much for freedom of speech!”

I deleted the protest, too.

Why?

The answer is two-fold: (1) Because the term “freedom of speech” is not actually a legitimate cover for racist, sexist or otherwise hateful remarks; and (2) because my personal profile doesn’t apply to this concept, even if it were valid.

Trusty Wikipedia tells me that “freedom of speech” generally is “the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment”.

Well, let me tell you, had I left that comment up there much longer, punishment certainly would have ensued.  I received a handful of texts and others messages about it by the time I’d even noticed it.

On top of the blanket notion of freedom of speech, is the Canadian definition.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees each citizen the freedom of thought, belief, expression, opinion and media.  But there’s a BUT: subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Read that last part again in case you’re not following.  “Reasonable limits prescribed by law.”

To elaborate, no, in Canada you actually are not entitled to spew any inane thing that pops into your head.  You can’t publish false information.  You can’t incite genocide.  You can’t promote hatred against other people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin. 

We do not have an absolutist, American-style, First Amendment freedom of speech where even hate speech is generally permitted.  Certain types of speech have consequences under our Criminal Code.

Of course, let us pause for the obligatory Voltaire quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Reciting this almost seems mandatory in discussions about freedom of speech does it not?  (Irony.)  However, in social situations, good sense and common courtesy should dictate that just because you can say something doesn’t always mean you should.  Lincoln is credited with saying “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

This brings me to the other almost cliché point to be made in the course of this discussion, which is that you still cannot “falsely [shout] fire in a crowded theatre”.  That’s Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., an American Supreme Court Justice who is long deceased.  On the American notion of free speech, it means there are still limits to speech that is dangerous, reckless, malicious or false, and that serves no conceivable useful purpose.  So no, you can’t incite riots below the border, either, and you can still be sued for slander and defamation.

So can you say whatever you want up here in the Great White North?  No, technically you cannot.  I imagine (hope) you can still say most of the things you want to say; we’re just asking that you keep your bigotry to yourself – talkin’ to you, Ms. Coulter.  We distinguish between discourse and discrimination.  This means that you certainly can walk around town with your unfavourable, controversial, or questionable ideas on a sandwich board if you like; you just can’t promote hatred or contempt towards others while doing so.  Given that Canadians are renowned for politeness, and tend to follow the British way of doing things, this really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

And while some of our neighbours to the south bemoan and ridicule our lack of a no-holds-barred freedom of speech policy, I can only smile as f-bombs and nudity abound on CBC on your average weeknight (warning: this may be hyperbole), while their censors block out “Goddamn”.

Do I think the Canadian fine print leaves us better off?  Hells yes.  I honestly do not believe I have missed out on any significant truths or revelations by being deprived of certain Holocaust-denying treatises and whatnot.  Yet, despite our free speech “restrictions”, I am still aware of these fringe groups and their general platforms, so obviously they’re not that restricted. 

Of course I’m not looking to silence differing opinions, but we need rational thought, discussion and discourse to be productive.  You may not (likely won’t) change anyone’s mind when debating those big-ticket, über-controversial issues, but if you stick to rational, logical arguments and information you might just learn something or teach someone.  Blind, short-sighted, shallow statements that stem from nothing but hate, prejudice and misinformation, however, can be left to the wayside.

The bottom line here?  “Freedom of speech” doesn’t actually apply the way certain folks wish/think it did, especially in Canada, so I’d really like to stop seeing the concept abused; it’s not a free pass for douchebaggery.

Additionally, the only jurisdiction my Facebook profile is under is the Law of Me, so I’ll censor as I see fit.  Being that my blog here has less of an association with my personal life and identity, I will let more things fly in the comments section, so I encourage you to test boundaries.  Unless you’re posting spam, that is – talking to you homeopathic medicine peddlers.

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
-Also Voltaire

Terminating Baby Talk

I’m not sure what it is about newborns or cute furry animals that routinely turn seemingly normal people into incomprehensible squeaky babblers, but it just happens.  All the time.  Without explanation.  We’ve all seen it:  a completely anonymous passerby will lock eyes on one of our furry companions and the ensuing behaviour makes it downright difficult to retain any lasting respect that person.

Those who baby talk – to anything, but lets say dogs and puppies specifically for the present purposes – have got to be one of my absolute top pet peeves when it comes to human-pet behaviour.

Or is that flexi-leash use?  Or people who never walk their dogs?  Or don’t pick up after their dogs?  Or people who carry their dogs around (rant forthcoming)?  Okay, yes, I am a cranky old curmudgeon on the inside who has a lot of pet peeves.  And while it’s hard to know which might be my number one annoyance, suffice it to say that baby talk definitely makes the top 5 list.

Why, you ask?  Have you never encountered it?  It’s ridiculous and irritating whether aimed at dogs, babies, toys, clothing, anything.  Nope, I’m certainly no baby-talker.  I’m not immune to inherent cuteness, either; I just have self-control (and self-respect?).  Sure, I have been known to utter an “aww” from time to time, but nothing even close to – and I’m just paraphrasing here – “ohhhlookathimisn’thejustthecutestwutestpuppywuppyeverawwlookatthathelovesmedon’tyouwuvme
awwIwuvyoutoo”.

And perhaps the worst part is that these squealing offenders usually completely disregard the owner at the end of the leash, and rush in all hands and kisses without even checking to see if it might be okay or a good idea.

I also don’t petition for a cease and desist on the baby talk simply because you sound ridiculous; I also recommend an end to it to help propel your own success with your dog.

It’s very simple: the more you talk to them generally, the less your words have meaning.  If you use verbal commands with your dog (who doesn’t?), but you are also nattering away at them all the time, telling them how adorable they are, how your day was, what you’re planning to make for dinner, etcetera, eventually they’re going to start to tune you out altogether.

The sad truth is, dogs don’t speak English.  Or French.  Or Japanese.  In fact, when dogs communicate with each other, it’s very largely through body language.  So the fact that they obey verbal commands from us at all is because we have taught them to using repetition.  But then if they learn – also through repetition – that many of the words you say to them don’t have any relevance to them specifically, then they will stop listening.  To anything.

So while talking of any kind can essentially have a detrimental effect on your verbal commands with your dog, think of what baby talk can do.

Baby talk: squealing, high pitched, excitable, annoying as all heck.  Do dogs themselves ever make those kinds of noises?  Sure, maybe when they are in pain, but not in the normal course, anyway.  Does anything else in a dog’s natural life make those kinds of noises?  Well, just prey animals and our substitutive squeaky toys.

Before you say it, NO, I am not saying baby talk will incite your dog to attack your face.  But I am saying that high-pitched baby talk – and any associated groping – sure can get them excited, which means focus and general good manners and behaviour declines.  It’s an inverse relationship.

I know that when strangers approach my dog, all handsy with the baby talk, he quickly gets too excited and you see that glimmer in his eye, indicating his thoughts:  “I know I could hump you… I’m just looking for my opportunity”.  As an observant owner, I certainly try my best to make sure he doesn’t get that opportunity (because if he does, it could only be my fault, right?), but he’s more likely to go for it the more excited and high pitched his new acquaintance is.  [And, of course, whenever possible I do try to direct calm, quiet greetings, but that’s not always possible in the face of a baby talk sneak attack.]

So there you have it:  excitement level up = focus down.  And baby talk and the standard accompanying behaviour is very exciting for dogs.  The dog doesn’t know you’re telling him he’s cute, he just responds to the hysteria accordingly.  “Is it crazy frenzy fun time?  I’m in!”

In sum, baby talk reaches the high echelons of nonsensical human behaviour.  The dogs don’t get it.  I don’t get it.  It often results in an excited dog the owner now has to manage.  And it makes you look silly.  No one benefits.  Can’t we legislate it or something?  If the island of Capri can ban wearing wooden clogs….

Kidding, of course.

Just cut it out.

Facebook Faux Pas

Inspired by www.yourstatusisannoying.com, a website that and is both lovable and objectively hilarious.

The line between “social networking” and actual, real-life “socializing” is constantly getting blurrier.  And it seems that users are finding more and more reasons to put even more information on Facebook.  Sure, Facebook is handy when your mom asks what old so-and-so from high school is up to and you want to find out without having to make personal contact.  It’s also great for sharing vacation photos.  However, there are many things I believe Facebook should never be used for.  And so follows my angry list.

1.  Airing your dirty laundry.  Facebook is not a dispute resolution forum.  Starting or trying to resolve arguments via status updates and/or comments thereto may be mildly entertaining for us bystanders, but think: you’re putting that stuff online for all to see.  All 400 of your Facebook “friends”, that is.  Yes, it’s funny for us (to a certain extent), but rather than cathartic for you, it’s just embarrassing and likely regretful.

2.  Offering condolences.  This is the worst.  If someone died or lost someone, or got fired or dumped, condolences should be offered in person or over the telephone, NOT by wall post or status update.  You don’t need to invite everyone on Facebook into someone else’s personal suffering.  Worst case scenario – you absolutely cannot call or visit – send a private e-mail or message.  And if you’re not close enough to give them a direct message, then you’re not close enough to be obligated to comment on the situation at all; it’s none of your business, so leave it alone altogether.

3.  Quoting lyrics incessantly.  Annoying.  Extremely annoying.  This behaviour will fast-track you to deletion.

4.  The same goes for constant “inspirational” quotes and strange rhetorical questions.  If I was in the market for inspiration, Facebook would not be on my list of places to look.

5.  TMI: too much information.  This can be any number of things: health issues, relationship woes, conflicts at work and school, anything at all about your sex life or lack thereof.  If it’s something you should probably keep private or only within your inner circle, it should stay far away from Facebook.

6. Discussing bowel movements.  Of anyone.  This falls under the realm of too much information, but occurs frequently enough to deserve special mention.  Potty training your child?  Congratulations.  I have zero interest in learning about it, and these types of statuses and any accompanying photos will get your profile hidden at best, but more likely removed completely.  There are, what, almost 7 billion people on earth?  Most of them figure out the toilet eventually.  A miracle is it not.

7.  Your daily minutia.  I really don’t care what you’re wearing or what you ate for dinner the last 20 days in a row.  If you feel you must absolutely must share this meaningless information via the internet get a Twitter account.

8.  Flirting.  Gross.  Sure, she does look hot in that photo from Cancun (that is probably two years old), but at least drool via text message.

9.  Discussing your diet/work-out regime.  I’m lazy, I know.  I don’t need you to make me feel guilty about it.  You’re just bragging, anyway.  Which brings me to…

10.  Unnecessary and transparent bragging.  Yes, Facebook allows you to show off and edit your information in order to portray your own notion of the “ideal you” (that does not exist in reality, FYI).  We all know this, so showing off is not required and/or should be done with tact and subtlety. 

11.  Baiting your friends.  Here I’m referring to the ambiguous status updates that don’t say anything in particular but hint to deep emotional turmoil, begging for follow-up comments like “are you okay?” and “what happened?”  I make it a point to never indulge these attention seekers.

12.   Be a Debbie Downer.  Hate your job?  Your parents?  Your ex?  Generally depressed?  Vent elsewhere.  Write a haiku.  Go for a walk.  See a counsellor.  Do something, anything, other than sharing these woes through Facebook, because Facebook is not going to help or change anything.  Also, it’s not wise to put any feelings you may regret later (or that may find their way back to the subject person) on the internet, because once it’s out there, it’s out there.

13.  The infamous “is” update.  “Bob is.”  That’s it.  The end.  How very Descartes of you.  Clearly you’ve run out of ideas.  If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, don’t say anything at all.

14.  Exhibit why you failed high school English.  I appreciate proper spelling and grammar in Facebook content, what can I say?  So until Facebook implements a spell-check feature, do us all a favour and go easy on the capital letters and exclamation points.  Learning the difference between “there”, “their”, and “they’re” will truly make you a better person.

15.  Coordinate important events.  Wedding invitations via Facebook?  Really?  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: tack-y.

16.  Posting anything racist, sexist, or generally offensive.  This should be self-explanatory, but sadly is not.

17.   Updates that read something like “If you can read this, you made the cut”.  I’m happy you discovered the friend-removal function and have now realized you don’t need to be “friends” with everyone you’ve ever had a conversation with, but is this supposed to make me feel special?

18.  Your legal problems.  Lost custody of your kid?  Spent the night in the slammer?  As much as we all love to revel in the misfortune of others, sharing this information with the masses is just another instance of the poor judgment that probably got you into those situations in the first place.

19. TV spoilers.  In the age of the PVR, it is completely inappropriate and totally inconsiderate to announce the results of finales, evictions and plot twists in your status update.  Any wrath incurred as a result is warranted.  You’ve been warned.  The same applies to any movie that hasn’t been out on DVD for more than a month.

20.  Statuses that request you to copy and paste them as your own status.  You know, so a wish comes true or something.  They are the chain letters of Facebook.

Please feel free to comment with your own grievances or post how awesome this is as your status update.

A special prize will be given to anyone who can devise a status update that violates all 20.

The Beef on Raw

Blogging about diet almost seems to be a rite of passage for those who focus on dog-related topics.  Every dog blogger does it eventually, and they do it with vigour and enthusiasm.  It solidifies your status as “that kind” of dog person.  And now it’s my turn.

Perhaps the enthusiasm stems from the notion that feeding your dog a raw diet is controversial and ground-breaking.  I disagree.  On the surface maybe it does seem somewhat controversial because raw-feeders appear to be the minority, but dig just a little deeper and the whole thing – to me at least – seems pretty obvious.  The soapbox issue here is pet owner education (or the lack thereof).

The reasons behind feeding your dog a raw diet are pretty straightforward.  Dogs are primarily meat-eaters and therefore should be fed meat.  Thus, raw food is good for your dog; grain-based kibble is not.  In fact, the commercial kibbles are so bad that they are responsible for most pet allergies (due to the wheat and soy ingredients), periodontal disease, skin issues, and even some behavioural problems.  It makes sense – these kinds of things can happen to an animal when fed an insufficient diet.  So why the debate?

Well, giving pet owners the benefit of the doubt and assuming everyone wants the best for their animals, it must be that people just aren’t aware of this or don’t read ingredients labels.  Someone has to be buying the big name grain-based foods for their pets or the folks selling them wouldn’t be in business.

Unfortunately, those selling poor-quality, mass-produced, grain-based kibble appear to dominate the market.  Their frequent, high-budget, cutesy commercials and print ads can be found nearly everywhere, and their products are sold in pretty much every big name grocery and pet store.  They speak to your love for all things furry and tell you “if you love your dog (or cat), you will feed them [insert brand here], because we love them too and only want to give them the best”. 

They’re lying, of course.  Considering over one-third of Canadian and American households have a pet dog, there is a large market for pet food,[1] and these companies exist to turn a profit.[2]  And they certainly don’t do so by filling their foods with the quality ingredients your dogs and cats should be eating.  This, of course, has resulted in many pet food recalls in recent years, such as the infamous 2007 Menu Foods recall that involved dog food sold under 53 different brands and cat food sold under 42 different brands, including the familiar labels Iams and Eukanuba.[3]

But marketing dominance is not the only problem.  The lack of education does not only plague the average pet owner, but also the person they often turn to for advice: our trustworthy neighbourhood veterinarians.  The majority of vets are insufficiently educated about nutrition.  There.  I said it.  Firstly, this is because the average veterinary degree only requires that 40 hours/one week of study be dedicated to the subject of nutrition generally, out of a total three years of schooling.  Secondly, I did a quick search on companies that sponsor many nutrition education programs for vets in North America, and guess what names came up.  Hill’s.  Purina.  Great, so our “experts” are taught by the bad guys. 

Before you write this off as the least interesting conspiracy theory ever, think for a second: what brand is often found on your vet’s shelves?  Hill’s Science Diet, of course.

Using my favourite website on this issue, www.dogfoodanalysis.com, take a look at the breakdown of Hill’s Science Diet Canine Maintenance Beef and Rice.[4]  The analysis gives this food the lowest possible rating.  Its sole meat ingredient (beef) isn’t properly accounted for because they’ve included water content in the weight which is removed as it’s made into kibble.  The next three ingredients by volume are grains: brewers rice (low quality by-product); rice flour (grain fragment, filler); and corn meal (difficult for dogs to digest and thought to be the cause of allergies and yeast infections).  Tell me, when exactly was the last time you saw a wolf or dog (or cat) down a cob of corn in the wild?  The next two ingredients are soybean meal (low quality protein, cause of canine allergy problems) and chicken by-product meal (by-products are low-quality unidentified meats, usually rejects from human food processing that could not be used elsewhere).  The several remaining ingredients are more unidentified by-products, beet pulp (cheap filler, thought to be responsible for allergies and kidney and liver problems), and chemical preservatives (possibly carcinogenic).

So why does the vet sell or promote this junk food?  Either they don’t know any better, or they do but would rather profit from sales-based incentives from selling the food and getting business from ailments that plague our pets as a result of the food.  Ahh, the old debate of ignorance v. malevolence

I’ll pick ignorance as the perpetrator, because I really don’t (want to) think most vets are inherently evil (although Blofeld did have that cat…).

It’s simple.  Look at the ingredients in the kibble analysed above.  Why would you feed that stuff to your pet?

Dogs and cats are biologically carnivores.  Consider their teeth, jaw and neck muscles, stomachs, colons and other internal organs – they are anatomically designed to be the eaters of raw meat.[5]  Because (some) humans have been feeding their pets grain-based kibble in recent decades does not change that, and just because they can “get by” on a sub-par diet doesn’t mean they should.  You shouldn’t eat Doritos every day for dinner, either.[6]

My favourite fanciful objection to raw diets (I’ve even heard it cited by a vet[7]), and one that misses the point entirely, argues wolves and dogs are actually omnivores, meaning their natural diet is made up of primarily both plants and animals.  This often is supported by the suggestion that wolves eat the stomach contents of their prey – the prey having ingested a diet of primarily herbs and grains.  Thus, the wolf is getting its necessary corn, wheat, or grain intake from the deer/rabbit/whatever’s stomach.  And because your dog isn’t out there eating stomach contents, his everyday meal should be a kibble made of cheap corn and wheat.

To answer this – and pretty much any other objection you may have heard about raw diets – I recommend a visit to http://www.rawfed.com/myths/.  They look to biologists and other wolf experts to explain the carnivorous activities of wolves:

Wolves do NOT eat the stomach contents of their prey. Only if the prey is small enough (like the size of a rabbit) will they eat the stomach contents, which just happen to get consumed along with the entire animal. Otherwise, wolves will shake out the stomach contents of their large herbivorous prey before sometimes eating the stomach wall.

No, dogs and wolves are not omnivores.  They are “facultative carnivores”, which means while they are primarily meat-eaters, they do occasionally eat a non-meat meal.  Note the emphasis on occasionally, meaning that their diet should still consist primarily of meat, not corn or wheat.

On the other hand, as a feline, your cat is an “obligate carnivore”, and a meat-only diet meets his nutritional requirements, and housecats actually lack the physiology necessary to effectively digest plants and vegetables.[8]  So not only is a raw or meat-based diet the best for Felix, too, this also means that grain-based kibbles can have an even more detrimental effect on your feline friends.

So the topic sums up as follows: to feed your pet a diet most suited to his natural needs, and closest to what he would eat if left to his own devices, is to feed him a raw diet.  It is more appropriate and healthier, and many pet owners report a variety of improvements in their pets once having switched to a raw diet, including better dental and digestive health, a reduction or even complete elimination of allergies, and better coat and skin health.

And I should note that to feed your dog or cat a raw diet doesn’t mean you have to fill your deep freeze with an entire cow carcass (although you could if you wanted).  There is a tonne of selection when it comes to raw diets, you just have to look.  Sure, you can purchase your own raw meat in bulk and add fruits and vegetables at meal time,[9] or there are many brands that offer convenient pre-packaged and prepared raw patties – fruit and veggies included.  All you need to do is thaw the food and give it to your dog.  It can be as simple or as involved as you want.  Granted, the cost does increase when you switch your pet to a raw or otherwise quality diet, compared to feeding your dog cheap, commercial garbage kibble, but it’s a matter of proper diet and the overall health of your pet.  The advantages are worth the expense, and so is your pet.

And, of course, if you simply can’t stomach feeding a raw diet, there is a decent middle-ground compromise of high-quality kibble, which you can supplement with fish oil and the occasional raw bone or turkey neck, as you are willing or as is necessary.  To find a suitable brand of food, simply examine the ingredients.[10]  Look for foods that include actual meat as the first ingredients:  beef, bison, turkey, chicken, eggs, pork, salmon, etc.  Potato is an acceptable ingredient and is a good source of carbohydrates.  Ensure the food you select is void of grains, but look for fruit and vegetable ingredients (pumpkin, carrots, turnip, apples, etc.), which do provide necessary nutrients alongside meat.

And if you’re ever unsure or concerned about your pet’s diet, just think back to that ingenious Wendy’s ad campaign from the ‘80s and ask yourself: where’s the beef?


[1]  To see where I first mentioned these stats in more detail, visit https://backalleysoapbox.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/in-defence-of-big-dogs/
[2]  Really?  Daschund-specific kibble?  Terrier-specific kibble?  There’s a scam if I’ve ever seen one.
[3]  The pet food sold was responsible for poisoning 471 animals and 104 deaths.  The related litigation in Canada and the US recently settled for US$24 million.  See: http://www.menufoods.com/Recall/
[4]  http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com/dog_food_reviews/showproduct.php?product=125&cat=7
[5]  http://rawfed.com/myths/omnivores.html
[6]  Sorry.
[7]  Score one for ignorance.
[8]  If your cat is in the back yard eating grass, they’re probably just trying to induce vomiting.  Hairball, anyone?
[9]  Not corn, soy or wheat.
[10]  Or visit www.dogfoodanalysis.com and look for brands given the highest (6 star) rating.

Your “Doodie” Duties

Your “Doodie” Duties

That I have determined that this topic qualifies as a legitimate blog entry seems ridiculous, does it not?  Then again, we have also reached the point where apparently even we humans have necessitated the installation of automatically flushing toilets in public facilities, so maybe not.  In fact, this is apparently such an epidemic that there is actually a National Scoop the Poop week in August.  Who knew?  And what about the other 51 weeks?

The bottom line: if your dog does a “number two” while on a walk, pick it up.  Simple?  Sure.  Unpleasant?  Yep.  Do it anyway.

As a dog owner, it’s your responsibility, and it is also probably mandated by some by-law in your municipality.  Be prepared and always leave the house with plenty of bags.

Until you train your dog to do this (or use a toilet), it's your responsibility.

I walk around my city often enough that I happen to know for a fact there is a good proportion of dog owners out there who still fail at this and set a very bad example for the rest of us.  And it’s these very folks that get locations such as city parks deemed dog-restricted areas.

Sure, as a first time dog owner, it’s not the most pleasant thing to have to do.  But after a while, you just kind of become immune to it to a certain degree and it’s no longer a big deal – it’s just another chore and a part of taking care of your canine companion.  You even get to the point where you actually find yourself having a discussion about dog poop with a fellow dog owner – how messed up is that?  But it’s true.  I guess it’s kind of akin to those new mothers and their similar discussions about baby bodily functions.  Although, at least the dog owners I know don’t share these conversations with the rest of the world via Facebook status update (you know who you are).

Vancouver, B.C.

We dog owners know it’s an especially lucky day if Fido happens to do his business within 100 metres of a garbage.  And then there are the days where you have to detour or find yourself walking for half an hour or more with a bag of dog poop.  Half an hour!  Thirty whole minutes!  We’ve all been there.

And what goes through one’s head whilst walking down the street with leash in one hand and bag-o-poop in the other?  First is humiliation, of course.  You’re carrying feces around in a plastic bag.  At the foundation of it, it’s pretty gross and pretty embarrassing.  Passers-by definitely give you the stink eye and take a wide berth around. 

Second comes an odd version of pride.  Strange as it sounds, the more people see you picking up the after your dog and carrying said waste to a proper receptacle, the more you are setting a good example for the dog-owning community and you know it.  People appreciate your diligence, and you can carry your bag around as a badge of honour.

And third?  You feel like a total badass.  Okay, maybe that’s just me.  On pretty much any dog walk, no matter the time of day or night or what neighbourhood I’m in, I generally feel pretty safe and secure with my man-sized dog walking beside me.  Sure, I know he’s generally happy-go-lucky, but the unknown stranger doesn’t necessarily know that, and sometimes I even lie about it when it’s convenient.  Not to mention, we all know any dog can bite in the right circumstances.  And I may be no criminal mastermind, but I like to think that the potential bad guy might think twice seeing a dog of his size walking down the street, regardless of how wussy looking the chick walking him looks.  But now add to the picture that the wuss is also carrying a big bag of poop.  Sure, it’s no revolver or set of nunchucks, but mug me. Do it.  I dare you.  Because I am armed.  And I will throw my bag-o-poop.  At you.  Right at your face.

And there you have the hidden bonus: picking up after your dog further ensures your personal safety.  Okay, maybe I’ve travelled down some bizarre tangent, but these thoughts can creep up when you find yourself carrying a poop bag upwards of 3 kilometres late at night.

Anyway, my point is: shit happens, and when it does, pick it up.  Whether you’re on a walk in your neighbourhood or it’s during play time in the off-leash park, you are obligated as the dog’s guardian.  It’s unpleasant and unsanitary for everyone when you don’t. 

And no, you can’t leave it to “go back to nature”.  Not in our urban settings; the population of pet dogs in Canada in the United States means that there would be crap everywhere if everyone thought that.  Dog waste actually counts as litter and is detrimental to the environment as it contributes to local water pollution.  It’s also just plain gross and stinky and unpleasant for everyone to see, even if you have a dog of your own.  Who hasn’t been enjoying a nice day outside when all of a sudden your bliss is defiled because you’ve just stepped in someone’s negligence?

And while I’m at it, a special note to the folks to take the effort to bag their dog’s poop and then leave the bag just off the path:  wtf?  I might go so far as to reckon that this practice is actually worse than not picking it up at all.  I mean, at this point you’ve survived the worst of it, so why not just carry it to the garbage?  Anticipating a potential response, sure, biodegradable bags are great and I do recommend picking some up to reduce the amount of plastic waste, but they still need to make it to a garbage can.  Otherwise you’re still littering and still guilty of all of the above complaints.

I think this sign says it all.

The Brits say it best.