Do I Really Want a Dog? Things to Consider Before Taking the Plunge

dsc_1384Years ago I adopted a dog on the fly. I went with a friend who was adopting a dog at a ‘farm’ and in a moment of irrational craziness I came home with the sibling of the dog my friend adopted. They were named Reuben and Loo-is before we even left the barn.

I had never been a parent to a dog and I had no idea what I was doing. Neither had I given any thought to where I was living (a studio apartment with no dogs allowed) or how I would cope (I was single at the time and working full time with an energetic sporting schedule). Everything felt poised for disaster and in the intervening days I felt something close to panic.

I have always been a believer in jumping off cliffs…taking big leaps and seeing where I land. In this case, however, I had a puppy in tow and for the first time I felt the burden of real responsibility. Reuben would look up at me with these beautiful dark eyes and from the get go would follow me around no matter where I went…a habit he kept for the 11 years he was with me.

It would be an understatement to say he changed my life. I ended up changing everything about my life in order to give him a life I thought he deserved…even though I wasn’t even sure what that was yet.

It turns out I really love animals and slowly but surely I figured out what I needed to do. But there was a steep learning curve along the way. So here are a few things to think about for anyone thinking of bringing a dog into their life:

  • Breed – I had no idea what kind of breed Reuben was. It turns out he was a black lab something…the something part made him gigantic possessed with an old soul. It turns out that was perfect for me. What wouldn’t have been perfect would have been a super aggressive dog, or a dog that would be dominant over me. In retrospect, doing some research over the type of dog that best suits your personality or family needs is an important thing to consider.
  • Lodging – As mentioned I adopted Reuben when I lived in a studio apartment. In the eleven years we had him he lived in a house that had a backyard, as well as in a condo. Some people say you can’t have a dog in a condo which I disagree with. You can have a big dog or any kind of dog in a condo. The key is exercise.  Wherever you live, in a house or a condo, your dog needs to be walked. Once in the morning, again in the afternoon and again in the evening. Most dogs need a good hour (or more) of exercise a day. If you can’t commit to this, then don’t get a dog. Owning a house is not a good excuse for never taking your dog out.  Most dogs won’t walk themselves in the back yard.
  •  Backyard dogs – People who get dogs who only want to keep them in the yard shouldn’t bother getting a dog.  If you have a yard where you can let your dog rip around for a bit every day that’s great. A yard is not a home.  A porch is not a home. A dog is a social, loving animal who wants to be a part of the family. They need to be walked and loved. That means having them be a full fledged member of the family inside the home.
  • Exercise – I mentioned this above but it bears mentioning again. Dogs, all dogs, big and small, need exercise. They need to be exercised every day, outside their yard. My guess is that a lot of behaviour issues could be solved by fulfilling this basic need. This means giving them exercise, every day rain or shine. Just going on shine days doesn’t work. You have to ask yourself if you’re the type of person willing to do this. If for whatever reason you can’t do this, there is a dog walker and they provide an essential service.  When I got Reuben I was armed with two big problems. One I was hugely fearful of all other dogs, and two I worked full time and needed to get him walked.  I dug into my entertainment budget, the one where I used to go out for dinner and drink vast quantities of wine and I re-directed it to his walking fund. It helped socialize him and he was given a much needed break during the day and I lost weight. Yes, dog walkers are expensive but it’s worth it.
  • Training your dog –  As mentioned Reub came into the world an old soul and really didn’t require a huge amount of training. He didn’t bark if I left him alone, he followed me everywhere so he always came when called, I could walk him off-leash due to his following me everywhere…so I had it easy and I admit that. He was an ABNORMAL puppy. But I have seen a lot of dogs who are a bit wilder or simply need to be trained to be good canine citizens. You want your dog to get along with other animals and to be reliable with people and to be manageable in all situations. It’s good for you and its imperative for them. This means spending time in the first year training your dog.  If you don’t have the time to spend doing this then I would think twice about getting a dog. So many animals end up in the shelter or being re-homed because they can’t be managed and the responsibility for this failure belongs entirely  to the dog parent.
  • Dogs are forever –Dogs are highly emotional, intelligent and loving sentient beings. They form strong attachments to people and families. Giving them up because you’re moving, you had children and now it’s too much, or worse they’re too old, isn’t good enough.  You need to see this through and that means a 10 to 15 year investment. Can you commit for that amount of time?
  • Families and Dogs – We had two sets of neighbours. Each was a young couple. Couple one had a dog before children…and then the children came along. This couple spent time training their dog before they had children and then spent time socializing their dog with their children. Every day you saw them out walking their dog with their kids. It worked. Couple two had a dog who I used to walk. I walked the dog because they never walked the dog. When they had children things went from bad to worse because now they didn’t have time for the dog, which they barely had before they had kids. Then guess what?  They couldn’t take the time to train their kids how to be with the dog and vice versa. Before long the dog was confined to a small space within the condo where I could hear her barking all day long. That’s when I started walking her every day (while my dog went with a dog walker). This is an example of a dog being given a good shift sideways by the family.
  • Cost – I found out quickly that dogs are expensive. My pup was sick from the get go and I spent the first year at the vet with ongoing problems throughout his life. Get insurance, it helps. Food adds up. I don’t like to cheap out so we buy good food and cook half of all of his (now her) meals. Shots, vets, food,….all these things cost money. Do you have the budget or can you make room in your budget for a canine family member?
  • Emotions: Dogs are emotional. Like people they come wired in different ways. Unlike people dogs are dogs and sometimes their behaviour means something different than you think.  What is universal is that dogs want and need to belong. They need to be loved, cared for, they need consistency and most of all they need people to follow through with their commitment to giving them a meaningful and safe life.
  • Sticks – Don’t ever let them eat sticks. We let Reuben do it and it almost killed him when he was five. We also spent close to a downpayment on a house to keep him alive. Seriously, if you can’t eat something, your dog shouldn’t be eating it either.
  •  Dogs don’t lie. Dogs don’t lie. If they’re behaving oddly them more than likely something is going on. They’re in pain, something hurts, or something happened. Take it seriously and go to the vet.

Dogs are work. They are a commitment.But the effort, the time and money spent are all well worth it. You won’t ever have the kind of unconditional love that this beautiful animal has to offer.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animal Activism, Random Musing, Uncategorized

Random Musing: Sisterly Laughcapades

 

My sister and I do this thing every morning. At exactly 8:00 am we phone each other. If I’m late calling she answers by saying “YOU ARE LATE. WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?”  Same goes for her. If I phone and she doesn’t pick up I say  “HOW DARE YOU NOT BE THERE?”

Saying goodbye is equally as perilous as not being there to pick up the phone. You always want to be the first one to exit. Those are the rules.Sometimes we trick each other into saying goodbye. I’ll lull her into a false sense of security by pretending to start another conversation and just at the right moment I say “GOTTA GO. I LUB YOU.” You have to hang up immediately after that or you lose.I suspect she has fast twitch muscles because she is like a pixie sprite and can be very fast, very determined little devil.

My sister can’t handle a lot of screaming but she seems to have a high tolerance for my loudness. I recently found myself talking in a circle of friends. But really I was screaming. In fact I was screaming so loudly my friend Christopher said my voice was reverberating in the valley of mountains. And when I paused I heard it so I know he wasn’t exaggerating.

It must be genetic which is most likely why my sister can stand me screaming in our daily calls. She screams too and I think we burn more calories talking to each other than most people do in an entire day of living. We are not half measure ladies.

Lately we have both been stressed.Her because she was diagnosed with brain cancer and me because she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Recently she recommended the CALM app which truthfully has been a gift. Getting ready for sleep lately has involved a bottle of melatonin in one hand and a shot of vodka in the other. When I discovered the CALM app I was able to let go of both. Now I just have Tamara in the Calm App instructing me to breath in a beautiful calm voice and telling me I’m okay no matter what.

The Calm app is changing our lives. For example, today my sister said the session talking about being broken made her cry. By chance I listened to the same one and I was CALMLY able to say, you’re not broken, we’re perfect as we are. And she said  “Ya that’s right we are. ” And we are.

Then I told her that we have to be kind to ourselves because Tamara told us so. Then I told her that I had monkey brain this morning. My thoughts were everywhere and I was struggling to get through the meditation and all I wanted to do was check my facebook page to see if anyone had liked my elephant movie. So my monkey mind made me check my page. “SISTER she said  that is the ultimate crime!” But I was quickly able to say no I am accepting myself for all my imperfections and so are you. “TELL ME YOU LUB ME!” “I LUB YOU.”

Sisterhood has changed for me. While it has always been infused with love and friendship, cancer has made me want to draw a tight circle around us. Our circle is a rowboat. We have no idea where we’re going but we  fill this boat with a million laughs every day. “My stomach hurts.” she screams as we both laugh ourselves silly in the midst of this serious life. Sometimes she says she has only so many words for a day. I’m thrilled that I have so many of those words. I feel like the words we share are building a beautiful story of our lives, in this moment, in this serious and funny life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Random Musing, Uncategorized

Elephant Nature Park – The House Lek Built

elie-scrumWhen my husband Dave and I decided to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park Elephant  (ENP)- a sanctuary for elephants in Northern Thailand, we wanted to support the work of  helping abused and misused elephants who are rescued from elephant riding camps, street begging, circuses and the logging trade.

Volunteering for 7 days with room and board would give us the experience of a working holiday and the proximity to being near elephants in as close to their natural state as a domesticated or broken elephant could be.

We had heard of Changduen “Lek” Chailert the founder and the driving force behind ENP through friends and social media. I was thrilled to find out that she would be giving a presentation on our second night there. When she walked in I was surprised at how tiny she was. This small, powerful woman, wore a graphic t-shirt that read “Ivory is Murder”.

The message on the t-shirt didn’t mince words and neither did she.

“What you’re going to hear and see tonight is going to make you sad.” she said. “It will make you cry. But to be the voice of the elephant you must understand their lives and their troubles.”

For the next hour and half she did a presentation that I’m sure she has done a million times. People say passion is the greatest driver of change, the creator of outstanding achievements over time. And the woman whom I believe is building a quiet revolution in Thailand’s elephant tourism industry, delivered a talk that came straight from the epi-centre of heartbreak with an equal amount of determination to do something about it.

She tells us the history of elephants in Thailand – how their labour, their servitude built the country. She unflinchingly shows us the ‘phajaan’ the process of ‘breaking elephants, a horrifying multi-day starvation, and abuse of baby elephants intended to break their will to prepare them for a life of servitude. I sat in the back and listened to their screams, their cries, the footage of elephants buckling in pain as they’re released, and hit and beaten again and again.

She shows us images of elephants working in logging camps, carrying impossibly heavy lumber, dragging them up steep inclines, their faces etched in pain, fatique and defeat. She shows us the trials of street elephants, babies taken from their mothers who live under bridges, and are fed amphetamines and junk, as they’re trotted out in front of ignorant adoring tourists.

It occurred to me that if tourists could stomach the presentation we were shown, there is little doubt that anyone would be eager to participate in a tourist economy based on this kind of systemic and horrific abuse.

Residents of ENP

On the walls of the lunch area there are pictures and stories of the elephant residents at ENP. There are now 72 elephants living here.

Here are the stories of two of its residents:

Medo

Medo was born in 1980 and rescued in July 2006.She is a survivor of the illegal logging industry where her right ankle was broken but never allowed to heal. She was placed in a forced breeding program where the large bull injured and attacked her. Despite never receiving medical treatment for a broken knee joint and a dislocated hip, Medo manages to get around quite well at the park. Her best friend is  Mae Lanna.

Mae Lanna was born around 1980 and was rescued from street begging in February 2007. She has also worked in logging. She is 60% blind most likely from a slingshot when working in logging. When she was working as a street beggar, a monk became concerned about her and she was rescued and brought to ENP.

More than just elephants – The House the Lek Built

banner

On 250 acres of land donated from a wealthy American family, ENP has grown to include 72 elephants, 500 rescue dogs, Cat Kingdom cat rescue, 50 water buffalo including Violet a baby water buffalo who was rescued and raised by people and considers herself human, birds, monkeys, wild boar, a single pig and I suspect many others I didn’t see.

We had no idea all these animals were being rescued here when we first arrived.  It feels like something much bigger and is a grand gesture of generosity towards all living things. It is the way Lek believes the world needs to work – the true way of moving forward on this planet together.

The vegan menu that is served three times a day during our stay, underpins this philosophy. Animals don’t need to get hurt to serve our needs. And the food is delicious by the way. I actually gained weight during our stay.

A quiet revolution can also be an economic driver

ENP is a bustling hive of activity. From the moment we arrived it felt like we were on a sanctuary swat team. There are minivans delivering people, trucks delivering food and goods, and a busy kitchen preparing food, beds to be cleaned, laundry, animals to be tended to, mahouts tending to elephants. Without having the daily receipts in front of me, I sense that this experiment in kindness is proving to be a successful business model.

Spreading the love

Elephant Haven.JPG

In addition to running ENP, Lek works with local trekking camps to change their business from riding elephants to being with elephants. In return they have access to her vets and she promotes them through ENP. To date 15 have moved towards non-riding eco models.

Elephant Haven

We weren’t done when we left ENP so we went back to the Save the Elephant Foundation office in Chiangmai (where we met many friendly dogs, including one naughty little pug who lovingly dined on my skirt) and asked Ms. Patty what next. She pointed us to the direction of Elephant Haven, quickly helped us make the plans and off we went.

We spent 4 days at Elephant Haven  in Kanchanaburi about 1.5 hours outside of Bangkok. With only 12 elephants I imagine it is closer to what ENP was just a few short years ago.

We woke up to elephants outside our cabin window and spent the days making elephant food, cutting sugar cane, and wandering in the woods with elephants  sometimes only a few  even inches away from us.

sugarcane

While it’s still many steps behind ENP it is encouraging to see and you can only hope that the word will grow like wildfire amongst tourists to support elephants in a more respectful and humane way.

Rambo.JPG

 The future of Asian elephants

Watching the elephants slowly amble their way through the landscape at ENP, stopping to scratch, moving with their families to fields in green pastures, I feel anxious for their future.

Asian elephants are an endangered species and part of the miasma of wildlife rapidly vanishing from our planet.

At the start of the 20th century there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand alone and today there are between 3,000 to 4,000 wild Asian elephants with a global population of fewer than 30,000. After the logging trade was closed in 1989 Thailand has a population of 2,700 domesticated elephants.

Conservationists also worry for the long-term outcome of these magnificent animals. The jungle, their natural home, is being taken away for land use. Population demands, deforestation and demand for ivory are their greatest threat.

As I walked with them in the jungle and watched them from afar, I marveled at how much these giant herbivores eat huge quantities of fruits and vegetables every day.

I witnessed first- hand their need to wander distances. I feel anxiety that these amazing creatures, these giants are meant for another world, another time.

But as I watch the hustle and bustle of trucks bringing in food, supplies, and the minivans bringing in hundreds of people every day, I feel a tiny ray of hope for the domesticated elephant anyway. This looks like economic development to me. Perhaps Thailand can become the leader in ethical tourism for one of its most revered and cherished symbols.

There’s a woman out there called Lek Chailert and she has built a sanctuary, a house of rescue, a revolutionary business model, a new way of helping elephants survive.

She has the magnificent heart of someone who does the tough work of rescue. Not just a part of it. All of it. I feel lifted by this thought and hope that I can be a small part of this revolution she is creating.

6 Comments

Filed under Animal Activism, Random Musing, Uncategorized

Poem of the Week:A Good Day by Kait Rokowski via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

 

This poem is beautiful, heartbreaking, insightful, amazing.

 

A Good Day
     – Kait Rokowski

Yesterday, I spent 60 dollars on groceries,
took the bus home,
carried both bags with two good arms back to my studio apartment
and cooked myself dinner.
You and I may have different definitions of a good day.
This week, I paid my rent and my credit card bill,
worked 60 hours between my two jobs,
only saw the sun on my cigarette breaks
and slept like a rock.
Flossed in the morning,
locked my door,
and remembered to buy eggs.
My mother is proud of me.
It is not the kind of pride she brags about at the golf course.
She doesn’t combat topics like, ”My daughter got into Yale”
with, ”Oh yeah, my daughter remembered to buy eggs”
But she is proud.
See, she remembers what came before this.
The weeks where I forgot how to use my muscles,
how I would stay as silent as a thick fog for weeks.
She thought each phone call from an unknown number was the notice of my suicide.
These were the bad days.
My life was a gift that I wanted to return.
My head was a house of leaking faucets and burnt-out lightbulbs.
Depression, is a good lover.
So attentive; has this innate way of making everything about you.
And it is easy to forget that your bedroom is not the world,
That the dark shadows your pain casts is not mood-lighting.
It is easier to stay in this abusive relationship than fix the problems it has created.
Today, I slept in until 10,
cleaned every dish I own,
fought with the bank,
took care of paperwork.
You and I might have different definitions of adulthood.
I don’t work for salary, I didn’t graduate from college,
but I don’t speak for others anymore,
and I don’t regret anything I can’t genuinely apologize for.
And my mother is proud of me.
I burned down a house of depression,
I painted over murals of greyscale,
and it was hard to rewrite my life into one I wanted to live
But today, I want to live.
I didn’t salivate over sharp knives,
or envy the boy who tossed himself off the Brooklyn bridge.
I just cleaned my bathroom,
did the laundry,
called my brother.
Told him, “it was a good day.”

 

For more information on Kait Rokowski, please click here.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Poem of the Week, Uncategorized

Book Review: Far to Go by Alison Pick

In another life I was the publicist for Alison Pick when I was working in publishing and she was just starting out as a poet. She is a very skilled, beautiful writer. But in this book, a novel, she turns to an historic topic – the Kinder Transport in which close to 10,000 children were rescued from Germany, Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Far To G takes place in Czechoslovakia months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and follows the life of the Bauer’s, a well-to-do Jewish family, as the Germans move in and occupy their border town.

It’s narrated by Marta the nanny and by AnnaLiese a Kinder Transport researcher whose own life is inextricably linked to the story.

This novel, as  you can imagine, doesn’t end well and Pick doesn’t try and hide this fact. But what she does well is detail the shifts in thinking and realizations that bring about the family’s ultimate demise. How the trusted right hand man to Pavel Bauer ultimately betrays his friend for greed, racism and hatred. How Marta, so real, so warm and loving, so imperfect and human, misses the opportunity to save herself and the family.

The Bauers, disbelieving and not fully understanding the very real dangers that lay before them, miss opportunity after opportunity to escape safely. This is a story I hear again and again as I read through accounts of people and families during this period of time. As people who were Jewish in name only, Pavel Bauer felt a false sense of protection which was ultimately betrayed by the nauseating racial policies of the Nazi regime and all of those complicit in its implementation.

The Bauer’s learned far too late, that no-one was safe. But they did manage to get their son Pepic  out by Kinder Transport. Hooray you want to say but in reality a mind-numpingly heartbreaking choice.Reading even a fictionalized version of this painful event makes it all so real.

Today, as the world spirals toward racial and religious division, threats of evicting entire ethnic groups, building walls, taking away women’s rights, refusal to acknowledge and help refugees , I think about my friend Inge who is a survivor of the Kinder Transport. I remember how she described the last time she saw her parents, how she cries even now, today when she talks about no longer being able to go to school in Germany, how she found out her parents were murdered. Inch by inch this happened to her and millions of others. Inch by inch, we can never give in to this.

Never doubt that historic fiction isn’t important. It is and always will be.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Poem of the Week: The Leash by Ada Limon via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

This poem takes my breath away.

The Leash

– Ada Limon

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

A big thanks to Alison McGhee for finding and sharing these treasures.
For more information on Ada Limon, please click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Poem of the Week

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Book Review

3c694dd86944bafdbfae6753584e2ef8Continuing along in the vein of reading World War 2 books, I picked up this YA novel The Girl in the Blue Coat by  Monica Hesse which takes place in Amsterdam during the war.

My mother grew up in the Hague during the same time and was approximately the same age as Hanneke, the main character in the book. She has told me many stories about growing up in occupied Holland but it was hard to get a complete picture .I wanted to imagine the smells, the feeling, understand and feel what life was really like.

From that perspective I really enjoyed the book because of course, as you follow Hanneke on her journey you are introduced to the mechanics and the horrible impact of occupation by the Germans.

Hanneke’s story, however is not my mother’s story. But it’s an interesting, page turning tale of a young woman (18) who loses her boyfriend on the Dutch front. Her grief and her family’s circumstances drive her to buy and sell on the black market. While making a delivery to a client the client asks her to help her find a young Jewish girl she had been hiding but who had disappeared.

This story takes you right into the work of the dutch resistance and to the disappearance of Dutch jews , over a 100,000 of  whom were rounded up and sent to  their deaths in German camps.

Hanneke herself has to make choices about the person she wants to be and the risks she’s willing to take. What the author presents is the fabric of history – a painful tableau of complicity, cowardice, the crime of doing nothing as well as enormous courage and bravery. This period of time is still so close we can almost touch it. These acts of historic atrocity are always  just around the corner. We can see that in our own existing political climate.

It was a good story, well told and should be read by all generations for the simple fact that history should never repeat itself.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews