It is at once both difficult and easy to find poems to share in honour of dogs. Easy because writing is a solitary business and many a poet found comfort in a silent friend. Difficult because most of the poems are melancholy. While I understand and even expect this, I am not seeking remind anyone of the shortness of a dog’s life. There is enough gloom, I think, and it is not my role to add to it.
Perhaps I am just looking in the wrong places. I am new to this journey, after all, and this part of the internet is unknown. I am looking forward to seeing what I can discover over time. But certainly, if you have a favourite to recommend, I would not turn it away.
Today’s selection was written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I should know her works better than I do, I feel, because the name has such significance. From the little I have learned, her life was not simple and it does not surprise me she gained an affection for the canine friends in her life. There is much to which I can relate in the following words. I hope you can as well.
“To Flush My Dog”, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Yet, my pretty sportive friend,
Little is’t to such an end
That I praise thy rareness!
Other dogs may be thy peers
Haply in these drooping ears,
And this glossy fairness.
But of thee it shall be said,
This dog watched beside a bed
Day and night unweary—
Watched within a curtained room,
Where no sunbeam brake the gloom
Round the sick and dreary.
Roses, gathered for a vase,
In that chamber died apace,
Beam and breeze resigning.
This dog only, waited on,
Knowing that when light is gone
Love remains for shining.
Other dogs in thymy dew
Tracked the hares, and followed through
Sunny moor or meadow.
This dog only, crept and crept
Next a languid cheek that slept,
Sharing in the shadow.
Other dogs of loyal cheer
Bounded at the whistle clear,
Up the woodside hieing.
This dog only, watched in reach
Of a faintly uttered speech,
Or a louder sighing.
And if one or two quick tears
Dropped upon his glossy ears,
Or a sigh came double—
Up he sprang in eager haste,
Fawning, fondling, breathing fast,
In a tender trouble.
And this dog was satisfied
If a pale thin hand would glide
Down his dewlaps sloping—
Which he pushed his nose within,
After—platforming his chin
On the palm left open.
For this Blog the Change for Animals event, it has gotten personal. I may have come around about this new city of mine, however, there is one area in which we will never agree: politics. More specifically, the politics around animal welfare. With rodeos being the favoured summertime entertainment and the oil sands being the province’s blood stream, it is inevitable that Alberta and I are going to clash in several intrinsic ways. No matter what the propaganda says, this is a government that puts money and economy over everything else. Forget planning for our environmental future, forget the experiences of our animals, it is all about creating jobs and putting more cash in the pockets of overpaid executives.
Sorry, I guess that wasn’t an objective statement. It is hard for me to remain neutral about an issue that has jammed itself in my cranium ever since the proposal was introduced. There is nothing about the Northern Gateway Pipeline I can support.
For starters, the threat of a gigantic disaster will always loom. The oil industry has not done much to ease my concerns in this regard. North America has seen too many spills and leaks and destructive accidents in the last decade for me to believe this pipeline is environmentally safe. On a second, more important note, have you seen the area in which the pipeline will traverse?
Frightening. How many animal habitats will be forever disrupted? How many endangered species will find their lives threatened? Creatures like the Spirit Bear and the Woodland Caribou are threatened. The invasion of construction crews will only serve to decrease their dwindling numbers.
Is it worth it? Sure, and it will make the transportation of oil much more efficient and it will create employment for a limited time. But what are the repercussions?
Town of Kitimat, BC, sounded by unique temperate rainforests
The town of Kitimat, British Columbia held a plebiscite this weekend to determine whether or not there is local support. Considering the pipeline will be intruding on these 8,335 human lives the most, it was only fair. Of course, the vote wasn’t binding and was more of an opinion poll than anything else. The company leading the proposal were not at all daunted by the negative result. As MP Nathan Cullen said, the backers of the pipeline believe the outcome of the vote shows the ignorance of the community members.
“This is deeply offensive to people,” said Cullen, in an article published by the Vancouver Sun. “Like they’re saying, ‘We’ve heard you and we’re going to ignore you.’”
This worries me. The rigorosity of this company to push their proposal through, no matter what the irreparable costs, no matter what the people want, frightens me. As in so many other initiatives, I feel helpless to prevent something that I know will have lasting impacts on us all.
Why should you care? This is in Canada, after all. It is a decision that will be made by the Canadian federal government. But I know you care about animals. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. You also can’t forget that the same people backing the Northern Gateway Pipeline are pushing for the more extensive Keystone XL, which will have even larger ramifications.
What can you do? Add your name to the petition, pledge to stand with the Yinka Dene Alliance of First Nations who has joined with other First Nations to create a connected wall of opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Share your opinion, let the Government of Canada know that this matters to you, as a member of the world community.
We may not be able to stop it, but we can’t let this destruction happen without having our say.
I am trying to expand the breadth of my reading. As I’ve discussed, poetry is far from my typical scope. I am learning how much I have missed by ignoring this area of creative scholarship. In truth, my ignorance is based in fear. Poetry takes more work than a novel. Even Faulkner seems more approachable to me than Milton. It seems too sentimental and requires a deep knowledge of abstract reference. I am not literary enough.
Nevertheless, if I am going to continue to attack the concept of pretentiousness, if I am going to prove that beer and Puccini are natural pairs, then I will have to conquer my aversion to the poetic form. As I believe Proust can be appreciated by even my blue collar class, so can Whitman.
What better way to begin this journey than to seek out poems on my favourite subject? I would love to share some of the verses I unearth, if you will indulge me. Even if you won’t, I intend on doing so anyway. As the first instalment of Dog Poetry Sunday, I feel it most appropriate to share my favourite from Mary Oliver’s collection entitled Dog Songs. It was the first book to make me reconsider my nervosity of poetry.
“Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night”, by Mary Oliver
He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervant.
“Tell me you love me,” he says.
“Tell me again.”
Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.
I don’t have that many friends. No, it’s true. I don’t. But I am okay with this. I am not the kind of person who likes to be surrounded by circles of people. I would rather have one solid friend I can speak to every day, than one hundred people I hear from only once in a while.
As a private person, it isn’t an easy thing for me to relax around others. It takes a great deal of time before I am at ease enough with someone to call him or her a friend. It is a big investment. I don’t have casual relationships. There is quite a gap between friendship and acquaintanceship. Work associates, classmates, neighbours, people I talk to at the bus stop, these all fall into the latter category. They come and go out of my life and don’t leave any scars. Friendship, for me, is much deeper. It involves loyalty and shared confidences, emotional connection and mutual concern. Whether with a winky face or an outright jibe, You know I consider you a friend when I am comfortable enough to make fun of you.
I tease because I love.
Which is why, the few friends I am so lucky to have, are people I have known for a long time. For example, I am still friends with the very first person whom I ever gave this title, at age three. Almost thirty years later, we don’t speak often, but the friendship remains intact. With or without social media, I do believe we would have kept in touch.
My friendship with Kelly is young in comparison. I met her in 2011 when we shared an office. It is rare for me to befriend someone at work. I like to keep separate worlds. It is easier to organize and prevents me from having to reveal too much about myself out of my usual sphere. At work, I like people to think I have my shit together. The less they know, the better. I had just left an awkward job elsewhere and was still trying to figure out if there was a polite way of unfriending former co-workers on Facebook. I told myself I would never add colleagues to my personal accounts ever again.
This vow didn’t last long. Kind of hard to ignore a Facebook friend request from a boss.
Kelly and I weren’t immediate co-conspirators or kindred spirits. We both have our issues, after all. I can’t say when we shifted from officemates to partners in crime. It was a seamless, gradual change. Maybe it was after her cat drew my blood after the Sandwich War of 2011. Or perhaps it was more subtle than that. I don’t know if it is because we have so much in common, or if I just like people who test my patience, but in retrospect, it seems to me she was bossing me around quite regularly within six months. It stopped annoying me after twelve.
Remember, verbal abuse equals affection, just ask my sister.
We’ve been through some stressful times together. At first they were all work-related. I can recall so many episodes of Adventures in Late Night Photocopying and Let’s Get This Conference Over With. Of course, we can’t forget the classic, Year of Shittery. Always a pleaser. But as horrible as things seemed and as overwhelming as it all was, we could always laugh about it. We experienced so many breaking points together, moments of meltdown over inoperable hand carts and frustrating emails. But the solution was often just a Starbucks trip away.
And if it wasn’t, we were there to support. We couldn’t solve each other’s problems, but we could understand.
I don’t keep in touch with many former work pals. As I’ve mentioned, previous acquaintanceships have died the instant I left the building. When we made the decision to leave Halifax, one of my biggest regrets was moving away from friends. I worried I would lose what I had gained.
Kelly was, and is, different. At that point she knew who I was, dorky dog blog and all, and didn’t judge. She put up with my heckling and my insecurities and I put up with her commandeering and lack of filter, knowing she had the tougher end of the deal. My hermit ways are not easy to withstand. I should have known if she’d already ignored my previous attempts to evade, she wasn’t going to drop me the instant I was out of sight.
We still talk almost every day. She has been an incredible source of calm, even from a distance. When Shiva was injured last fall, Kelly didn’t think I was crazy or overreacting when I called her in tears. She understood my fears, stayed up long past midnight to listen to me yammer, and offered her resources to help us out. There was no hesitation. When I think back on that night, I realize just how lucky I am to have such a warm and giving person on my team.
It’s a small team, but it’s a devoted one. I don’t know if I will ever deserve it. Kelly would be the first to chime in that I don’t.
I am not as skilled as Kelly, unfortunately. I can’t craft beautiful images or dedicate hours to sewing thoughtful gifts. The birthday presents I have planned out for her, have not been good enough to match what she has given me. It is a failure of mine, that I can never seem to synchronize the image in my head with the outcome. I fear this makes me a terrible friend. One little blog post is hardly an appropriate gift. It is just all I have to offer today, alongside my constant support and solidarity.
I often reflect on how much of life depends on the small decisions we make. The deadline had passed when I applied for the job where I met Kelly. I recall wavering before emailing my resume anyway. What would have happened if I hadn’t pushed the send button? Where would I have worked? Whom would I have met? I am certain I made the best choice. I know if I hadn’t met Kelly, if she hadn’t been kind enough to ignore all of my flaws, I wouldn’t be the quasi-well adjusted person I am right now.
Of course, it’s also possible I would have met a friend with a yacht and a house on the island of Sardinia, but I’ll give Kelly the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Happy Birthday, Kelly. Even if you like the Backstreet Boys, I am so grateful I can call you a friend.
We are trying to do more with our weekends than errands and re-watching episodes of Sherlock. Now that the temperatures are habitable, we have no excuse to keep the hibernation going. Hiking is an activity that eases our sedentary guilt yet doesn’t take us too far out of our comfort zones.
Miquelon Lake Provincial Park was the perfect location for shaking out our winter bones. Less than an hour away, it is open all year round and contains several pet friendly trails of decent length.
Though the signage was excellent the trails were not well maintained, which meant we were trudging through slick snow almost the whole way. What would be an easy walk under dry circumstances, turned into a trap for weak ankles.
That didn’t stop us from having a good time. We ended up following some impressive deer tracks most of the way around the loop and Shiva had a good time filling her nose with the fresh scent.
We intend on returning once the ice has fully melted, perhaps even turn it into an overnight camping trip. But then, there are so many new parks to explore this year, I am reluctant to tie myself down just yet.
The only thing I know is, Shiva isn’t picky. Her disappointment at returning to the car was obvious. Poor little puppy. We’ll get back out there soon.
I can be a repetitive person. A person of routine. There are phrases I utter with great frequency without realizing. This was shoved in my face the other day when, after interrupting one of Shiva’s daily barkfests at the back door, I overheard our downstairs neighbour mimicking my words. I guess I do say the same thing almost every time. No doubt it would get annoying.
The challenge is, we share a Queen Anne revival-style home with thin creaky floorboards and sparse insulation. It is beautiful and I love it. However, the sound-related aspects are a problem. My neighbours may disagree but I think it is we who suffer the most. Between Stompy in the flat upstairs and the transient crew in and out of the basement suite, life in the middle can be awkward. And I mean that to the fullest extent of the word. Let your imaginations take you all sorts of stunning and icky places.
So when it comes down to it, I don’t feel all that bad about the the constant phrasings my neighbours overhear. If anything, we should start charging them for the free entertainment. My PH and I have some pretty wicked conversations.
Here is an idea of what you might hear at any given time if you tipped your ear to our walls:
“Cat! Caaaaaaaat! Stop eating yourself.”
“Do my pants really taste that good?”
“Sit! I said, sit. Ahem.”
“Go lay down. All the way. No really, all the way.”
“Is it time for bed?”
“Really Sheevs, really??”
“Voice box removal. We need to start saving now.”
“You worry too much.”
“Are you happy?”
“The city would make a killing if they put a red-light camera on that intersection.”
“Seriously? You seriously think that’s going to get you a treat?”
“We have the cutest dog in the world.”
“Shiva! C’mere! Want a treat?”
“There is nothing on television. Why do we have cable again?”
“Want a drink?”
“You are awesome, dog.”
I’ll let you decide who most often says what and to whom it is directed.
Do you find yourself saying the same things over and over again? Or do we just need to get out more?
I don’t know about where you are but here winter has been taking its time getting the heck out. April looks very much like January. But I am so desperate for spring, even with the ground still crusted with ice, I am soaking up the signs of the greener season where I can find them. Mostly in the light.
I never would have been able to take the above photo a month ago. It was far too dark. Even though the creek bed remains icily still, there is hope.
Just look at that grass! Real grass! Sure and it’s brown but we can see it! From this part of the world, that is something to celebrate.
It is so bright, people are letting their dogs remain outside just a wee bit later. Which means I could snap this picture of our friendly neighbourhood pit bull. And I mean that sincerely. This beautiful girl was all butt wiggles and play bows when we walked by. If Shiva hadn’t been with me, I probably would have knelt to say hello.
Yes, these trees will look much fresher when they have a new spring wardrobe. Yet, I still smiled at the way they blanketed this yard. In the dark days of early March. I never even noticed them.
It may not appear so to those who live in southern climates, but in this part of the world, it is clear things are improving. When there is light, there is anticipation. Before too long, there will be leaves and pretty petals to photograph. I believe!
What do you see as a sign of spring?
So Shiva has this crate. I might have written about it once before. It’s hard to remember. This singular item has been a gigantic focus of drama and contention in my life for so long that I have no idea what I have said and to whom. Considering how much I loathe the dang thing, I know I have spent a terrible amount of time defending it.
The thing is, I will always defend it. This bothers me. One of the reasons I hate it so much is the fact that so many people have their own opinions on the subject and each believes she is right. There are a lot of areas in dog training that are factious. The use of the crate is right up there with prong collars and raw food. I don’t like that I automatically leap to the defensive side when it is mentioned. My shoulders tense, my forehead wrinkles, and I feel my lower lip slide into a pout. I like to think I am the kind of person who is open, who questions her assumptions, and who can listen to alternative points of view. When it comes to the crate, the arguments become personal. Thus, my mind remains closed.
No doubt you have your own ideas of the what the crate represents. Some of you may use it with your dogs without question and some of you may look upon it has a cage of horror. You are both correct. Because if I have learned anything during this enterprise of dog ownership, it is that success has more to do with the actions and feelings of the human than it does with right and wrong. There is no perfect way to get things done that works for all dogs. But if you feel like crap about something, your dog will too.
But I digress. I feel like I am repeating myself. Another philosophical discussion is not the purpose of today’s blathering.
As I say, Shiva has this crate. Shiva also has separation anxiety. This same metal box has been an intrinsic part of the formula for keeping her safe for the last five years. Whether you agree or disagree with its use in this situation is irrelevant. We’ve used it, Shiva knows what it means, and we can all earn our pay cheques without worrying she is hanging herself on the blinds. Even though the crate has enabled us to move on, I still hate it. I hate putting her in there every morning. Always have. I made peace with it, yes, but I have never liked it. Not because I think crate training is bad but because it is not the ideal way for Shiva to spend an afternoon. It is one of my biggest personal failures that we are still using this thing after five years.
I feel like I should underline that.
There has been some headway.
The crate is currently located in our bedroom, not because she sleeps in it at night but because it is a room in which she feels safe and comfortable. The light is low and we can close the door to prevent our jerkwad cat from harassing her. She has her blanket and her Kong and her water and she trusts that we will return. She knows that her only job is to lick peanut butter and sleep. Recently, with my heart in her indelicate paws, when we have gone out for only short periods of time, such as to the grocery store on weekend afternoons, I have taken the chance of leaving the door to the crate open.
The routine is just the same. I take her outside for a potty break. I prepare her Kong of deliciousness. I refresh her water bowl and straighten her blanket. Shiva dashes inside the crate like it is the answer to all her hopes and dreams. I wait for her to lay down and then I give her the toy. She forgets I exist and dives in to her snack. On a typical day I would then close the crate, turn out the light, and then shut the door of the bedroom. But now, on the occasional short jaunt, I have been skipping the step with the crate lock.
So far, we have seen very positive success. Not only has she not hurt herself, but she behaves in just the same way she does as if the crate door was closed. With one significant difference: when we return home she is not locked in the small space but she is lying on our bed. It is a much happier sight, let me tell you. She is not relaxed, I wouldn’t say that, but her location cozied up to our pillows looks so much more… Natural?
I would love to give this a try for slightly longer stretches of time but am so scared of what could happen. We have done this before – experimented, played with the process, attempted to give her more freedom – and it never worked out. She just couldn’t handle it. Having free reign of even one room proved to be too stressful.
Is she ready now?
I guess there is only one way to know. But is it worth risking her safety? Should we just continue on as we are? Is it better to give up on my dream of one day walking out the front door with Shiva snoozing on the sofa?
The big question I am hoping you can help me answer is: how do dogs perceive time?
Is leaving Shiva alone in the house for one hour the same as leaving her alone for three? Do you think she knows the difference? If she can handle 60 minutes without being in the crate, is it possible she could deal with four times that?
I’d love to know what you think. In all of your observations of dogs, in all your tremendous amounts of reading, do you think they perceive time the way humans do? Do you think it feels longer to them or shorter?
Please, if you have any thoughts on this subject, no matter how obscure, I’d be so grateful if you would share them.
If you have been keeping up with Go Pet Friendly’s Annual Tournament, you’ll have seen that Edmonton was booted during round three. At first, I was pretty bitter about it. Portland, Oregon may seem brilliant with all its craft breweries and its gigantic bookstores and its Voodoo doughnuts, but that doesn’t mean it is pet-friendly. Dogs can’t drink beer or eat doughnuts and I am positive most of them can’t read.
Note the handy poop bag dispenser. This is a National Park that welcomes dogs with open arms. It was stocked even in the winter.
In my opinion, the amount of rain the western U.S. city receives each day should be reason enough to stay away. Walking in a downpour is not fun, no matter how beautiful the riverside park might be. I know this from personal experience. I used to live in Halifax.
Can we go back inside now? Rain sucks.
Edmonton has just as many off leash parks as Portland and an even bigger riverside forest, both of which one can enjoy in full sunshine almost 365 days a year. How does that not make it more pet friendly?
I am honestly asking because I am still confused by this.
But, I am not bitter. In fact, now that I have had a few days to gain perspective, I am relieved. Portland can keep its bragging rights. It suits me fine if all of the pet lovers of the world see it as some sort of canine Mecca. It means we will have all of this to ourselves:
Taken at Elk Island National Park, less than 30 minutes away from our home in Edmonton
No, looking at it now, I am thrilled Edmonton will remain a secret. I want everyone to keep thinking it is a frozen wasteland where none but the truly brave venture. The fewer people who visit, the more we can enjoy a peaceful hike on a Sunday afternoon, unaccosted by hordes of tourists. Places like Portland and Carmel are so jam-packed full of people during the summer months that Edmonton is almost serene in comparison. For that reason alone, it is a much happier place for Shiva and I. Crowds just give us hives.
We didn’t run into a single person on this hike. That makes us happy.
Heck, what do I care if people would rather stay on the other side of the border? In Edmonton, our pets are well-cultured. In order to preserve this, it is probably best to keep the riff raff away. They’ll never know just how much fun we Edmontonians can be, never get to experience the spirit of a true Edmonton festival – as Canada’s reigning festival city, we know how to have a good time – and they’ll never know how amazing it is to take in a performance of a symphony orchestra with their dogs by their sides.
We also have a wicked sense of humour*
As far as I am concerned, I’d rather avoid the publicity a win in Go Pet Friendly’s contest would bring. Save that for the more common jet-setting locales like Vancouver and Key West. Edmonton prefers to move quietly along, enjoying its diverse food trucks, its beautiful garden paths, and its very own restaurant for dogs.** I like that the employees in my favourite high-quality, regionally-owned pet stores have more than enough time to answer my questions and I never have to wait in line. What a shame it would be if these places were taken over by visitors. How horrifying if the invasion of foreign dogs meant some of the pet friendly spaces were taken away.
The grounds outside Muttart Gardens are beautiful, calm, and pet friendly. I’d like to keep them that way.
Thank you, to those people out there who recognized how pet-loving Canada’s most northern metropolis is. My appreciation for your support in the vote is sincere. You helped us not only beat out West Hollywood and Tuscon, but also Toronto and Montreal. Here in Alberta, we consider that a victory of epic proportions.
But my thanks must go to those who voted for Portland as well. You helped keep Edmonton a lovely secret. Every time I stroll along the river without meeting another dog, I will remember you and be grateful.
Of course, my real gratitude must go to Go Pet Friendly for running such an entertaining tournament. The competition is wicked and I can’t wait to see who ends up the final winner! Make sure to keep voting!
*Thanks for reminding me about this, Back Alley Soapbox! Best prank ever.
**Thanks, Jessie, for telling me about this place in your comment!
Our neighbourhood is in an older part of Edmonton, just across the river from downtown but far enough away that it has more of a quaint aura. It is filled with late 19th century homes and small, local businesses that house artists, documentary film-makers, pretentious restaurants that are only open three days a week, organic food shops selling everything from local coffee to high quality pet food, and – of all things – image consultants. We are also lucky enough to have a small veterinary office less than five blocks down the road, right next to an artisanal bakery and a diner that advertises five-dollar breakfasts.
Until last week, I never noticed the cat that lives inside the vet clinic. I don’t know how I missed him as he sleeps in the window of the office right by the sidewalk. But now that I have found him, I can’t resist an opportunity to pass the clinic to say hello.
Neither can Shiva.
When we first saw him lounging on top of his comfy furniture, I made her sit away from the window for fear she would scare him off. However, being a kitty who lives in a pet hospital, he seems to be accustomed to dogs and instead of darting away, he leapt down to the door in order to greet her.
I was stunned by how intrigued he was by her and how calm Shiva was in return. I never would have let her get so close if there hadn’t been a door in the way but I have a feeling even without the partition they could be good friends.
Shiva has always adored cats. Unfortunately, she comes on too strong and most of them despise her in return. I am so glad she has found a quasi feline companion. Even if their affection must be tempered by glass.