This is the risk I take

A mere ten days in to this 100 Days Project and I feel like I have run a marathon. I have gone from elation at the start of something new to feelings of uselessness, stubbornness, and ultimately insecurity. I will see this through. It’s one hundred words. Even I can manage that. What I am not certain of is what my mental state will look like by the end.

I need to start carrying my camera with me on walks again. Somehow I got out of the habit and my stash is getting low. I’ve never been a skilled photographer and am too lazy to learn. In spite of this, even the most dull picture of my dog can inspire a couple of sentences.

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Not that there is such a thing as a dull photo of Shiva. I mean, really.

I’ve been reading about writing again, which is at once motivating and depressing. This article from the Atlantic encapsulates this for me. One writer will say how hard the craft is and then the next will tell me that I am a fool for thinking I could ever learn to be better. Writing prompts are a challenge. I am always disappointed with my results. It might be because I take them at their word instead of seeking my interpretation. Giving myself more space to experiment sounds like a solid concept in theory. It’s just too bad none of it is worth the time it took me to type.

This is what this project is all about, I can’t forget. 100 Days of slogging through in the hope of saying something worthwhile amidst all the rambled mash. It is to teach myself how to say what I mean, how to match the words on the page with the circling thoughts inside. It is possible at the end I will be no further ahead than I am now. This is the risk I take.

Dear ignorant Edmontonian dog owners

I know you are doing the best you can with the resources you have. In all fairness, you don’t know any better. You have a dog but you put no effort toward learning how that dog lives and behaves and interacts with the human environment. You are lucky, however, as your dog was born more gentle, more forgiving, and more tolerant than many dogs. I don’t blame your dog, please know this. It is never, ever the dog’s fault. The only one who should bear any guilt is you.

You are the owner who brags about never having to use a leash and then exclaims “she never does that!” when your dog tears across the street after another dog.

You are the owner talking on his cell phone at the dog park, not caring when your dog’s overly friendly actions cause distress to others.

You are the owner who gives me a blank look when I ask you to please get a hold of your dog as my dog and I pass in an on-leash park.

You are the owner who cries how his dog was abused as a justification for her asshole behaviour.

You are the owner who never scoops and then complains when my dog marks on a tree on the public boulevard in front of your house.

You are the owner who walks multiple dogs on extendable leashes and blasts my dog for riling them up from the other side of the street.

You are the owner who ignores my warning that my dog is not keen on strange dogs lunging in her face, and then flips out at me when she growls.

You are the owner who alpha rolls instead of trying to understand the reason behind your dog’s actions.

You are the owner who relies on tools to do your work for you but don’t bother to learn how to use them properly.

You are the owner with the electric fence and the broken chain and the over-used crate.

You are the owner taking pictures of your children climbing on your dog’s back and chasing him with sticks.

You are the owner who demands that all dogs be friendly to everyone at all times but is too lazy to train her own dog.

You are the owner who euthanizes without asking questions when her dog snaps at a child.

You are the owner with the miniature labradoodle on television, demanding the reinstatement of BSL, asking why anyone would want to own “those dogs”.

You are the owner who dominates rather than builds a relationship.

You are the owner who blames everyone else.

You are the owner who rants about the boxer-pit bull-malamute “or whatever it was” and how it should be banned from your city just because one dog who kind of looked like that breed hurt another dog.

You are the owner who doesn’t love dogs, not really. If you did, you would spend more time learning and training. If you did, you would put your dog ahead of your ego. If you did, you would learn the local by-laws and do your best to keep all dogs safe. Most of you might love your own dogs. I will give you that. But not enough, not the way responsible owners do.

You are the owner who views her dog as a status symbol, who spends a lot of money on grooming and outfits or spike collars to make her look tough but almost no time.

You are small in number yet your presence is felt on every street. The responsible owners know how to avoid you but you have a way of ruining the happiest of strolls. You are impossible to ignore. You are the reason the laws exist yet you never follow them.

I know you won’t listen to me, even if you read this. I am under no illusion. You don’t listen when I ask you nicely to re-leash your dog on the side of the road so you aren’t going to take a blog post by a stranger to heart. Besides, you don’t think I am talking about you.

I am not writing this because I am expecting anything to change. You don’t care what I think and you certainly don’t care about my dog’s discomfort with your dog’s behaviour.

All I ask is that you stop blaming the dog. All I want is to prevent the harmful notion of BSL from hurting the good dogs and good people of this good city. I worry your ignorance will lead to something that will only make the situation worse. Blaming dogs instead of the real culprits solves nothing. It doesn’t prevent your miniature cockadoodle from getting attacked. All it does is spread a culture of fear toward dogs who were unlucky enough to have owners like you.

Please stop. Stop going to the media. We all know they smile with glee every time a canine incident is reported. Stop feeding that machine. Stop using the term “pit bull” as a synonym for “dangerous.”  I assure you, the two are mutually exclusive.

If you stop blaming dogs for their ignorant owner’s mistakes, I will stop glaring at you when your Siberian labra-chug tries to hump my dog.

Well, I will try, anyway.

Sincerely,

Kristine Tonks, lover of all dogs, including Hungarian cocker-jacks.

Dog Poetry Sunday – Unknown

When I have looked for poems to share online, I have done my best to find ones with a positive theme. This search has not been an easy one. For understandable reasons, the world of verse is rife with heart-wrenching odes to canine companions. Most of them I can’t even get beyond the first stanza without weeping. Because I know all of my kind readers are susceptible to this same emotion, I have steered clear.

I make an exception today. Be warned.

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This poem was sent to me by my practically mother-in-law. I have mourned at least one dog with her in spirit and so it rings a personal note. It is simple and earnest and true. It ends with the hopeful belief we all have of meeting our friends again. Bittersweet, I guess, or as I called it as a child “happy-sad.”

As I share it, I can’t help but think of the dogs the Petosphere has lost. The Calis, and the Bellas, and the Blueberrys. I never got to meet them in person but their absence remains ripe. This grief is a lucky thing, I think. It would be far worse to never have witnessed their brilliant spirits at all.

I stood by your bed last night, I came to have a peep.
I could see that you were crying, You found it hard to sleep.
I whined to you softly as you brushed away a tear,
“It’s me, I haven’t left you, I’m well, I’m fine, I’m here.”
 
I was close to you at breakfast, I watched you pour the tea,
You were thinking of the many times, your hands reached down to me.
I was with you at the shops today, Your arms were getting sore.
I longed to take your parcels, I wish I could do more.
 
I was with you at my grave today, You tend it with such care.
I want to re-assure you, that I’m not lying there.
I walked with you towards the house, as you fumbled for your key.
I gently put my paw on you, I smiled and said ” it’s me.”
 
You looked so very tired, and sank into a chair.
I tried so hard to let you know, that I was standing there.
It’s possible for me, to be so near you everyday.
To say to you with certainty, “I never went away.”
You sat there very quietly, then smiled, I think you knew…
In the stillness of that evening, I was very close to you.
 
The day is over… I smile and watch you yawning
and say “good-night, God bless, I’ll see you in the morning.”
And when the time is right for you to cross the brief divide,
I’ll rush across to greet you and we’ll stand, side by side.
I have so many things to show you, there is so much for you to see.
 
Be patient, live your journey out…then come home to be with me.
 
Author ~ unknown

My biggest regret

My biggest regret for a long time was not taking a break between university semesters to travel. The idea did occur to me at the time to take some time off to visit Europe, like many of the people I had read about in teenage novels. None of my friends were into it, however. We were all studious to a fault. School first, fun later. As if there was some sort of race to see who could pile up the most degrees in the shortest amount of time. It was always a competition. I did have one acquaintance who took a solo trip to Australia in the middle of our second year. My best friend thought he was just lazy. We all doubted he would return.

So, I didn’t go anywhere. I promised myself I would as soon as I graduated. Of course I didn’t. The opportunities were there. I passed them over in favour of working at a hotel stacking chairs. Too much fear to go it alone, I guess.

In later years my biggest regret was not recognizing my passion for all things canine. If only I had spent more time with my childhood dog, maybe I would have realized this love sooner, maybe I would have studied something more useful in school than the Decembrist revolt, and maybe I would have found a career of which I could be proud. So much time wasted writing papers on ancient Roman medicine, so much time lost.

Regret is useless, we all know. If I hadn’t worked at the hotel, I wouldn’t have met my PH. If I hadn’t chosen Bismarck over my Siberian husky at home, I probably wouldn’t have met Shiva. A Kristine without a Shiva is a very sad thing indeed. Now I am glad I didn’t do those things, though the wistfulness remains when I look back.

I am not sure what my biggest regret is right now. I hope this doesn’t mean I am in the midst of making the mistakes I will later rue. I regret when I abandon myself or when I ignore my own desires for the sake of doing things I think will make others happy. I regret turning down chances for joy due to fear of judgment from others. More and more I am learning how to be okay with being myself; less and less do these regrets niggle. Maybe one day I’ll even give myself that European backpacking trip.

On the other hand, I am thirty-two years old. If I do make it there, I will be staying in hotels.

The Abolition of Lens

Do you know what word I dislike for no reason whatsoever? “Lens.” Not as in camera, or any other traditional and physical definition. What I hate is how it appears to be the latest insidious buzzword, thrown in to sound intellectual or modern. If it were used in moderation, that would be fine. But the metaphor has become cliché.

“But if we look at this through a different lens…”

“Let us switch our lens to that of…”

“The lens of the African pygmy tribe is a shift from…”

Or other such bile. I think I hate it even more now that I have caught myself using it in conversation. “It is helpful to look at things from a more objective lens.” Puke, vomit, gag. It is repeated so often in my current circles. I can’t stand it.

Whatever happened to the word perspective? Was it too long? Too boring?

It is possible I take it to heart. “Perspective” was the word given during my written diploma exam in twelfth grade. We were instructed to choose a piece of poetry or prose studied during our 12 years of academic history and describe, in long essay form, how this selection fit the chosen word. There was a lot of anxiety leading up to this point. The word was kept secret, for obvious reasons, and the only way to prepare was to read over the notes of every short story, novel, play, and poem I had ever read while in school. English was not my favourite subject but I was still expected to do well. I felt the pressure. I will never forget the way my breath snagged when I turned over the test paper. The year before, 1999, the word had been “resourcefulness.” I wasn’t religious even then but I prayed for anything but that.

We were given “perspective,” at once an open and terrifying word. There was nothing we couldn’t do with it, and yet nothing we could. To my consternation, I chose a short story by Margaret Laurence. I still question the impetus behind the decision. I didn’t even like the story. It was about a girl on the Canadian prairie, hanging out in the wild with her cousin. At least, I think that’s what it was about. I can’t even remember the title. For some reason, on that day, I felt it best exemplified perspective. Perhaps because it was one very different from my urban-dwelling, inhibited own.

But I digress. Perspective is indeed a broad word. It might seem a little intimidating upon closer inspection. It once made me write five or six pages about a short story I despised. I maintain it is still a better one than lens. I will be making a concerted effort to use it as much as possible until it, too, gets tired and inspires a blog post.

Are there any words that bother you? Is it absurd to be so annoyed by trendy dialogue?

Lawnmowers and Dogs are not Fast Friends

In case you were worried, I did manage to get in my 100 words last night. My website malfunctioned due to an over-extension of my PHP limit – or something – so I was not able to share them here. My PH is proud that I did not use my technical problems as a reason to skip out on my promises. I have now entered the ramble I came up with around 10:30 pm yesterday, back dated so as not to interrupt. For posterity’s sake, I wanted to make sure it was shared. Carry on.

Shiva is a dog who is infuriating one moment and endearing the next. She can slide right from yanking me down the street to gobble half of a dead squirrel to dropping the deceased rodent with a cheeky grin and a circle wag in my direction. It is uncanny. The worst of it is, I can never predict what will send Shiva into a leaping coil of panic and what she will pass by without flicking an ear. She is impossible to predict.

This is the challenge of living with a dog who was not socialized at a young age. We have done our best to mitigate this and over the last five years we have introduced her to many new environments and situations. She is accustomed to all variety lawn ornaments, men wielding surf boards, rocks, broken down vans, and benches shaped like people. That leaves quite a few things, unfortunately. Not to mention, just because she is okay with an object in a certain area, doesn’t mean she likes it in another.

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Those crates are super sketchy, totally looking at me funny.

For instance, on our walk tonight, we approached a store selling a number of motor-operated items. We have meandered in this area at least fifty times before with nary an issue. Tonight, there were several lawnmowers on the sidewalk. Unbeknownst to me, Shiva had never seen lawnmowers in this venue before. Lawnmoers , to her unsocialized puppy brain, belong on lawns or in dark garages. They do not live on sidewalks beside motorcycles. In short, they are evil and must be clobbered.

To the Shivster’s credit, she was polite about her smiting. She didn’t bark and lunge or dislocate my shoulder. This time, she circled around the first machine, emitting a low growl. When it didn’t move or give her the evil eye, she took a hesitant sniff of the air, as if gauging the lawnmoer’s fear. Well versed in the ways of the Sheevs, I stood back and encouraged her to move closer, rewarding her with a treat when she did. It wasn’t long before she was pawing at the once-menacing beast in an effort to get more snacks.

This is the bonus of living with a dog who is food-obsessed. It is so much easier to prevent moments like these from becoming disasters. Lawnmoers and dogs may not be fast friends but with enough confidence boosting, and some handy chicken, even nutty mutts like Shiva will come around.

If only this method would work as well with bodies of water. Ah well, one fearful paw at a time.

Project Frustrations, among other things

So my website is down. It is a little difficult to fulfill my promise of 100 words when my preferred writing platform is having a nap. I have contacted my hosting company and they are checking into a couple things. His words. I have little expectation for my slice of the Internet to awaken before the clock strikes twelve.

Thus, I have resorted to Microsoft word. It’s a version I don’t recognize. I was conned into paying for a subscription rather than purchasing a license outright. It is too white, too clean. My easygoing nature is daunted by the starkness. No doubt there is a way to adjust the colour scheme. I don’t think it is something I should have to do. If the software mega-giant would like to encourage me to continue to pay their monthly extortion fees, they should make it more soothing. I don’t think I have been this uncomfortable while writing for a long time. Bad form.

At least I have reached my 100 words for the day, as they are. The live chat I have open with the poor bear who works for my hosting company has rung its sorrowful tune. Perhaps my website is back up. Perhaps I need another drink.

My site has been restored. I am too rattled to bother. The smoke from the forest fires and the return of the construction outside my bedroom does not help. I rated the poor bear a ten, if only to be kind. He was a little slow, after all, and didn’t answer my question about PHP. This is fine. I would not have understood the explanation anyway.

#BTC4A: What do you do if your cat has kittens?

Me and foster“If your cat has kittens, what are you supposed to do?” This was a question asked by a local news anchor last week during a report on the Edmonton Humane Society (EHS). The animal welfare organization had issued a press release stating it would not be accepting any more owner-surrendered cats due to an extreme lack of space.

Given the time of year, this is not surprising. I believe EHS made a similar moratorium around this same time in 2013. They made it clear they would still take in stray and injured cats but could not care for any more brought in my owners until the pressure of high numbers lifted. These are cats who are surrendered to the shelter for reasons like moving, or, as in the quote above, kittens born to families who do not wish to keep them.

When I first heard the news broadcast I was so stunned by the anchor’s words that I had to rewind the footage to make sure I heard him right. My initial reaction was outrage at the display of what I deemed ignorance. I started yet one more tirade about people who see animal shelters as dumping grounds for their negligence, people who think hard-working organizations like EHS are obligated to take in their unwanted pets. You’ve all heard this before.

After stewing over this for a while I came to a different conclusion. If this informed and intelligent news anchor is unaware of the current feline situation, then it is clear there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Instead of ranting, it would be far better to approach the problem from a place of understanding. For many people, this question is quite legitimate, perhaps even for you, who may have stumbled across this piece during your own quest for answers. I will do my very best to help you out.

Question 1: What do you do if your cat has kittens?

Hopefully your vet is already aware of your cat’s pregnancy and has helped prepare you for the birth. If not, if you had missed the signs of enlarged nipples, change in eating habits, and nesting behaviours, and if the telling bulge was hidden under your cat’s dense fur, perhaps the sight of kittens was a surprise. If this is the case, I do recommend contacting your vet right away as he or she will be able to provide the best resources for your particular cat’s needs.

My needs are simple: a huge chair, a full bowl of food, and a dog to harass

My needs are simple: a huge chair, a full bowl of food, and a dog to harass

Assuming the pregnancy was a healthy one and the labour went smoothly for your cat, there really isn’t much you need to do for the first few weeks. Make sure the mother is well fed, has fresh water and a comfortable, dry, warm, and safe place to nurse and care for the newborns. If all goes as it should, she will do most of the work.

Do be careful around the newborns. As mentioned, it is best to let the mother do what she needs to do. This bonding time is crucial. As long as everything looks well, try not to intervene for the first little while. Of course, after the first week, it will be important to handle the kittens – gently – to help socialize them to humans during this vital period.

Question 2. How long do I have to wait to give the kittens away?

You really don’t want to rush the process. After fostering kittens who had been socialized with their siblings and one who was all on his own, I noticed a huge difference between the two. Kittens who have had the time to learn from each other and their mother make much more easygoing pets.

From what I have read, and I am not an expert, many kittens are healthy and strong enough to go to leave their mother between 8 to 12 weeks. Again, this is where the vet comes in. After 6 weeks, it is a good idea to have your vet examine them, even if they appear healthy. There are a lot of unfortunate viruses kittens can inherit or pick up. Before you send them out in the world, you’ll want to be sure they’ve been checked, de-wormed, and have had their first vaccinations. Your vet will also be able to gauge the growth of the kittens to make sure they are developing well.

Question 3. What if none of my friends will take them and all the shelters are full?

There are many rescue groups and vet clinics who might have some great suggestions for you. Unfortunately, millions of cats are born homeless or abandoned each year and too many are euthanized. The cat overpopulation crisis in our cities only seems to be getting worse. Animal welfare organizations do all they can but, especially in the spring and summer, sometimes there just aren’t enough resources to go around. However, by the fall and winter, the load on shelters and rescue groups is often much lighter. Many of them have waiting lists and if you are patient, space will eventually open up somewhere.

Rescues and shelters are also always in need of foster homes as the majority of them are run entirely by volunteers out of their own houses. Since the kittens are already living with you, you are the perfect natural foster. What a great way to make sure the kittens are cared for as they wait for their forever homes, while also helping out a local organization. You never know, you may really enjoy the experience and go on to foster other animals in the future. Partnering with a rescue in this way also ensures the right owner will be found for each one of your kittens. It is much better than posting them on a website like Kijiji and hoping for the best.

Question 4. But I can’t keep these kittens any longer. If the shelter doesn’t take them, I am going to have to leave them outside.

Orange kittenI understand the stress of having several unexpected little ones running around your house and causing mayhem. Kittens are an extra expense and as they grow they can definitely be a challenge. Despite their sharp claws and teeth, they are still babies, however, and are not capable of living on their own. By leaving them outside you are putting them at risk of many dangers including wildlife, moving vehicles, dehydration, and exposure. Remember, they are used to living at home with you and their mother. It would be quite a shock to suddenly be alone outside, even if you leave them with food.

 

Furthermore, abandoned kittens put an extra strain on already overburdened organizations. If there are no resources to care for them, shelters may be forced to take them in and then turn down cats that were born without loving homes like yours, leaving them to struggle to survive. Or, in the case of  truly desperate situations, your kittens may end up euthanized.

Question 5. But my cat keeps having kittens. Am I expected to care for them all? 

The best way to avoid having more unwanted litters is to have your cat spayed. Unless you live in an area with a free clinic, the surgery does come with a cost. But compared with the expense and complications of having to find homes for multiple kittens, it is money well spent. If you don’t or can’t pay for this, then the second best way is to keep your cat indoors at all times. If she doesn’t get out to mix with other cats, she won’t get pregnant. Of course, this comes with its own challenges. I know exactly how difficult it can be to stop a determined cat from getting into trouble. (TC, ahem, grrrrr.)

These cats, they are sneaksy

These cats, they are sneaksy

If you don’t want the surgery and don’t work hard to prevent your cat from escaping for her own adventures, then I am afraid the only answer to your question is yes, you are expected to care for them all. Your cat is your responsibility, and so are all of her offspring. If she has kittens they belong to you and it is your job to ensure they are well cared for and healthy. Animal welfare organizations are here to help us and to provide aid to animals in danger, not to fix our mistakes.

There are many terrific online sources of information that may help you should your cat get pregnant, International Cat Care is one of my favourites. Most local and national organizations are also happy to offer education and advice, even if they aren’t able to take your kittens in themselves. And again, I can’t say this enough, your vet is always the best person with whom to start.

I hope this post has helped you make the right decision for your kittens. I love cats as much as you do and I hope they all live long, happy lives.

Blog the Change

You know you live with a reactive dog when…

 

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You hear a dog bark and by instinct you reach for the treats in your pocket. Even though you are walking downtown and your own dog is miles away.

You have spent many an hour tucked in an isolated room with your puppy avoiding repair workers and landlords.

The instant the door bell rings you and your partner move into your pre-determined roles in an elaborate plan to prevent your dog from losing her shit.

Ordering pizza is a twelve step process and requires more energy than it takes to cook a meal yourself.

Even if you passed Ryan Gosling every day, you’d never notice because you are too busy making sure your dog is anxiety free every time that strange blond man walks by.

You can click and treat while reading a book, making dinner, and practicing the piano without missing a beat. At the same time.

You know how to make even the most mundane object the most interesting thing in the world. You have been known to exclaim over rocks, leaves, and poop bogs just to keep your dog distracted. A closed fist will do in a pinch.

You know exactly how to get out kibble stains from the pockets of hoodies.

Lucky for us, Shiva is in remission. Not cured, but we’ve got our management strategy down to a mad, mad level of skills. Every dog is different, however. Is there anything I missed on this list?

Edmontoniversary: #YEG Ain’t so bad

Today marks one full year since I made the trip from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Edmonton, Alberta. While I can’t deny that a part of me still hankers for the sight of the Atlantic and the sound of Maritime accents, this prairie city isn’t as bad as I expected.

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It helps that we live in one of the most liberal neighbourhoods of this ultra-conservative province. Both our MLA and our MP are women and members of the NDP Party, something that is unheard of in any other region. Just last night I saw an eight-year-old woman gardening in her underwear, right across the street from two young girls in princess dresses selling lemonade. The streets are covered in thick, old trees that have likely been here at least as long as the homes. Mill Creek Ravine is a decent venue for dog walking, if filled with people who flout the rules. We are within walking distance of a fantastic farmer’s market and organic grocery store, and I can walk to and from work on a nice day. Life could be a lot worse.

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This doesn’t mean I am turning into an Albertan. There are a lot of things about the provincial culture which will never sit right with me. Edmonton may be more easygoing than Calgary, with a greater appreciation for art and alternative lifestyles, yet it still supports a lot of activities of which I will never be in favour. It is a bit hard to justify, I admit. We moved here because this is where the money is and we’ve made a lot of headway in paying off our debts. After 12 months all of our bills are paid and we feel like we have some breathing room for the first time in a while. For that reason, I owe this city a lot, even if I don’t like from where the wealth has come.

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The weather is nothing to recommend it either, I can’t deny. The winters are endless and the summers feel like a bluff of nature. In a way, that makes them more precious. The biggest problem is packing in everything we wish to do in such a short time. From the numerous food festivals and wooded campgrounds nearby, I am worried we aren’t going to savour enough of it before the snow returns. Before we moved here, I took things like green grass and soft leaves for granted. Never will I make that mistake again. Every warm day is to be embraced.

Five year plan, is what we tell ourselves. Four more to go. As a stopping place on our journey to somewhere more in keeping with our goals and dreams? Edmonton, city of yellow and orange fire hydrants, will do.

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