An Introvert’s #BarkWorld Experience

Before October 25th, 2012 I’d never traveled to a new country by myself before. I’d been to the US, but never by plane and never alone. I’d certainly never been further south than Minnesota or New York. Atlanta, Georgia may as well have been St. Petersburg, Russia – though, at least they spoke the same language. But I understood the history and culture of the former a lot more.

This is all to say that BarkWorld was a brand new experience for me in more ways than one. It was my very first blogging conference and my very first solo travel challenge. As much as I was thrilled with the opportunity to go, I was terrified by all the things I knew could go wrong. As a self-confessed coward and shy introvert, the days leading up to the big event were filled with as much anxiety as excitement. I spent the same amount of time worrying about navigating my connecting flight in Toronto as I did about what my fellow bloggers would think of me. See: a disproportionate amount of time.

The thing is, my worrying saves the world. I knew if I was calm, disaster was sure to happen. So I stressed and stressed and stressed and somehow, after only a brief panic attack when I ended up at the wrong baggage claim, I made it to the Atlanta Airport unscathed. This was where my plans derailed. I had forgotten to stress about getting from the airport to the hotel. The kind souls at Bayer has sponsored a limousine ride for conference attendees and I stupidly thought this was the end of my troubles.

Major Worrying Fail.

Now I have been to many large international airports in my time. The Atlanta Airport was a whole ‘nother ball game. There are trains, people. Trains inside the airport. That’s how insane this place is. It is too large to get around by walking or even hopping on a moving sidewalk. You have to take a train. It didn’t help that the international terminal is in a different city than the domestic.

Cue to me having to make a string of miserable phone calls to the one contact number I had – thank dog I had saved the email – while trying not to cry.  Several times I thought about giving up and just taking a cab. It would have been much simpler and would have saved me the awkwardness of speaking to people I didn’t know, but I also would have missed out on a chance to meet some wickedly stellar people.

Wickedly. Stellar.

When I used the word miserable above, it certainly did not apply to anyone I interacted with over the four days. More to my own fears of talking to people who might snicker at me if I say something stupid. From the cheerful airport security to the warm greeting from my limo buddies (Hi Amber! Hi Lisa! Hi Karen!) I was thrown by how friendly every single person was. I shouldn’t have been, of course. The kindness of the pet blogging world has been proven to me every single day since I stumbled in, hanging out in the shadows. Why it took me so long to dip a toe into the light, I’ll never know.

BarkWorld? When it comes to niceness, you put Canada to shame.

Luckily, I kept myself together and didn’t let my nervousness hold me back from jumping into the experience. It helped that every where I went I was met with a welcoming smile. Whatever fears I encountered came entirely from my own imaginings. Not once was I made to feel that I didn’t belong. Not even during the anxiety-ridden speed-dating with mega brands like Flexi and Iams. I admit, I was tempted to bail at the last minute. But sitting in my hotel room after my arrival from the insanity that is the airport, I reasoned I could either stay there and hide or I could head down and see what was what. If it was awful, I could just leave, right? No pressure.

Of course it wasn’t and I continued to meet even more wonderful people.

Nevertheless, the most anticipated moment was yet to come. Speed-dating over, I tried to shrug off the rest of my nerves and prepared myself to meet two of my biggest pet blogging heroes. In person. With bad airplane hair.

Stupid. I should have realized that Amy Burkert and Kim Clune are my heroes for a reason. Sure, they have accomplished amazing things, but they are also just incredibly awesome and supportive people. So even though I felt self-conscious when I heard Amy yell my name and saw her walk down the hallway toward me, all of that melted when she stood in front of me. In a way, it was almost as if we were longtime friends, meeting up for the millionth time. This same feeling was repeated with Kim several minutes later. All of my misgivings faded and I was just one of them. Part of the circle.

Surreal.

The rest of the conference is still pretty much a blur, even a month later. So much to learn in such a short time. So many new faces and friends (Hi Katherine! Hi Vicki! Hi Diane! Hi Jessica! Hi Everyone Else I Feel Awful for Leaving Out!). I’d be lying if I said it was all good times. There were a few moments I felt my energy lag and wondered if I’d make it through. But session after session, party after party, make it through I did. There are even the pictures of me socializing to prove it!

I did hit a pretty big wall Saturday afternoon. I remember sitting outside the elevators wondering what the heck I was doing and almost wishing I was at home. Everything felt like too much and I was tired of putting myself out there.

“I need my puppy”, I recall texting to my practically husband.

However, I allowed myself to indulge in these low feelings instead of fighting them. I gave myself permission to just take a walk if I needed to, to skip a session if my brain started to wither. Ultimately, I think that was the smartest way I could have dealt with my emotions. If I’d tried to force it, I am sure I would have just felt worse. Maybe then I really would have ended up peering out from under the table. But by giving myself the choice, I found I eventually chose to participate and my spirits lifted in pretty short order.

Who’d have thought? Maybe there is an extrovert lingering somewhere in my depths after all.

It wasn’t easy, but I am so so so glad I went. If you are reading this and wondering if BarkWorld might be something you want to check out, just know I highly recommend you do. And I am not just saying that because BarkWorld was kind enough to help pay my way there.

Actually, maybe I am. Because gifts like that are representative of the entire experience. BarkWorld is made up of the kind of people who work their butts off to make sure all pet lovers and pet bloggers feel like an important part of the community. It’s so easy to feel isolated as a blogger, especially here in Canada when most of you are in the US. And blogging is such a solo activity in itself. Events like BarkWorld remind us we are part of something bigger, something pretty dang cool.

So thanks to everyone for their kindness and thanks to BarkWorld for giving me an opportunity to grow as a blogger and as a person. I hope this is only the beginning.

Welcome to the Advent Calendar for Dog Lovers hosted by Kol’s Notes, PupLove, Rescued Insanity, Woof Woof Mama & I Still Want More Puppies!


Today’s giveaway is sponsored by Fetch a Passion Tags. Click here to enter to win a hand-crafted, custom metal dog tag, plus be entered to win our Grand Prize package worth more than $1000!

The Georgia Aquarium is as Beautiful as Expected

I cannot lie. One of the most anticipated parts of my trip to Atlanta and BarkWorld was the tour of the Georgia Aquarium. Unless I find a way to get to the conference next year, I don’t see myself getting to Atlanta again. Therefore, a chance to view the world’s largest aquarium is not an opportunity I could take lightly. When I received the confirmation email that I was one of ten bloggers sponsored by Apartment Guide, I was so pumped I had to rush outside to where my PH was working just to brag about the good news. He was suitably impressed.

If you have been there before, you will know that all of my excitement was deserved. Not only was the experience of a once in a lifetime quality, but the amount I learned from our volunteer tour guide could make up a series of blog posts. We arrived there before the aquarium was open to the public and were treated to a behind the scenes look at what is involved in keeping the animals healthy and active.

With 6.3 million gallons of water, you can imagine this job isn’t easy. They rely upon knowledgeable staff along with a large number of volunteers to keep the space running. I am still amazed at how well it all comes together. This is no sideshow.

I have visited the Vancouver Aquarium several times and was always impressed with the displays and with the amount of research performed. Georgia takes this to a new level. Not only are the biologists involved in experiments that have added to a crucial pool of knowledge of marine life everywhere in the world, but the aquarium itself provides a unique experience to visitors from all over the world. Where else can one travel through a 270 degree view of an underwater paradise?

My only complaint is that we didn’t have more time to take it all in. It’s going to take some time to go through all my pictures. In retrospect, I should have taken better notes so that I could relay more accurate information. Regardless, the beauty of the animals can probably speak for itself. I am so grateful to both BarkWorld and Apartment Guide for the chance to make my PH extremely jealous. Here is an all too brief look at some of what I saw:

Snapshots of BarkWorld

I’ve been home from Atlanta and BarkWorld for just over twelve hours and my brain is still on overdrive. Yet, I couldn’t wait a second longer to share some of my experiences with you. You can count on reading many stories over the next few weeks, including a few giveaways, so you’ll want to pay attention to be sure. In the meantime, as I catch up on cuddles with the Shivster, I thought I would share a glimpse of the 5,684 pictures I took over the course of four days.

You know, just to make those who missed out on the party incredibly jealous. I know I would be. The event was nothing like I expected. Until you attend something like this, it’s hard to understand how overwhelmingly… Well, how much actually goes on. It’s pretty wild. Anyway, Shiva is giving me sad eyes so I’d better get to the photos!

And of course, the best part of any big trip, is coming home to family.

The only thing that could have made it even more fun, is if all of you had been there.

Getting Ready for #BarkWorld!

As you read this I am on my way from little Halifax, Nova Scotia to the very big Atlanta, Georgia to attend my very first blogging conference. Hopefully I’ve made it through customs in Toronto without too many tears. Maybe I am desperately searching for my contact picking me up at the airport. Perhaps I am sitting in my hotel room wondering what the heck I’m going to do now.

I think I am ready. I’d better be ready.

It seems crazy to me that I can even type these words. When I started writing – or ranting – about Shiva two and a half years ago I never expected an opportunity like this one would ever occur. It was all a lark. Something to do to pass the time. A way to share pictures. I didn’t even tell my mom about it. It’s been a weird and wonderful turn of events. Of course, I owe it all to you, the people who show up to read about our misadventures on a daily basis. Without you I wouldn’t be sitting here inwardly panicking about all the packing I have left. I’d probably be sleeping or reading some boring, pretentious, non-dog-related novel.

The mind. It boggles.

Blogging has become such a central part of my life now and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give it up. Even if BarkWorld is my first and last big event, the act of writing my thoughts and sharing them with others is just second nature. I can’t lie, I’ve thought about giving it up. There have been days when I question why I am even here. Sometimes I tell myself I am going to take a break. Talk less, listen more. But the next day I find myself at my computer again, itching to connect with others who get it.

Because it’s not just about me and Shiva anymore. It’s about you and everyone else who cares so much about their pets they share all their cute stories online.

This week I received my information for the Social Petworking Offline session. The anxiety built in my stomach when I found out I’d have to give a brief presentation about what my website and what it is I am doing here. My mind emptied and my breath caught. I can’t do this, I thought. This is too much.

Luckily my PH was around to talk some sense into me. He asked some practical questions that got me thinking about this space in a way I haven’t before. That’s when it came to me.

From the outside it looks like I write a blog about my relationship with my crazy rescue dog. If one looks closer, she will see it is so much more than that. It has become almost a community of people who give up their time to provide support and encouragement to those they have never met. It is an ongoing conversation between strangers who know nothing about one another, other than their mutual love of animals. It is a space where I can be vulnerable and where I hope others can too. In a difficult and challenging world, it is a source of humour, kindness, and positivity.

This is what it is for me. My goal for this site is to continue helping others and to keep learning how to be a better dog owner, a better person, from all of you.

Is that too sappy for an elevator pitch? I guess I’ll find out.

Wish me luck! If you are going, maybe I will see you there!

#BTC4A You Too Can Raise $5,000 for Animal Rescue!

Speaking of making a difference… There is a very easy way you can change the lives of animals right this minute. For every tweet and blog post featuring the #BTC4A hashtag – short for Be the Change for Animals –  from October 22-27, Petco will donate $1 for rescue pets at BarkWorld. This means if we all get together there is a chance we could raise up to $5,0o0 for local, no-kill rescues and shelters across the country!

That’s right. $5,000. For a couple tweets. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

The majority of animal welfare organizations receive little to no government funding. They rely entirely upon public donations and volunteers to offer their much-needed services. While most managers are pretty savvy at finding discounts and finagling deals, everything costs money. From spay and neuter surgeries to a bottle of bleach to clean the dog kennels, their needs often outweigh their capacity. As the demand for shelters and rescues doesn’t seem to be fading, no amount of support is too small.

I am sure you can imagine that $5,000 would be a decent bonus to any organization working to save lives in a tough economy. For example:

$5,000 = 882 bottles of bleach, 58 spay/neuter surgeries, 104 large bags of regular quality dog food, 833 bottles of laundry detergent, and 294 bags of cat litter.*

Here’s how you can help get this money into the hands of those who need it:

– Now through Saturday, October 27th at 11 AM (EST) tweet the following :

“Rescue pets receive $1 from @Petco at @BarkWorldExpo for each #BTC4A tweet from Oct 22-27! Learn more: http://ht.ly/eEls7

– Blog about what rescue means to you, now through Saturday, October 27th at 11 AM (EST). Add #BTC4A to your post title. Add your post link (not just your domain) to the blog hop list below to be counted. (Bonus! Each time your post is tweeted, you’ll earn more money for rescue pets!)

If you are attending BarkWorldnominate your favorite no-kill rescue or shelter at the Petco booth through Friday, October 26th!

Valuable resources for animals in your community are just a few clicks away. Join in and spread the word! There is no reason we can’t reach the goal if we all get our blog on. Let’s do this!

*Prices based on average costs found on various websites.

**All photos in this post are of dogs currently available for adoption at the Nova Scotia SPCA.

How to Get the Most Out of BarkWorld?

Okay fellow pet bloggers, I need your help. I’ve got most things figured out now for my trip to BarkWorld. My passport is on its way, I know what I am going to do for cash, and I know where I will be sleeping. If I sleep at all. I might even have a costume picked out for Thursday’s Halloween blowout. And I am not a costume person.

Unfortunately, my biggest challenge is in deciding which sessions to attend. If only I could put little spy cameras up every where so I don’t miss a moment. Do you think I could get a sponsor for that? In the event I can’t find anyone in time, I should probably come up with a better plan.

Luckily, most of the major events and keynotes are during times where nothing else is going on, such as the important talk by the president of the ASPCA on using social media strategies to inspire communities. I am relieved I won’t have to make a difficult choice in that time slot.

However, there are many I know I won’t be able to decide on until the last minute. As an example, on Saturday afternoon there are three sessions at 1:45 pm. One is on blogging while broke – a great topic, one is being given by the vice president of the USDAA – a huge personal interest, and the third is on podcasting and vlogging – something I’ve considered getting into. How do I possibly choose between them?

This is where I solicit your advice. If you were going to attend a blogging conference, what topic would interest you the most? What do you think is absolutely essential for a blogger to learn? Or, if you have been to similar conferences in the past, from which sessions did you learn the most? Which subjects did you find the most helpful or worthwhile when putting the information into practice?

Since I will no doubt be sharing a lot of my experiences here, is there anything in particular you would like to read about?

Gonna Give BarkWorld My All

As I start to prepare myself for BarkWorld Expo I realize how long it has been since I’ve left the country. Four years? Five? Except for that one trip to Prince Edward Island I haven’t even left the province in that same amount of time. A world traveller, I am not. At least, not any more. The dog kind of put an end to any thoughts of international trips.

That’s right, it’s all Shiva’s fault.

She doesn’t look very sorry, does she?

Thus, I am out of practice. It just occurred to me that my passport needs to be updated before I’d be allowed on a plane to the United States. Also, I realized I am going to need to figure out the currency situation. I am used to paying for everything with my debit card. Can I do that in the U.S.? I have no idea, but I need to find out.

It may be a country very similar to my own but it is still a different country. And a part to where I have never ventured. While I have been to all of the States along the border, I’ve never been further south than Idaho. I imagine Georgia is as different from Montana as New Brunswick is from Saskatchewan. It’s exciting, but it’s also intimidating.

Instead of getting all freaked out, I am trying to concentrate on the conference itself. Every time I check, the schedule has something new that I am dying to check out. Obviously Amy and Kim’s cooking demonstrations are a huge highlight, though I am also curious about the information to be presented on supplements and vitamins during Saturday’s breakfast meeting. I refuse to start mentally coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t go and why I have no place at an event of this scale.

Which is how I usually roll.

Nope, this time I have signed up for every opportunity and session I can. This includes the utterly terrifying brand networking session. It’s true, I have no clue what I am doing. This is beside the point. I am going to get the most out of BarkWorld even if my hands shake and my voice stutters the entire time. Year of Zoomery, right? I fully xpect to be nervous. I know there are many points at which I am going to be standing awkwardly in a room, wondering what the heck I am doing there. However, I am not going to give in to those feelings. This is a chance of a lifetime, to be atrociously cliché.

There is no way I am going to kick myself later for passing it up. I mean, just check out everything I’d be missing!

Do you have any advice for dealing with overwhelming social situations? Are you attending BarkWorld? Knowing there are a few friends in the crowd might make me a whole lot more comfortable. Even if I am too shy to say hello in person.

I guess before I do anything else, I’d better fill out that passport application, eh?