I Need This Cat Bed

One of my favourite blogs these days is the brilliant and irreverent The Dog Snobs. Hilarious, fearless, and utterly without filter, I adore how they never hesitate to write what we are all thinking but are too polite to say out loud. Even when I feel insulted, I end up laughing. They leave no canine trope unanalyzed or unheckled. Even the best dog owners of the world should beware their snark.

That being said, their best feature isn’t their scathing commentary on conformation shows or dog park bullies, what I love is their weekly “WTF Wednesday” which highlights a random pet-related item for purchase. Apparently, I view it as my personal shopping network as more often than not, I fall in love with the things they mock. Such as these magnificent shoes:

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That’s right, I said magnificent. I have yet to find out where they are sold but I am determined to have them. Oh yes, they will be mine.

Likewise, when my friend from Tails of Insanity texted me a photo of a cat bed she found while browsing at the mall, her horror blew right over my head. The instant I opened the picture of my phone, I knew I had found my next object of lust.

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I NEED it. This isn’t even a question. Can’t you just see TC lolling about inside, batting at the pom pom eye sockets and snuggling into the mouse’s nose? I want it almost enough to ignore the fifty dollar price tag.

What is it about animal-related products that makes me coo? Why am I actually considering a paw print tattoo? Shouldn’t I be over this obsession by now?

I liken it to the way other women exclaim over teeny tiny baby shoes. Some female friends of mine can’t help but stop in the infant section of the department store, whether they have children or not, to shriek over the adorableness of corduroy overalls and baby’s first tuxedo. In my case, if I am in the kitchen section and spot a matching cookie jar and salt and pepper set that looks like this?

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I am going to squeal.

Is that creepy or weird? Maybe. But I’m okay with that. As long as I get to drink my coffee out of a cat mug.

Dog Songs, Russian Novelists, and Memoir

I have always revelled in a well-told story. Many of my especial childhood memories are of burrowing under a comforter while my father or mother, most often the former, read aloud. The best books were those featuring characters I understood. Sure and I enjoyed fairy tales and books with animals doing people-like things, but the best ones illustrated young girls and boys in my own time, exploring a world to which I could relate. Dragons, talking geese, and princesses in castles could only be so interesting. It was much easier to tuck into a realm that resembled my own. Settings were important. Good, well-rounded characters were vital.

My reading choices haven’t changed very much. I still prefer reality to imaginary, biography to novel. The best writers, for me, are those who are capable of making me feel. It doesn’t matter if the location is fourteenth century Spain or modern day Toronto, if the characters don’t have honest flaws and tangible exertion, I am lost. I don’t have to relate. I do have to understand. In this way, science fiction and fantasy don’t make it to my night stand very often. Dystopia, travelogues, and history do.

Reading can be an escape. It is also a chance to learn and to challenge myself. There is great value in struggle. It took me a year to finish Ulysses and I am afraid it will take me longer to finish The Sound and the Fury. But I will feel so much better for having made the accomplishment. Some people want to climb mountains or run marathons, I want to work my way to Proust.

However, as much as I gain from toiling through books thicker than my thigh, when I read for pleasure, I mostly read memoir. I like to connect with other people who have experienced things I never will. Memoir is a glimpse into another life, another way of thinking. The stories are authentic, told by real people who felt compelled to share them. The first memoir I read was Amy Tan’s Opposite of Fate. I picked it up because I had enjoyed several of her novels and I’d always wanted to know how closely her terrifically flawed characters resembled her own life. I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did the book help me enjoy Ms. Tan’s fictional work even more, but it introduced me to a genre that has provided me with much larger benefits than simple entertainment.

Memoir taught me that the best writers are those who make themselves vulnerable, who can show the reader, through the stories they reveal, what makes them cry.

Yesterday I picked up a book of poetry for the first time in many years. The poetry section in my personal library maxes out at three. I allow the works of Homer in this count. I assumed I didn’t like it. I don’t enjoy long descriptions of flowers or mountains or Grecian urns. I don’t want to waste the little time I have interpreting Milton when I could be snuggling with Zamyatin.

Spare me. Please.

Despite this lifelong horror of verse, when I found a volume entitled Dog Songs, I couldn’t resist. I guess it makes sense that the first poem I read in over a year has to do with canines – what else? It helped that Mary Oliver’s collection isn’t very long. Accompanying the poems are sunny sketches of the dogs she recollects. I don’t know if the pictures made all the difference, made the words more visible, however, once I began reading I couldn’t stop. Within too short a period I was finished and longing for more.

The poems didn’t feel like poems. They were written in poetic style and given the author’s impressive credentials, including a Pulitzer Prize, I am certain they are of brilliant poetic quality. To me, they read more like stories. Almost, like poetic memoir.

It is possible I have been wrong about poetry all this time. Though there are many poems that are just one long ramble about the beauty of the stars, I have been shown, by a fellow dog lover, that poetry can also tell intense personal stories. Bursts of real life in verse form. By the end, I felt I understood the author. I know she had a hound named Benjamin who ate field mice and she later formed a treasured bond with Percy of the curly white fur. Her grief was ripe when she shared his passing. Through her words, I gained a sense of personal struggles and drastic change. Though Mary Oliver has lead a life far different from mine, I related to her joy in dogs off-leash and her worries when her friends drifted far. I learned what made her cry.

I don’t see myself ever writing poetry, you can sigh in relief. I would have to spend years reading it to ever get up the nerve to try and, as we have learned, I still haven’t finished Faulkner. Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs has inspired me in other ways, reminded me there is more than one way to be vulnerable.

I hope after all these years I have given you an idea of who I am, other than just Shiva’s exhausted owner. Not that this is a terrible way to define myself. I do hope you have been able to relate in some way, that I have made myself open and that I have helped you do the same.

Because I am not sure how to close, I am going to end with a quote from Oliver’s “Percy Wakes Me” because I think it is apt. It is my goal to one day describe this blog in a similar way.

This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.

Less Wordy Wednesday: Tuffer Than I Expected

When I got home from work today there was a happy surprise waiting for me. My birthday had come early and our awesome prize package from Planet Dog, won during Kol’s Notes’ wicked Advent Calendar for Dog Lovers event, had finally arrived! I had forgotten all about it until I saw the familiar brand label on the box.

Shiva was pretty excited herself.

Shiva and Ball

Despite the fact that I have seen these toys in stores all over the country, I have never purchased one for Shiva. I love the concept behind them; treat-releasing toys are something I am always looking at for my starving puppy. They are perfect for working her mind and her body and often give me a chance to read a book for several minutes while she occupies herself with snarfing every last crumb. Nevertheless, when I felt the texture of the Orbee Tuff line offered by Planet Dog, they never seemed all that… Tough. I doubted their ability to stand up to Shiva’s gaping maw.

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See those jaws? They are even bigger than they look on camera.

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I am glad to say that I was wrong to doubt. Though the material is quite flexible, the rubber holds up well. After a few bouts of rough play, the ball is still without any noticeable teeth marks. Granted, they are not chew toys and are not meant for a full frontal assault. We are still going to be careful. But, so far, Planet Dog gets a Shiva lick of approval.

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I am looking forward to testing out the Snoop this weekend when I have some time to put the Shivster’s brain to the test. For now, I am content to watch her run all over the house, knocking over wine glasses, in pursuit of a dog’s real best friend.

The rubber ball.

Thanks again to Kol’s Notes for offering such a cool prize!

If Only The Love Dog Was A Real Thing in The World

There need to be more reality shows on television that feature dogs. I never thought I would type those first nine words. Let me paraphrase. There need to be more dog shows on television. One could make the argument there are plenty of dog shows on Animal Planet and other cable, specialty channels. That’s not enough for me any more. There is a wide, dog-less hole in network television howling to be filled. I can’t think of a single show since Lassie – or the better, Canadian equivalent, The Littlest Hobo – that gave a dog a prominent role. It’s just wrong.

51cbbukMnvL._SL500_AA300_I came to this conclusion after reading Elsa Watson‘s latest book, titled The Love Dog. When I was approached to review the book, I had no idea I could be sucked in to the idea of a reality show – even one that stars a gorgeous Golden Retriever. Especially a dating reality show. Yes, I love dogs. But my disdain for dating shows knows no bounds. I pride myself on being one of the least sentimental people on the planet. Heck, I don’t even know the date of my own anniversary! Shows about romantic love hold little interest for me. I have yet to see one episode of The Bachelor. Yet, it wasn’t long after I opened The Love Dog that I was hooked on central concept.

Elsa Watson is on to something pretty brilliant.

I should clarify that her book is a work of fiction. It is a story about a dog named Apollo who had been trained to perform on a reality program designed to repair relationships. Like most reality shows, this one is scripted. Well, at first anyway. It becomes bit more complicated than that but I don’t want to give too much away.

The story is light, fun, and entertaining, even if you have no interest in reading about a celebrity canine. The narrative is broken up into different parts and perspectives, which gives a full picture of each character’s experiences. My favourite parts, naturally, were those written in Apollo’s point of view.

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Author Watson has a great handle on the rich inner life I like to think dogs lead. Apollo is a special dog for a lot of reasons but he still experienced many of the same desires of many dogs I know. I really appreciated the delicate approach the book applied to his emotions without overly anthropomorphizing.  It did not surprise me at all to learn from her website that Elsa Watson lives with two equally special dogs. Their inspiration definitely comes through in her writing. I knew immediately I would like the book’s writer when I read her motto: “Any day on which you pet a dog is a good day.”

Can’t argue with that.

It might sound silly, but I think a show like the one Watson created in her novel, would be just as big a success in real life. I’d love to see an actual televised version of The Love Dog. Disdain for corny romance aside, I do believe dogs have the ability to bring people together. It’s always beautiful to watch people fall in love with their animals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my PH’s cat was one of the largest reasons I agreed to go out with him. He is proof our pets are capable of uniting us. It’s time a major network gave a dog a chance to reach fame in our living rooms once more.

Or perhaps I am just as sentimental as everyone else after all.

If you would like to meet Apollo yourself, I have some happy news! One lucky reader has a chance to win a copy of Elsa Watson’s latest book right here on this blog. To enter, just leave a comment below by Friday, February 1st at midnight Pacific. I’ll run them through Random.org and announce the winner next week! Thank you so much for participating!

Not Bad For Anyone, Let Alone An Unwanted Pit Bull

I don’t know how many of you know about Wallace but he is one of my biggest canine heroes. Yes, he is a pit bull. Yes, he was originally owned by a dog fighting ring. Yes, he was adopted from a shelter after being slated for euthanasia. These are all good reasons to put him up as a dog of note. Most dogs born into the world with those three strikes against them don’t make it through very well. That’s just fact.

However, even if Wallace had come from happier circumstances, the things he has achieved are pretty dang impressive. Most dogs don’t achieve the things he has. Most people haven’t made as significant a contribution to the lives of others as Wallace. I can’t help but admire the heck out of him and his human family for putting so much energy into something they believe in.

Jim Gorant, author of The Lost Dogs, wrote a terrific account of Wallace’s challenging start and his efforts to becoming a disc dog champion. I was a huge fan before I read it and am an even bigger one now – not just of Wallace himself but of the people behind him.

It takes a lot of solid work to claim the success of Wallace and his handler, Andrew Yori. Work and patience and confidence. Reading about their experiences highlighted for me why some people reach their goals and why some never will. It has nothing to do with background or money. It’s the willingness to sacrifice everything else, to find a way despite the obstacles, to shove everything else aside in order to accomplish one’s dream.

I don’t think I have that kind of single-mindedness. I know I don’t. But I am exhilarated by following the lives of those who do.

After watching some cool videos of pit bull weight-pulling contests on Something Wagging This Way Comes I remembered that weight-pulling was how Wallace got his start. While the dog waited in the shelter for his forever home, volunteer trainer Yori had the idea of harnessing him to a tire in order to drain some of his energy. It worked to some pretty awesome results and Wallace was eventually a champion of that sport as well.

Though this was several years ago, I figured there had to be some early videos of Wallace on Youtube and spent a few hours last night looking them up. Naturally, I have to share with you my favourite one. They are all worth watching but the one I loved the most is a compilation of all of Wallace’s achievements in weight-pulling and disc in under two years. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Go. Read. Now.

I just finished reading Alexandra Horowitz’s book Inside of a Dog and my mind is zooming like a Shiva on an agility course. Literally just finished. I read the last words as I rang the bell to get off the bus on my way home from work. It took me a long time to get to reading it. Now I finally understand what all the fuss was about.

Not that the book was perfect. There are a few caveats I feel the need to offer as it is not a training manual by any stretch. The author says this herself many times. At the end of the book there were some suggestions that made me raise my eyebrow, but only as they may relate to dogs with reactivity. There were also a few cracks about the inferiority of cats that bothered me. However, I acknowledge I may be over-sensitive in that regard.

But I digress. The book, in a word, was captivating. The type of experiments and research outlined by Horowitz are of the variety never before performed. Her in depth look at the worldview of a dog, or umwelt as she called it, forced me to give myself a good shake. I like to pretend I am fairly dog savvy. With all the reading and observing I have done, I consider myself pretty aware of the basics of what it is to be with a dog. After reading this book, I realize I was fooling myself.

Like so many others, I wish this book had existed in the days prior to our adopting Shiva. If you haven’t read it, you should. Now.

Here are some of the passages that stick with me the most:

Why does he do that? I am asked almost daily. Many times my only answer can be that not every behavior a dog does has an explanation. Sometimes when a dog suddenly flops on the ground and looks at you, he is just lying down and looking – nothing more.”

“Our frustrations with dogs often arise from our extreme anthropomorphizing, which neglects the very animalness of dogs. A complex animal cannot be explained simply.”

“Dogs are ingenuous. Their bodies do not deceive even if they sometimes trick or cajole us.  Instead the dog’s body seems to map straight to his internal state.”

“Few celebrate a dog who jumps at people as they approach – but start with the premise that it is we who keep ourselves (and our faces) unbearably far away, and we can come to a mutual understanding.”

I see a lot more “smell walks” in Shiva’s and my futures. It’s something I’ve done in the past, though I felt guilty about it, like I was being a bad or lazy trainer by letting her roam from left to right as she saw fit. Now that I know better, when it is appropriate and safe, my guilt will fade.

Have you read Inside of a Dog yet? What did you think? Have you read any other books that have made you reconsider your relationship with your dog?

Things Shiva Doesn’t Want You To Know: A Book Review

The first time I heard about the book Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You To Know was in a review written on The Poodle (And Dog) Blog. It sounded so delightful and I was tickled a few days later when I received an email offering me a free copy to review on my own website. While product reviews hold little interest for me, I am always up for a chance to check out a new dog book. Especially one as pretty as this.

If you haven’t heard of the book before or read any of the other reviews on the tour, essentially it is broken up into eleven separate stories as told by eleven different dogs. Each tale is broken into different parts throughout the book and written as a series of letters. You can either flip through the book reading each story in its entirety before moving onto the next one, or – like I did – you can start at page one and read straight through to the end. Either way you are sure to find a giggle at every turn.

Authors Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson are obviously big-time dog lovers and based on their understanding of the canine brain I assume they have lived with many dogs in their lifetimes. From his website I learned Mr. Conrad was one of the writers of the popular television show Monk and this creative background definitely shows in his latest work.

While most of the dogs’ stories made me laugh out loud, there were a few that depicted a different, more dramatic tone. The life of Sarge the German Shepherd, for instance, seemed anything but happy. I think my PH is still a little miffed the working dog was given such a bad lot.

With so many dogs, it was hard for me to choose a favourite. Would it be the consummate lab, Axelrod? Or the OCD Border Collie, Bandana? Naturally, my love for mixed breeds held out and it was Moonbeam the scraggly rescue who retained my strongest affection. I loved her version of humour so much that I was inspired to write a little “Shiva” tale based on one of Moonbeam’s letters:

Things Shiva Doesn’t Want You To Know, or “Why I’ll Never Be A Champion”

I know you are frustrated with me when I run around on the agility course like I don’t know what I am doing. You are worried I am stressed out or that I don’t like to play the game anymore. Neither of those are true in the least. I love jumping over obstacles! Even more I love running through those wooshy tunnels! Can’t you tell by the way I pass up treats in order to zoom through just one more time?

It’s not that I don’t know my job either. Please don’t insult me that way. We have been practicing for three years! I’m not stupid and I am way, way faster than every other dog.  If I wanted, I could show everyone up, even those snobby Shelties, and be a world champion by now! 

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to.

There is something about me you don’t know. Something that happened long before I ever met you. I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you. No joke! It’s a secret so big I had to be put in the Witness Protection Program for Dogs. Seriously! It’s a real thing! That’s how I ended up at the shelter and why they tried so hard to get you to take me home. They knew I’d live a life of obscurity in your care. No offence. This is why I was so anxious all the time that first year. I kept thinking I saw the guy who was after me. I had to bark and bark and bark to keep everyone away, just in case.

Then we started doing the agility thing and it was so much fun! For a while I almost forgot all about my past and how I had to remain unknown. When I learned from the other dogs how famous I would get if I kept at it, I realized I had no choice. I had to throw the match. And every other match. It’s the only way I can stay safe.

It’s not easy! Sometimes I still forget I have to be careful and I find myself actually following directions and flying over the obstacles like the superstar I am. But then the videos get aired and I get worried my cover will be blown. So next time I have to pretend I am crazy again. You have no idea how much it hurts to see those slow dogs win all the ribbons and all I get is a sad expression from you. My soul! It bleeds!

So now you know. Don’t tell anyone okay? It will be our little secret.

Okay, I am totally making this up. I can’t lie! The reason I run around so much is because it’s just so much fun! You should try it! Maybe then you wouldn’t be so frustrated all the time. Take it from me, life is too short.

Shiva (the Dog)

If you think that was amusing, you’ll want to read the eleven better accounts in the actual published book. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll probably never look at your own dogs the same way again. Don’t believe me? Find out what the other bloggers on the tour have to say!