Post Number 902

Blogging has changed a lot since I first discovered the medium in 2005. I was a receptionist for a non-profit and spent the majority of my time trying to look busy to avoid the menial tasks of envelope stuffing and pamphlet folding. I don’t remember the name of the first blog I read. I do remember imbibing it from start to finish. I was fascinated to uncover the details of another life, someone I would never meet in person but who was real, experiencing a lot of the same boredom and disconnection I felt at the time. It was better than a novel. At least, any I had read at the age of 23.

Back then, blogging to me was about authentic story-telling. I could get to know someone, gain access to their worlds, without having to endure the discomfort of small talk. To be sure it was voyeuristic. I almost never left a comment. Yet, it was also cathartic. For me and, I assumed, for them The writers weren’t sharing anything they weren’t prepared to publicize, even if there were sometimes unforeseen consequences.

The lives of other people are still interesting. I learn a lot about myself by reading the challenges and heart breaks of others. Yes, blog reading is entertainment, something to do on a rainy day. It also makes the world a little less frightening, a little more touchable, a lot more survivable. Or rather, it did for me.

However, blogs are different now. This is okay. In fact, it makes sense. As the cliché goes, change is a natural progression.

For instance, when was the last time you read a blog, like really read it, from beginning to end? Actually, when was the last time you read a whole blog article? Truly read the words. Not scrolling to the bolded text or skimming while formulating your reply or scanning for a sexy quote to share on social media or just checking out the pictures or watching fifteen seconds of a video. Read the text and enjoyed it for its own sake.

Maybe you do all the time. If so, I think you are the minority. Especially in the Petosphere.

A few weeks ago I read a book by Ruth Izeki, entitled A Tale for the Time Being. One of the protagonists is a teenager named Naoko and she shared a few opinions on blogging in her diary that struck me. You may disagree:

It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they’re all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart.

This is harsh, perhaps, but I think more true than I would like it to be. And part of the reason I am quitting blogging.

Blogging, pet blogging especially, is no longer about stories. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few exceptions, You might be one of them. It is not my desire to judge or offend. It is not to say that personal stories are the only purpose of a blog, because they aren’t. But they were the main draw for me, and the only thing I know how to write.

In 2015, as opposed to 2005, blogging is less about connection and more about promotion. By that I mean selling something, whether one’s own brand/products or ad space for someone else’s. In my opinion, there is less time to get to know someone, to share an authentic experience, because there is too much pressure to perform. It is hard to be real when worrying about the bottom line.

In 2015, bloggers can’t just sit down with a cup of coffee and say what’s on their mind. Each post takes hours worth of crafting to ensure SEO and brand compliance. Money needs to be spent on supplies and every word economized because no one is going to read a post that is just a bunch of letters on the screen. Photos need to be taken with fancy cameras and professional lighting. The house needs to be spotless so as not to distract from the subject in said photos.

In 2015, bloggers can’t curl up with their feed readers and giggle over someone else’s story. Commenting is only done for the purpose of increasing traffic and engagement on one’s own website. “Mark All As Read” is the standard theme. There is no time to delve into someone else’s life, to learn, to connect. Not when the optimum daily time to post is approaching and one hasn’t even come up with a topic. There is no time to share stories.

In 2015, bloggers need to be experts. They need to present themselves as the authority in their subjects. They also need to be technologically savvy and brilliant designers – or at least have the cash to pay someone else.

In 2015, bloggers don’t need to be competent writers. Since no one is reading anyway, it doesn’t matter how they say something. As long as they are willing to write a positive review of the item of the day, companies will keep paying for it.

In 2015, blogging is harder and easier than it was in 2005, depending on your perspective. Depending on your goal.

It is possible I am bitter. I must admit, I miss the time in my life when blogging was new. When I looked forward to sitting down at the computer in the belief my story might reach people, and being reached by others in return. But it all got complicated. It all became a lot of work. I knew I don’t have it in me to keep up.

These days, I get as much out of writing in my private spaces as I do out of blogging. A pen and paper doesn’t need hosting fees or knowledge of CSS, After all I went through this past fall when my hosting company kicked me out and spam monsters ate my blog, none of the stress seemed to have a point any more. It made more sense to let it go. No one was reading anyway.

Pet blogging is no longer for us amateurs. That’s totally cool. It’s kind of exciting. Pets aren’t this dorky niche that no one talks about any more. Companies are starting to take it seriously. Bloggers are finding ways to make real money. It’s fantastic. I am so glad I got to be a tiny part of the beginning.

There are no regrets. I have met some amazing people through blogging. Some of the .kindest, most authentic, most talented people in the world. I am so glad I spent the hours coming up with 902 posts on Rescued Insanity. Every second was worth it. I wish I had it in me to spend more.

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll have learned Shiva’s House of Deluded Dreamers has a new addition. We brought home a puppy at the start of January. Proving we are insane. I would love to write about these new struggles we are facing. I would love to seek your advice and commiseration on house training, dog-cat interactions, and how to prevent your destructo dog from eating all of your new puppy’s toys. I would love to share our failures. I would love to tell more stories. But I can’t get up the energy to start over again here. The magic is gone. The connection is lost.

My blogging days are done.

I am not sad over this as much as I thought I would be. I guess it’s no surprise.

I won’t close down the page. When I started it in 2009 the main purpose what to track Shiva’s progress. I would hate to lose that. As long as WordPress is free, I will keep this space.

If you are interested, or would just like to see some adorable puppy pictures, I will be posting on the Facebook page when I can. It won’t always be pretty and my house will probably be a mess, but I’d love to see you there. Moreover, I’d love it if you’d share your stories with me. I promise to read every word.

Not ready to say goodbye

We had our last camping trip of 2014 last weekend. It was supposed to be a send off of summer, a sort of wake, Irish style. Whisky and all. The idea was, by the time we returned home, I would be able to move on.

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Reality never matches fantasy, does it? Rather than a final farewell to summer, it became a tearful denial. The entire time I kept insisting we could do this again, that it wasn’t over. The sun was warm on our folding chairs, the leaves still smelled spring fresh. It felt too early to let it all go.

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And then day became night. Smores demolished, campfire extinguished we scuttled into our sleeping bags and promptly froze to death. The only thing that prevented me from suggesting we drive home in the middle of the night  was Shiva’s warmth curled at my side. But even she was shivering. When morning came, I knew we probably couldn’t do it again.

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When you have to wear mittens to bed, it might be too cold to sleep outside.

Might be. Now that several days have gone by, my memory is a little fuzzy. Once more I am thinking one more weekend is possible. We’ll have a real send off this time. Sunday is the Solstice; what could be more perfect?

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My PH and my citified canine are less convinced. They think I should get over the loss and learn to love brief autumnal trips to the park. I think they are wuss bags. What’s a little below zero chill when you can wake up to this?

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Sigh. If I do have to put away the tent and the camp stove, at least I do so knowing we made a lot of memories this year. Summer was never enjoyed so much.

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I can’t wait to do it all again.

Screwing Courage to the Sticking Place

On Monday Pamela of Something Wagging shared her thoughts about confidence and how adding joy can make one brave. I’ve talked a lot about my cowardice, especially in comparison with my dog.

Shiva is the bravest creature I know. She never lets fear get in the way of achieving her goals. I think this inner courage is one of the biggest reasons our reactivity training has been so successful. All she needed was a little confidence. Given a little bit of time and a lot of encouragement,  Shiva thrived. Nowadays, she is practically infamous for her enthusiasm and almost death-defying stunts. She doesn’t worry about what may go wrong before she leaps onto the teeter. She just jumps and trusts everything will be okay.

And if she fails, she tries again until she gets it right.

It’s been stunning to watch. I’ll admit, sometimes I still cry when I see her soliciting pets from a stranger. I hope to shed even more tears for the same reason in the future.

As I’ve harped on incessantly, Shiva’s one last bastion of fear is the water. Considering that when we adopted her she wouldn’t even approach her water bowl without trepidation, she has conquered a lot. But we live in a province surrounded by ocean. And swimming is the one athletic activity I feel I perform with a modicum of ability. She has kicked fear in the butt so many times now that I hate to see her continue to struggle.

I had a moment of training brilliance this weekend at a local provincial park. While my PH hung out with his fishing pole, Shiva and I fooled around by the shore of Long Lake. The rocky beach was covered with sticks, which are Shiva’s favourite thing to fetch. I threw the stick closer and closer to the water until she was retrieving it out of the shallow end. After all this success, I threw it a bit deeper in, where the water was dark.

This is when Shiva hesitated.

Instead of going in to get the stick myself, or telling her it was okay and ending the game, this time I decided just to wait her out. Shiva is not only brave, but stubborn. When motivated, she doesn’t give up. I hoped that if I gave her some space, she would screw up her courage and go for it. Since I happened to have my camera on me, I shot this video of Shiva’s decision process.

Shaping wins again! It’s not easy for me to do, but perhaps I need to back off a little in the future. Encourage her to go for it and then let her wade out on her own.

Now if only I could channel a little of Shiva’s bravery in my own life…

Do Dogs Have Gender?

This is a question I have been pondering for a long time. After reading an interesting post on 24 Paws of Love yesterday, the question has reappeared in the forefront of my brain. As someone formerly active in feminist circles, I have long maintained that gender, by definition, is a human social construct. Expected norms of male and female behaviour are not based on anything more than what human society has deemed appropriate in a given time. Do dogs have similar societal rules that govern their actions?

I’ve never thought so. There are sex differences, of course. I cannot deny biology. Male and female dogs have different hormones that may push them into certain behaviours. For instance, un-neutered males may be more likely to break out and wander the neighbourhood. But what about dogs that have been spayed or neutered? While I am not a behavourist, I do regularly have the opportunity to watch many different dogs interact, play, and perform. I have yet to notice any consistent differences in behaviour between male and female dogs. If all the dogs have enough fur and wear neutrally-coloured collars, it’s impossible for me to tell which dogs are female and which are male.

But it could just be that I don’t know what to look for. Perhaps there are subtle differences I have not picked up on. I know the stereotypes. Some trainers say they prefer to work with females as they are more attentive. Others prefer males as they  are less stubborn. It’s a common joke that males like to pee on everything in sight. Cranky female dogs are called “bitchy” – which, I guess, is where the insult originated in the first place. Many people seem to have a preference. However, I am not convinced this preference is based on anything other than personal opinion.

I like to joke that I practice gender-neutral dog ownership. Even though it appears impossible to raise a human child without gender expectations, I like to think it is still possible with a dog. “Shiva” is technically a male name. Her nicknames aren’t particularly feminine either; I’d call a male dog “Doofus” too. She has more blue things than pink. I do use the feminine pronoun “she” but only because there is no other appropriate word to use. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest if someone calls her “he” by mistake. I don’t think it bothers her either.

Not that I believe there is anything harmful in dressing one’s female dog in pink or one’s male dog in only blue. There is nothing wrong with hyper masculine or feminine names or insisting on describing one’s male dog as “handsome” and never “pretty”. I just think it’s interesting when some humans seem to believe their dogs understand these things. Is it possible Muffy really feels insulted if someone calls her a boy? Or Jake gets offended when forced to wear a pink sweater?

No doubt I am reading too much into the issue. It’s only meant in fun and I am sure most people are joking around. We humans like to anthropomorphize our pets. I do it all the time, mostly because it amuses me. As I say, for the most part, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. The only way I think it could be dangerous is if we place these human ideas of gender on our dogs with the expectation they will fulfill a particular role. Say, if one chooses a female puppy over a male because he assumes she will be more loving. When this dog turns out to detest cuddling and prefer wrestling, this person may be very disappointed and the dog could end up in the shelter.

Do you think dogs have gender? Have you observed any consistent behavioural differences between male and female dogs? Do you think putting human ideas of gender roles on dogs could be harmful? Or am I completely off-base? Please share any thoughts in the comments. I am genuinely interested in a discussion on the subject.

Year of BadAssery and Other Celebrations

It does exist!

I should start off by apologizing in advance for what may seem like gratuitous photos of the sun. It’s been centuries since we’ve seen it in these parts and I may be a little over-excited. If this offends you, please look away.

Two more days till the big test. Thinking about it gives me major butterflies so I am trying to put it out of my mind. Doo doo doo, just another weekend, la la la. I think I am more nervous now than I ever was for any of my major university finals. More nervous than I was for that terrifying Physics 20 exam in high school. More nervous than I was for that horrendous Chemistry AP test where I was so certain I was going to fail I registered to take the course again in the fall. (For the record, I didn’t fail.)

Anyway, I think now is as good a time as any to to a re-cap on the first half of my Year of BadAssery:

1. I lost my job. But, instead of letting myself get down, I went out and found an even better job within three weeks.

2. I submitted a video of silly pet tricks into an online contest. (And won!!)

3. I moved my website from wordpress.com to wordpress.org without a major catastrophe.

4. I have learned to trust Shiva enough that I no longer run away when we see another dog coming. We have officially taken back the forest!

5. I have introduced myself to several strangers and sat down at several tables filled with people I didn’t previously know. It will never come easy for me but it’s good to know I won’t self-combust.

6. I have danced in public with my dog.

7. I have approached a company about sending me a dog-training product to review.

8. I attended an agility fun match with my dog. Even though we didn’t participate, it was not at all easy for me to show up. We need to do more of this in the future.

9. I stood up to someone in my local animal welfare world in defence of crate-training.

10. Last night, when a woman stood outside our front door with her baby in a stroller I didn’t wait for her to finish talking to our neighbour. Instead, I saw it as a training opportunity and stepped right out with Shiva. For a brief moment, I even let Shiva investigate the toddler. (She licked his hand!!)

I like to think I have done well facing some of my fears. It’s only the beginning.

What are you celebrating today?

My Practically Husband Speaks!

For at least six months I have been trying to convince my practically husband (or PH) to write a guest post. He said he would but he keeps coming up with convenient excuses. One day he has to catch a flight to Toronto. The next he has a dentist appointment. And then all of a sudden he has to bail someone out jail. As if these things are more important than my blog. I mean, really.

So I was extremely jealous when Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes featured a post by her with-an-actual-certificate husband. Don’t think I didn’t bring this up immediately. Pamela, genius that she is, suggested that  – since my PH thinks his job is more important than my website and will never take the time to write anything on his own – I interview him instead.

Brilliant! 

Well, that’s what I thought at least. Until I took in his responses to my questions. I should have known better.

1. How did you know that Shiva was the one?

There were several things about Shiva that drew me to her right away, but aesthetics became my initial determining factor, despite how vain and awful that sounds. I do not mean that she was the prettiest, it was how unique she was. As an individual who prides himself on being unique from all others (long story), an oddball dog was a highly appealing idea.

Also, my PW really wanted a pet, and I was kind of tired of hearing about it, so I just wanted to get one and get it over with.

 2. What is your favourite Shiva moment?

Can there be a favourite moment with Shiva? All her glorious moments are also tempered with so much anxiety of the worst happening that it is hard to point at a single moment with entirely positive emotions. If I had to make a decision, it would have to be the moment that she was reunited with my mom this year. We were petrified about how to re-introduce them, and despite our best planning a spontaneous reunion happened. We could not have been more pleased with a happy, stress free dog having fun with a lost friend. (Editor’s note: I agree. My practically mother-in-law’s visit in February had me more than a little anxious. It was all in vain. Shiva was thrilled to have one more human from whom to beg for treats!)

3. What is your least favourite Shiva moment?

Again, can there be a least favourite? There have been so many moments of sheer aggravation and frustration, Tim Hortons and the cheque both come to mind, but my least favourite moment would have to be the Shoe Fiasco of 2009. We were both still so unsure about our sanity and the potential disaster of a mutt we had on our hands, and then you suffered a massive fashion blow. I feared that all the frustration you already had would make you slip beyond the edge of hope. This also happens to be a great moment because despite your footwear fiasco, your determination to help our dog never wavered.  (Editor’s note: Awwww!)

4. If Shiva could change one thing about you, what would it be?

Nothing, I am perfect. Next question.

5. If you could change one thing about Shiva, what would it be?

I  would change her fear of water. I used to love swimming with my childhood dog (another long story), and I would love to spend more time in the water with her. Especially since we have a lake in our backyard!

6. If you could come back as an animal, which one would it be and why?

I would come back as a tsetse fly so that I would only live for one day, and hopefully next time around come back as a human again, preferably one that believes in reincarnation. (Editor’s note: I have no idea what a tsetse fly is either.)

7. If Shiva was a celebrity, who would she be?

Did you forget she is a celebrity already?

8. What trick, game, or activity do you most enjoy with Shiva?

I wish it were wrestling, but she sucks at it. Tugging is definitely our favourite two player game. It involves the most energy on both of our sides, so not only do we get to play together, but we both get a workout. I cant forget about the fun of skating together though. It is the only chance I have to be faster than the dog.

9. What do you like to do in your non-dog-related spare time? (If such a thing were to exist)

As you know, but don’t brag enough about, I love to cook in my spare time. I am an avid fan of cooking shows and like to try new dishes, quite successfully I might add (see question 4)

10. How would you describe yourself in ten words or less?

Perfect yet humble. Efficient.