Saturday, December 3, 2011

Puppies will always be my safe place.

I spend time between time.

It's odd. How I'm present, yet project forward.

I've lived most of my life elsewhere, but feel more grounded here.

If you know me, you know I am not well known. Difficult to know. Next to impossible. Really.

Puppies makes sense to me. Except the current puppy. Who makes the most amazing sense.

I once thought of running away from home...but didn't know where to go, since I didn't know if I could escape what I was running from (I was 12).

I am capable of violence, but not the violence that frightens others (although it does). The violence that frightens me.

People like me. But I'm sure I don't quite know why.

Sometimes I like people. Just because.

You should never assume anything about me. Ever.

I like cats. Just that. I like them.

I like snow. I don't like cold.

If I could choose, I would choose blindness over deafness. 

Children are priceless. But I seem to prefer those under 3. (Have I mentioned I don't play well with others?)

I'm not happy about getting old. It hurts.

I don't like it when some people decide that you are no longer an important part of their life. And just leave. Without explanation. After 20 years.

I do not like complainers. Don't complain. Fix what you are not happy with. Or shut up.

If you want my honest opinion, be prepared to hear the truth. Or stick something in your ears so you can't hear me. Or...don't ask.

Puppies will always be my safe place. Always.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Don't tell me what I can or cannot do

Today I was reading Independent, a local publication in Chapel Hill NC, just browsing through it, while I ate my breakfast in the 501 Diner. I came across the Letters To The Editor section...and for some reason, one particular letter snagged my attention. I read it, and was very affected emotionally by it. Let me share it with you:


On May 8, 2012, the citizens of North Carolina will vote on an amendment to the state constitution titled the Defense of Marriage Act, providing that "marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be recognized in the state." The board of Community Church of Chapel Hill, Unitarian Universalist, goes on record in the strongest possible opposition to this amendment. 

Amending the defining document of the state is a serious matter. What is proposed is denial of a right of citizenship--and a human right--to thousands of our citizens. Implications of such laws have been well documented. They can include denial of such rights as that to be with one's life partner at a time of serious illness as well as a great many other restrictions. In 1964, with the Civil Rights Act, our nation's law rose above a history of discrimination on the basis of race. We must not now enshrine discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in our state constitution.

We stand with other churches committed to human rights and with all those concerned with justice. We urge all who share such concerns to vote against this amendment.

Board of Directors
Community Church of Chapel Hill,
Unitarian Universalist

Reading this letter out of the blue caused me to get very choked up. I am not familiar with this denomination, but the words are those that should be spoken aloud to everyone who is in support of DOMA. Why doesn't everyone think this way? It is reprehensible to me that anyone could support something like DOMA, let alone those in the position to "put it up for a vote". Put what up for a vote? Something that all those heterosexuals with entitlement issues take for granted? How about we take away your basic rights and privileges, and treat you like a second class citizen, and see how you like it? 

It's beyond me how a crowd of discriminatory assholes can take away from a huge section of the populace that which they themselves are granted without question. To them I say, "Fuck you." To the writers of this letter, I say, "Thank you." And to all who think and feel as they do.

Which should be everyone.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just the facts, ma'am.

I do not understand why some people continue to confuse what one chooses over what one obviously cannot choose.

I was reading a blog post today, and it dealt with, among other things, veganism, and drinking. A comment was made, with regard to "lifestyle choices," which I thought was not properly applied.

Let's get some things straight.

Unless you have, from birth, not been able to eat meat, or poultry, or fish, because your system rejects it without fail, you have "chosen" vegetarianism, or veganism. That is a lifestyle choice.

If you have been raised Catholic (or any other religion), and rejected it, that is a lifestyle choice. By the same token, if you have not been raised to embrace any religion, then later do so, that is a lifestyle choice.

If you choose not to drink, or to do so, that is a lifestyle choice.

If you abhor wearing pants, and choose not to, ever, or only on occasion, that is a lifestyle choice.

See the pattern here?

Please note: You can choose something that goes against your natural inclination. You can. I could choose to have intimate relations (read: sex) with men (many women do, gay or straight), but that goes against my natural inclination. I'm actually not that comfortable with men, nor do I feel safe in the presence of most men. My lifestyle choice then, is to not have frequent contact with men if I don't have to.

Having said all of that, it is entirely possible, I suppose, that one's natural inclination is to not eat meat (or attend Catholic church, or drink alcohol, or even wear pants), from the time one is sufficiently cognizant of what feels inherently right; that to do so feels utterly foreign, and one only does so because to not do so would be to buck the social norm. And one must fit in, right?

And so, when it comes to a definition of "lifestyle choice," who decides what fits within the parameters of that definition? Or if there are parameters at all? This, then, is why there is so much confusion on the topic.

But make no mistake, there is lifestyle, and then there is life.

To clarify: My life would never feel complete were I with a man. I would not feel complete. And therein lies the definitive difference.

I will tell you this one other thing: I have conclusively, and without fail, been attracted to, and fallen in love with, women. I did not have a choice in my sexual identity. I no more had a choice in that, than I had a choice in my eyes being brown, or my build being slender. I knew from a very young age that I had brown eyes and always would, that I was scrawny and always would be, and that I liked girls and always would. I found certain males attractive, but those males, in retrospect, always had feminine qualities, and females were always infinitely more attractive, even so. 

And so, once again, I think it safe to say, if you don't know what you're talking about, you should keep your mouth shut. If you have some conclusive proof, of one or the other, by all means, speak up. Show us the facts.

Otherwise, just shut the fuck up.

And those you are persecuting and tormenting and judging will thank you for that.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Survey says...

I am the worst sort of person to be in customer service.

I've learned this more clearly over the years, but I knew it from the time I was 16, and began my first job with a drive-in A&W, in a smallish town, where I found I was very unsuited for waiting on people who ordered burgers and fries and onion rings, to then devour them in their cars, and to barely thank me, or not thank me at all, for bringing them their meals.

I learned, over time, through various other customer-service oriented jobs, that I am ill-suited to deal with people who think they have any right to demand something of me, without a "please" or "thank you". 

I do not like rudeness, or bad manners, or judgmental comments, looks, or behaviour.

For many years, on the advice of my dad (poor advice, in retrospect) that I should not go into journalism (there would be no jobs for a woman in the field, he advised), I trained and worked as a dental assistant. I would not recommend this field to anyone. Talk about under-appreciation. Working for anyone who has an ego that is undeserved and rarely earned, and is usually only gained by who you know, not what you know, can't have any kind of good outcome. Oh, and let's not forget that the only benefit working for a dentist is that you get (questionable) free dental care. Few dentists provide any kind of benefits for their employees.

Customer service has its place, I do not argue that point. And some people are genuinely suited to it. I admire those people. I, however,  am not one of them.

My life lately has taken on an almost bohemian flare. I am perfectly comfortable with it. I gave up everything a few years ago, by choice, and I do not regret or miss anything. I do, however, still need to earn a living, and so I have taken on various temporary positions.

The most recent has been with a company which conducts surveys, procured through other companies under the guise of "customer service." It's an evening and occasional weekend job, which works well with my writing schedule. My job is to attend my computer-generated phone list, and conduct my survey. Most people are perfectly willing to participate in the survey. I am well-spoken, articulate, and polite.

Well, mostly polite. I have found that, when faced with certain rude individuals, I am as unsuited for this job, as I am for any customer service position.

For example, there was the call answered by a male, who, before I even completed my spiel, launched into a tirade against me. "Where did you get my number?" he demanded. I assured him it was computer-generated, that I did not have a compiled list before me. "And what the hell are you selling again?" he demanded. I assured him that I, personally, was not selling anything, that I was merely voicing a survey. "And what the hell if I say 'yes', what am I saying 'yes' to, and what are you going to do with it?" he demanded further irately.

That was all it took.

"You know what?" I said, rather tightly. "Forget it. I'm not doing this." I moved my cursor over the "End call" button.

"What? Wait, what?" he interrupted, sounding dismayed.

"I'm not doing this with you," I told him, annoyed.

"What? Why?" He sounded even more surprised.

"Because I don't have to," I told him acidly. "I don't have to do anything I don't want to. Good day, sir."

"No, okay no, wait," he spluttered. "I'm sorry, that was--I'm sorry, I don't mean to be ignorant, please, continue."

I said nothing, cursor still poised over the "End call" button.

"Really, please, I didn't mean to be ignorant." He now sounded very contrite. He paused a beat, then added, "Really, I'm sorry, continue, please, let's do the survey."

"Fine," I said shortly. And so I did. And he was very pleasant throughout. He even apologized again at the end. I was stiffly polite when I thanked him.

Now, obviously, I'm not supposed to act in this manner. I'm supposed to do my job, and put up with people who are rude and have bad manners (technically, that's not exactly true; we don't have to put up with rude behaviour, but most surveyors do not have the gumption to answer back). And it's possible these calls are monitored (I assume, but don't know the regularity of such), but frankly, I don't give a flying fuck. No one has the right to treat me, a complete stranger who is only doing their job, in such a rude manner.

There have been other such receptions, but very few (I could include a few other examples, but you get the gist, and it would make this post overly lengthy.) For the most part, people are receptive to calls that are customer service oriented surveys, and are fine with giving their opinion. For those individuals who are not so receptive, given the chance in the face of their rude behaviour, I respond scathingly in part and do not put up with it. As I said, I am not the sort of person who should be in anything even remotely resembling customer service. While I certainly understand I must earn a living, what I am doing is hardly anything even close to offensive, and I refuse to be treated like some sort of parasite.

So the next time you receive an unexpected call, keep in mind that the person on the other end may only be conducting a simple, short survey, which may actually benefit you, the customer, in the end. There is no call for rude behaviour. Should you choose to be rude, you may get me on the other end, and I will give you back as good as I have received.

Which you quite likely deserved.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hank's training: A beginning.

Hank's education began during the first week that I met him.

I didn't know this then. My first week spent in North Carolina was mainly spent getting to know the woman I'd come there in the first place for. But she had shared some stories of him over the phone, and I'd come to know he was a highly spirited Border Collie cross, that he had some bad habits, that he was, to put it simply, somewhat "out of control".

I didn't know what that meant. I only knew what she told me: that he was all over the furniture, that he could not be trusted off lead, that he jumped on whomever he chose, whenever, that he barked incessantly.

Alright, I thought.

My first exposure to Hank was...interesting. He would not meet my eye, he avoided me completely, he was hugely distrustful.

Alright, I thought.

For the first couple of days, I paid him no attention whatsoever, other than a glance and a soft, "Hey, Hank," or, "Hi, buddy." I did not touch him, I did not invite him to interact, I did nothing.

In the house, he continually darted toward me, or cocked his head at me from a safe distance; he would inch toward me, and then back away quickly. I ignored him, other than to say softly, "Hey, Hank." Invariably, he would go to her, his person, and invite play as he always had. They had a routine of playing "fetch" with his favourite rope toy in the house: she would toss it into the livingroom, and he would run madly and bring it back. It could go on endlessly.

The day he changed this behaviour, and brought the rope toy to me to toss, was a huge breakthrough. I downplayed it, and said nothing, other than, "Good boy, Hank," and tossed it for him to retrieve.

That was the extent of my involvement with Hank in the first week of meeting him.

When I returned to North Carolina after almost two months, for a period of 6 weeks, knowing what I then knew, that she wished me to work with him, my intention was to spend two weeks bonding with Hank (it has been said that two weeks is an optimum period of time to bond with a dog, and, in my experience, this has proven to be true, and it proved so with him.)

Two weeks into that period: The bonding is going well. I am learning about Hank, as he is learning about me. And then a storm is threatening. Hank is terrified of storms. She calls me from work, and suggests I bring the dogs in (Spot was still alive then). I do as she asks, and Hank and I spend a half hour doing the "fetch" routine in the house, and working on his vocabulary. I then decide a nap is in order, and before I know it, the storm has passed, I wake up, and decide to take the dogs out to their kennel. No sooner have I decided to do so, and feeling groggy as well, I open the door, reach for Hank's collar, and BOOM! he has slipped through the door (another bad habit), and he's in the yard, a yard that is not completely fenced in. Before I can even gather my thoughts, he's gone.

My first thought is: Oh, fuck.

My second thought, as I see him dart around the corner of the house is: Oh, FUCK.

I immediately head back into the house and grab a handful of MarroBones, which I stuff into my pocket. I had been using them to treat the dogs to that point, calling them "cookies" (she had been calling them "treats").  I then head back out again, to the gate which leads to the street. She lives in a town, and so it's basically closed off, but there is a highway 100 yards away, and this is my concern. She has told me that he has done this before, and he usually runs AWAY. I know I cannot allow this to happen. I am terrified he will be hit by a car.

I run around the side of the house, and I see him, prancing away up the street.

"Hank!" I shout. "What are you doing?"

He pauses, then continues on around the corner.

I follow, and he comes to a stop when he sees me.

"Hank, what are you doing?" I lower my voice, though I feel quite panicky. "Come here, Hank."

He looks at me, tail in the air, head lowered.

I lower my own head, and lower my voice even further. "Hank, come on, let's go."

He stands stockstill. I take a step toward him, and he's off.

And now I know what to do.

I watch as he trots away, and I follow discreetly and slowly, and when he stops, I do as well.

"Hank, enough," I say, firmly, "Let's go. Do you want a cookie?"

He has turned his head, and he perks his ears. I have added to his vocabulary slightly in the two weeks, and "cookie" is now part of it. He knows what that means. And his whole demeanour says, Why yes, I would like a cookie.

I dig in my pocket and toss a MarroBone toward him.

He darts toward it, and as he does I say, "Alright, let's go."

And I turn and head back to the house.

I do not wait to see if he is following. I go back to the house, through the side gate, sit on the back step, and call her. I tell her he has gotten away. She says she will come home immediately. I feel terrible. I rise and go back to the street.

He is closer.

"Hank," I say, in the same no-nonsense tone, "enough. Come on now. Do you want a cookie?"

He pauses, and cocks his head again. Of course I want a cookie. He comes toward me and I toss another MarroBone out. And then I turn and walk away.

My heart is in my throat. I am thinking, This cannot be happening. If something happens to him, this, all I have thought I could have with her, is lost. This cannot happen. I walk back to the house through the open gate. I sit down again on the back step.

I wait.

When I get to my feet again, and round the corner of the house, I see he has entered the yard.

"Hank," I say firmly, my heart pounding in my chest, "come on, do you want a cookie?"

He cocks his head (Of course I do), looking for all the world like he will dart if I move unexpectedly, and so I don't. I toss him another MarroBone, and turn and walk away.

I go back to the back step, and sit down, and I think, she'll be here soon, then what? And out of the corner of my eye, I see him.

He's ten feet away.

I look over and I say calmly, "Hey, Hank. Good boy. You want a cookie?"

He lowers his head (Of course, I do), and I toss him the last MarroBone. He crunches it up, and then raises his head. I eye him sidewise. I can do this, I think.

But I have no more cookies.

I see, at my feet, a leaf. It's pale, and oval, and if I hold it just right, it will work.

And so I surreptitiously pick up the leaf, and then I hold it out toward him, and I say, "Come here, Hank, come get this cookie." And I place the leaf on the ground, one foot in front of me, and I tap it, to bring his attention to it.

He cocks his head, takes a step, and then another step, and then comes all the way to me, all the way to the "cookie", lowers his head, and I gently reach out, and grasp his muzzle.

He makes a surprised sound, a soft "Woof?"

And I take his collar, tell him he is a good boy, and then take him into the kennel.

And when she comes home minutes later, it's to find he is safe.

The lesson here is not one of deceit. The lesson learned is not to go chasing after a dog who has gotten away from you. Anyone who has had a dog who has gotten away from them will tell you that the worst thing is to go haring off after that dog. They know you can't catch them. Trust me, they know this. You may as well go chasing after a rabbit. You won't catch them. But if you show enough interest, coupled with enough disinterest, you will be able to bring that dog back, UNLESS that dog does not care a whit about you. In that case, good luck. I've been working with dogs for 20 years. If your dog doesn't care about you, you'll know it.

And Hank is not my dog.

p.s. One thing you should never do, when a dog finally comes to you after this kind of episode: Never, NEVER, verbally or physically reprimand a dog who finally comes back. DO NOT EVER do this. Think about it: all you are teaching the dog is that coming to you is a bad thing, and punishable. Always reward a dog who comes to you. This is one of the most difficult things to teach people.

Which is why I prefer to teach dogs.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Think before you speak

It's my partner's birthday this Saturday.

I won't be there to help her celebrate it. We're in a long distance relationship, and this is how it's going to work out sometimes. She wasn't present for mine. But she made the effort to pay attention to things I'd said, things I had mentioned I liked, and she googled some things, made some phone calls, and also sent some gifts through the mail. It was one of the most special birthdays I can recall. One of the most thoughtful gifts she sent me was a framed photo of herself, one I was especially fond of.

A couple of weeks ago, after much thought, I had two prints made (a 4x6 and a 5x7) of a photo of myself, a photo she had taken herself and was especially fond of. I purchased frames to house them. That same afternoon, I went to visit a friend of mine, and brought the package of frames and photos inside. My friend was busy (she runs a florist shop, and I was visiting her at work, as I often do), and so I set about putting the frames and photos together, while she was otherwise occupied.

When I was done, I held one up, and asked, "So what do you think?"

She frowned slightly. "Very nice," she said slowly, "but why are you putting pictures of yourself in frames?"

"It's for her birthday," I said blithely, (she knew who I was talking about), "and I thought it would a good idea."

My friend paused, and then said again slowly, "Well, I guess it is, they're lovely pictures, but..." and here she paused again, before saying, "why are you giving her pictures of yourself?"

I was a little puzzled by her question. "Well, she sent me a picture of herself for my birthday. I thought I'd do the same for her birthday."

"But...why are you giving her a picture of yourself?" My friend was very obviously confused.

I looked at her with my eyes slightly narrowed, my head marginally tilted. "Because this will be all she will have of me when I'm not there. For the same reason she sent me her picture. Why else?"

"Oh." My friend seemed to give herself a shake, as if a light had shone somewhere off in a foggy distance that had caught her attention. "I just...I don't know. That just seems...kind of weird."

"Weird? Weird, how?" Now I was genuinely confused.

"I don't know, I just...I don't know anyone who would do that. Give a picture of themself to someone. That's all."

I didn't comment on what she said. We just moved on. But I knew what she was on about. What she was getting at, is that what I was doing, and what my partner did, by giving each other framed photos of each other, is basically ego-centric. That to do so meant that we both thought so much of ourselves that we would send/share these photos, and thereby feed our egos. Because really, that is what her tone and attitude and queries shouted at me.

This particular exchange has niggled away at me, and while I knew I was annoyed at the time, I dismissed it, and did not discuss it further, because to me there was no point, and I was there to visit her, and what I was doing had nothing to do with her. Later, however, I thought back on that exchange, and as I thought (and became more annoyed), I came to a couple of conclusions.

Some people do not understand the intricacies of relationships. They certainly don't understand that some relationships, ie: long distance relationships, require a level of attention and compassion, of sympathy and empathy, that might never need to be applied to a relationship that occurs on home-ground, in the same city and/or country. Some people shoot off their mouth, without taking into consideration the different types of relationships that occur; that your common, everyday, "backyard" type of relationships should require the kind of care and attention long distance relationships do, but many people just don't give enough of a damn to actually apply that level of effort.

Secondly, my friend is straight. She is certainly not above making the first move (she has told me she has, on one occasion), but, in my opinion, some heterosexual women do have a certain mindset when it comes to "wooing". And gifting someone with a picture of yourself is not wooing. You simply do not do it. It is the height of hubris, and if you do so gift someone, you are self-involved, ego-centric, and, let's not forget, selfish.

But let's get one thing clear: I am not in a heterosexual relationship.

I do not have a male partner whom I am expecting to sweep me off my feet. I am in love with a woman, and I am not relying on that woman to woo me, nor is she relying on me to woo her. In fact, it was I who did all the "wooing" in the beginning. But this is a give and take thing. I have wooed her, and vice versa. The results have been more than satisfactory. And more than surprising. It has been, suffice it to say, hugely enjoyable. A whole hell of a lot of fun. It has also been exciting, amazingly stimulating, it has shocked me, and made me laugh. It has made me shiver, has made my eyes widen, and left me without breath and words on more than one occasion. It has comforted me, yet has also confounded me, and confused me, and left me wondering, What in the hell do I do now? And I know it has done the same for her.

If I am missing something in this exchange, I'd like to know what it is. By the same token, if my friend (or anyone else) is missing something, I would think that one little thing like gifting the person you love with a framed photograph that they have stated they are fond of, is not the height of hubris.

Rather, it's the height of love.

So, before anyone thinks to open their mouth and judge my actions based on their own experience, or voice their thoughts or opinions for the same reasons, I suggest they shut up and think first.

I've always found that works best.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hank's training: Part 3

When training dogs, it's always important to remember that you, as the trainer, are not the most important part of that dog's world. The most important part of that dog's world is his number one person. 

In my opinion, I think some trainers possess an attitude of, if that "misbehaving" dog were their dog, that dog would not be misbehaving at all (please note: "misbehaving" is open to interpretation. We all have our own definition of good behaviour). Dogs act out for all kinds of reasons. They are intelligent, thinking, feeling creatures. They have good days and bad days, and can experience moodiness, dissatisfaction, and general discontent, as can most creatures. It is the height of hubris to think/feel/believe that someone who loves someone else could possibly be happier with you, the onlooker. But I have known of some trainers who think this very thing. (This very mentality happens in other relationships as well; some people think they are always better for someone else than the actual main person in the picture.)

It is the job of the trainer to strive to train both the person and the dog so that they may work together to achieve a relatively harmonious state. I say relatively, because with all relationships, there will always be conflict of some sort. The idea is to understand that those conflicts will arise, and how to work through them.

There is one golden rule that I follow when first meeting a dog and client: Do not place your hands on the dog. (This is not to be confused with making eye contact, but it has the same foundation. For some reason, there has been, for many years, the belief that you must not make eye contact with dogs because they will view that as a challenge, and god help you then. In fact, if you don't make eye contact with a dog, they will view you as submissive and not worth consideration, or worse, for the unexpecting, worth challenging. Dogs can discern a lot from what they see in your eyes. And, there's this: if you don't meet the eyes of the dog, how are you going to know when that look in his eyes changes from considering to challenging?)

I have known of some trainers who take a "hands on" approach. I do not respect those trainers. You do not touch a dog, unless the owner gives you leave to, and/or the dog indicates it accepts you. This goes for leash work, as well. The fact that you, the trainer can physically handle the dog lends nothing to the relationship between the dog and his person...regardless of how it may swell your ego.

Physical contact with a dog, any dog, imparts the need, or desire, for control. It violates a dog's sense of personal space, just as it does with people. In short, it rings of challenge. A dog allowing you to touch him/her indicates a huge level of trust. People tend to take for granted that they can just reach out and touch a dog, any dog. This is due to the fact that dogs often willingly accept the touch of strangers, because many dogs are genuinely submissive (the whole "domesticity" thing). It comes across as pretty much natural to them. But many dogs are just as equally not submissive. Many dogs view touch as invasive and challenging; dogs definitely have a sense of "personal space". If more people viewed this sort of thing the way it should be viewed, there would be far fewer problems between people and dogs.

Hank is a very sensitive dog. He's young, just over two years. For our first two weeks, I never laid a hand on Hank. I spoke to him, made eye contact with him, played with him when he involved me, fed him, took him to and from his pen when I felt he was open to it. Yes, I petted him, stroked him, but only when he indicated he was comfortable with it, when he came to me, or dropped down at my feet. I never forced him, never forced myself on him. It was always up to him.

After the two week bonding period, I then began handling him physically (an important incident occurred, which I will share later, that changed things subtly between us).

Hank is headstrong, but not unruly. He also had some bad habits, which she realized she had brought about, due to some unfortunate circumstances, and then just letting things go on as they had. But Hank is of a biddable breed, and is highly intelligent. His self-control was easy enough to address, easy enough to instill. When I had to restrain him physically, I did so quickly, a gentle hold of the scruff or shoulders, pulling him back or just holding him in place. Each time, I told him, in a firm, level tone, "Hank, wait." Or, "Hank, get back." I was never overly aggressive, just firm and unwavering. If he was on the bed or the sofa, I would gently shove him off, and tell him, "Hank, off the sofa," or "Off the bed". But I never overwhelmed him with that physical contact. It was the voice I was more concerned with. Overwhelming a dog with touch only teaches him to avoid your touch, if he's not open to it.

The important lesson here is that you do not have to be physical with a dog in order to teach. No more than you have to be with anyone else, when it comes to general education. If you have the right mentality, the ability to communicate, the dog will know it. And voice will suffice. If you need to get physical (and you may need to at some point), you have already established that you are in control (of yourself, at least), and that you can handle the next challenge.

Hank has been just as easy to teach as any dog I have worked with. His number one person, however, voices her impatience (with herself) and her confusion with some of Hank's idiosyncracies (more on those later).

But, overall, I've been very pleased with how Hank's education is progressing. And so is she.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hank's training: Part 2

Hank's training goes on without me currently. But I laid some very important groundwork.

She now refers to him as my dog. As in, "Your dog was very playful this morning." Or, "Your dog jumped on the bed tonight, but I politely asked him to get off, and he did." I softly remind her that he is not my dog, and she laughs and says, "Oh, I think he could be." This, of course, is partially true, but only if she were not in the picture, which she so obviously is, and so it is a moot point. He will never view me as his number one person; she will always be that. All I did was provide him with a focus, introduce him to self-control, thereby boosting his sense of self, and his self-confidence.

I spent the first two weeks bonding with him; all this involved was spending time with him, playing with him, feeding him, giving him the occasional cookie, speaking softly to him, petting him gently. Upping his vocabulary was a part of this, done casually. For instance, she used to use the word "treat" when giving cookies. But I've always found that it's easier to use two syllable words in certain instances, and so I used the word "cookie" when treating the dogs (before Spotty passed away, he was always the first recipient of said cookies, because he was the elder).

The next four weeks were spent teaching him a vocabulary, familiarizing him with words, and ascribing those words to actions.

Vocabulary is a huge part of training. It's all about education. One of the biggest mistakes people make when working with dogs is to use one word that becomes the word that is supposed to mean everything, and which, in the end, comes to mean nothing, and the dog is supposed to figure out what, exactly, is required of him.

 In my opinion, there are two words that are most often over-used: No, and Down. Think about it for a second: People use the word No so easily, so quickly, smoothly, and frequently, I've seen some joke that their dog's name could just be No, and to hell with everything else. Then there is Down, which is used when a dog is jumping on you, on the furniture, against the door, or on your company. Oh yes, and it's also used to get the dog to lie down, but for that, people will often say, "Lie down," which just further confuses the issue.

The one thing I always counsel people when training them (and it really is about training the people, since training their dog is relatively easy by comparison) is this: Think about what you want your dog to do, and then ask him to do that. For example, if you want your dog to get off of something (you, the furniture, your best friend) use the word Off. If you want him to stop doing something (digging, pestering the cat, looking for crumbs on the kitchen floor, sniffing your neighbour's groin area) use "Stop" or "Enough". These words should be used in conjunction with the dog's name, and, out of respect, phrased politely: "Hank, please stop." "Hank, that's enough." "Hank, off, please." Eventually, keeping vocabulary in mind, you progress to the stage where you are speaking to your dog as another intelligent being, forming sentences, and you can say something like, "Hank, stop pestering the cat, please," "Hank, get off the bed, please," "Hank, that's enough sniffing," etc.

Forming sentences furthers your dog's education and vocabulary. Basically, it forces your dog to pay attention, to listen for those key words. Just the same as it does for people.

I don't necessarily follow rules (because every dog is different), but one rule I adhere to strictly is that all requests are voiced politely, and, once the desired behaviour occurs, a thank-you of some sort should follow. It's all about respect, remember. So: "Hank, stop pestering the cat. Good boy." "Hank, get off the bed, please. Thank you." You may think this is all a bunch of hokey crap, but believe me, once you start treating your dog with respect, your dog will respect you. And once you see the results, you will understand my point.

 Always remember: Respect is earned.

Something I stress as hugely important: NEVER LOSE YOUR TEMPER.

Following this is: TRY NOT TO RAISE YOUR VOICE.

Anger has no place in a dog's world. It indicates you have lost control, and a dog will not respect you if you lose control.

By the same token, raising your voice is certainly useful at times, but as a continuous method of communication (and you might be surprised how many people do this day to day), raising your voice is another indication that you lack control, since most people raise their voice when frustrated, annoyed, upset, or angry. Keep your tone level and firm.You must always appear to be in control. If not, your dog will know, and will view you with little, or no respect.

Dogs learn by listening, and by watching. They are much more attuned to your tone and your body language, and you must be aware of this, just as they are. Raised voices and lost tempers result in fearful behaviour and/or aggression, just as it does in people.

Hank's training, as I said, currently goes on without me, but I left a solid groundwork, and she has been able to emulate me, and is able to continue his lessons without me present. And he is, by all reports, a happier, more playful, and more self-controlled 2 year old than he was.

But make no mistake: he's her dog. Not mine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A game of marbles

Have you ever played a game of marbles?

Small things, I believe, create big things. It's all about opportunity.

For the past 8 weeks, I have basically written nothing. I'm in the middle of a novel, and I have written next to nothing. Oh, I've penned the odd thought or two, and I've typed in a few opening sentences...but nothing that really leads to anything. Flotsam and jetsam, as it were...(which isn't accurate at all, if you know me, but let's just go with that for now).

And then, today, after days of anxiety, because I'd come to realize I had moral issues with what I had initially planned with my story line, and had decided to abandon, I finally gave serious thought to what I should do, not what some macabre part of my mentality had initially decided upon.

You don't come to these kinds of decisions easily. You come to them through a harrowing ordeal that demands you confront yourself and your innermost demons and angels, and you come out in the end with either something you can live with, or something you are shamed by, but will go ahead with anyway.

I prefer the former. Thank you very much.

So what I have done is not write a single constructive sentence, nothing that furthers my work in progress, until I know, for certain, that what I am writing is what furthers the story.

The story is everything.

And what came to me today, in review, is one sentence. "The words rolled off my tongue as smoothly as a marble across a tilted tabletop."

It was basically an innocuous statement. But today, when I reread it, I thought, No, wait...this sentence is far more than what it comes across as.

And it hit me...and I hit google. What I googled was "marbles."

You'd be surprised what information there is about marbles. I wasn't. (Very little surprises me.)

And this is what I came up with: 
"The words rolled off my tongue as smoothly as an agate marble across a table top."
* * *
Writing is not an exact science. This is what I have come to learn. I do not pretend to know what I do. I have never known how to verbalize what I do. I can only do what I seem to know. This sentence, after weeks of non-productivity, has provided for me an inlet that I can only liken to someone in a kayak looking for a seaswept current that brings them closer to something, some seaward view, they have dearly wanted to see.

I thought of marbles, and was bequeathed a world. All I had to do was ask. If you don't ask, you will never know the answer.

I've always been one to ask.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Throw me a bone...

It's been a month now. 

I have officially been in North Carolina for one month. I came here to strengthen my new relationship. I came here to write. I came here to help out as much as I could. 

One of the things I came here to help out with was this here puppeh (that's how she says it sometimes: "Oh, look at the handsome puppeh. Come here, you handsome puppeh!")

This is Hank, her two year old Border Collie/Sheltie cross. 

Hank was acquired at the age of 8 weeks, when Duncan, her first dog, was being treated for lymphoma. It was certain Duncan was going to die eventually as a result of the cancer, and so she wanted to get a puppy prior to that happening. One month later, and after two years of treatment at NC State, Duncan succumbed to his illness, dying in her arms. She was very devoted to him, and his sidekick and brother, Spot, who is now 15, and failing healthwise, as well. 

Hank hadn't always been quite as shy and skittish as he is now, but the indicators were there, for sure. He was a happy, playful puppy, reserved, but not overly so. As he grew though, he became more and more shy. She would take him out, to work, on walks, to the market where she would sit and have coffee and do a crossword puzzle. People continually came up to him, since he was and is very cute, and would want to pet him. He didn't like this, and often retreated as far away as possible. She thinks now that perhaps then she should have told people to stay away, and in fact she made a point of telling people that he was shy; but when you're trying to socialize your puppy, you don't tell people to stay away. Still, she sees now that perhaps it was all rather overwhelming for a puppy who didn't really feel comfortable with people to begin with.

And so, since just before his first birthday, Hank, an already shy puppy, just became more and more so. And then, to make matters worse, her father became ill. She spent the better part of a month getting up early, going off to work, going to the hospital, then coming home late at night. She had people who could and did look in on the dogs, but none who actively engaged them, and so Hank received little stimulation, and became more skittish. He also began suffering separation anxiety. And then her dad passed away, and likely that exacerbated things further. 

My job has been to evaluate Hank, and see whether he can be further socialized, so that basically he doesn't continue to freak out when people come close. She is amazed at how he has responded to me, but I am not, though I am pleased That may sound arrogant, but this is not rocket science. I raised and trained dogs for almost 20 years. You do come to expect some things after awhile. The first week I spent here, I basically ignored him, unless he came to me, and then I would speak softly, just a couple of words. He was very reluctant at first. But by the end of that week, he was freely coming up to me, allowing me to pet him, though I couldn't yet go up to him (if I did so, he bolted). By the end of that week, we had gotten to the point where he would wag his tail when he saw me, and would come up to me almost casually, brush against me with his nose or head, while keeping an eye on me the entire time. But the main breakthrough, at that time, was when, while playing fetch with her, he started bringing me his toy to throw. That meant far more than any one thing up til that point, believe me. 

During this current six week visit, my intention was to spend the first two weeks bonding with him (I do not believe in handling someone else's dog unless that dog and I have a rapport. I will not just take your dog from you and show you what to do with him/her. I am in the minority with that particular mindset, but I'm used to that. I have no respect for any so-called trainer who takes someone's dog from them). The bonding period went extremely well. His training is now proceeding as planned, with some minor hitches. When I next blog on this topic, I'll give some insights as to his progress. It's quite fascinating.

I will leave off for now with this little note: In my experience, training dogs is not something that can or should be rushed. If you take your time, and not force yourself, if you try to understand the individual and approach them on their terms (rather than forcing them to adapt to yours, which never works anyway), you are usually guaranteed some level of success. If you approach a dog as the intelligent individual he/she is, if you show respect and consideration, you will receive it in turn. 

It's really no different than working with people...except I don't really like working with people. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Something should be said...

I enjoy dining out.

Within the last month or so, I've gone out for dinner twice. Both times with people I love very much. Each time, I've enjoyed engaging, stimulating conversation, witty exchanges, much laughter and connection. We sat close, leaned in closer, when something was said that required more concentrated attention. The food was excellent, the company even more so.

Each time (and there have been numerous other times this has occurred; I am choosing these two occasions because they were recent), there has been a table in very close proximity, where one or two individuals, seated with one or two or more, felt it necessary to speak at a much louder volume than anyone else present. The individuals were, without fail, male. One incident actually involved a cell phone ringing, and the male who had been speaking loudly, proceeded to answer his phone even louder, but kindly (I use the term loosely) left the table to continue the call.

(Please note: I am not singling out men here. It's just that, while I have noticed women being loud and obnoxious, it's usually in a social, group outing session, never in a dining situation.)

I am an outspoken individual, when I feel a situation warrants it. During both these dinners, I tensed, when the too loud vocalizations of the other person intruded on the conversation that was being carried on at my table. I get a certain expression, that is easily interpreted, and that I know for a fact causes anyone with me, and certainly did cause those who were with me on these occasions, to think Oh shit, and then say out loud, "It's okay, Rebecca. Just let it go. Restrain yourself (or something to that effect)." I am respectful of the wishes of those I am with; I understand the desire to avoid confrontation. I dislike confrontation myself. And so, in these situations, I restrain myself admirably.

But here's the thing: If no one takes the initiative, to inform these individuals that they are disruptive, that they are loud, and over-bearing, and self-indulgent, and overall annoying, such behaviour will continue. No one has the right to orchestrate my dining experience, simply because they have low self-esteem and a big mouth. No one has the right to intrude on what is a pleasant time spent with someone I care deeply for, simply because they harbour feelings of self-importance, are obviously narcissistic, and haven't the wit to realize how truly deplorable their behaviour is.

I have, on these occasions, uttered words that have been considered confrontational (please note I did not say muttered). The difference between my voice and theirs, however, is pitch. I am very, very self-aware. And I know how to pitch my voice so only the subject I am addressing hears what I say. It's called "directing". I've trained dogs, successfully and for many years. Dogs are very keen to a person's pitch. It's something I've tried to teach, but it's not easy to do so. It's a very important skill to learn, directing your voice, keeping it at just the right pitch, so it's heard by those who need to hear it, and no one else. Not everyone realizes I can do this, and I find I have to reassure them, when they caution me. I take their cautions seriously, and I do not do what I sorely wish I could, because their comfort matters more to me than mine.

But again I ask: If no one says anything, does the other person learn anything? Do they learn to modify themselves, their behaviour, or do they just continue to be boorish, irritating, and over-bearing, because those who are annoyed wish to avoid confrontation?

I know the answer. You do too. And I will, with each situation, govern my own behaviour accordingly.

Maybe those I am speaking of could do the same.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


So lately, I've been blogging on about this wonderful woman I'm in love with.

I think it's important to share what you love with others. I have done this with my art, with my dogs, with books I love; with music, and movies, and, obviously, depending on the individual, women.

I love many things, in many ways.

But let me introduce you to one other love of mine:

This is Shane.

Shane is a 1998 Chevy Malibu LS. I bought Shane in April of 2004. A birthday gift to myself. Shane is the finest car I have ever owned. I love this car. She is sleek, roomy, easy on the eyes, she handles so very well, and is the smoothest ride I've ever experienced. And yes, I named her (if you love something, it deserves a name).

Shane had the unfortunate experience (which I unwittingly subjected her to) of having to spend time with someone who did not care for her as she should have been cared for. Basically, Shane got trashed. She spent almost a year with someone whom, out of the goodness of my heart, I'd lent her to. And she got trashed. Once I got her back, it took me some time, and a lot of money, to get her closer (there's still some work left to do) to her original condition.

Today, I had her seatbelts restored. A certain neurotic Labrador (not mine) ate the originals. This was a costly endeavor, though you might not think so. Trust me, I tried to do it myself. It would have cost substantially less had I been able to do the work. She has beautiful new seat covers now, as well. The detailing of her interior is not something I can afford just yet (if you saw it, you'd know what I mean), which leads me to mention that some people are unmentionable (and disrespectful) slobs.

But Shane is once more (almost) back to her complete self...and her ride is as smooth as ever. And when I mention I'm driving with the windows down, the stereo blasting, singing at the top of my lungs? That's cuz Shane has a fine sound system.

You gotta love a fine car. And sometimes that car is not the latest model. Sometimes that car is one of the finest models.

I love my car.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Politics be damned

I am not a political person. I do not engage in political discussions, I do not pretend to understand politics, I pay the barest attention to politics, period.

Having said that, I do actually pay attention. I am certainly aware of the political disparity between my country and the country right next door. Living in Canada, I am aware of how fortunate I am. Being a lesbian, and being in love with a woman who lives in a state that does not recognize same sex marriage, the disparity between my country and her state becomes glaringly obvious.

It seems very unfair to me that I, a responsible, thoughtful, loyal and compassionate citizen of my country, who just happens to have fallen in love with someone, who just happens to be a woman, and is also a responsible, thoughtful, loyal and compassionate citizen of her country, are denied, simply because of our sexual orientation, the opportunity, the promise, of being able to share our lives simply because some close-minded individuals have decided that what is not right in their eyes (read: mind) should extend to the entirety of a populace.

Now, granted, I get that, in some countries, I could be put to death for even admitting that I felt this way about another woman. Were I heterosexual, there would be no problem whatsoever. Death for loving whom I'm "supposed" to love? God forbid!

But I'm not talking about those countries. I'm talking about mine and hers.

It seems so very wrong to me that I can spend my entire life waiting for someone like her (and I really have), and that were she male, this would not be an issue. It seems so very wrong to me that what I want, to marry someone whom I love, whom I've found to be completely compatible, who suits me in all the ways that anyone would say makes a perfect match, is denied this, simply because there are close-minded individuals, in some small part of a vast country, who can't see beyond their own prejudices, and are allowed a voice; a voice that speaks of that blatant prejudice and carries enough weight that I am not allowed a form of happiness that they take for granted.

Now, please understand, I will do whatever it takes to guarantee my happiness. I know that she will do likewise. Walking away is not an option. Abandoning her is not an option. She is a living, breathing, feeling human being, and so am I. And if any of those close-minded individuals were in our place, they would think twice, or not think at all, before changing their viewpoints. I'm not really clear on the "well, that's you, this is me" mindset, when it comes to basic rights. I only know that, in this case, if I wanted to marry her, or she, me, we could, and it would be recognized here, but not there.

There are times when I wish I was straight, or I wish I understood the attraction to males. Because it would be so much easier, and that is something I think that many of the heterosexual populace just don't get. They are privileged. We are not.

In some countries, I could be killed for loving her. In some countries, loving her does not mean I can legally marry her, or be attributed any benefits for being in a relationship with her. In some countries, I can be denied access to her in a hospital, were she dying or not.

It appalls me that this is so blatantly wrong, and yet it continues.

But I love her. Make no mistake. I do love her.

Your politics cannot change that.