Monday, March 24, 2014

The Best Things In Life Are Free

In December, I read two great books, which I enjoyed for very different reasons: A Grumpy Book by Grumpy Cat and Plenty In Life Is Free by Kathy Sdao. 

Plenty in Life is Free is meant to call into question the dog training philosophy Nothing in Life is Free (often abbreviated NILIF, which I pronounce in my head as "nil if", which made me wonder if PILIF should be pronounced like pilaf?). As Kathy Sdao points out, trainers and veterinarians (Ashley The Vet = guilty!) love to espouse NILIF to get people to take back control of their ill-behaved dogs. She gives a great explanation of the downsides of complete NILIF, although I can’t imagine anyone took my advice that seriously. I was just hoping dogs might learn something if their owners asked for a sit before dinner. Nonetheless, her arguments are solid and her solutions are just as easy to implement. 

I love the straightforward, simple-yet-scientific approach, particularly her concept of SMART. SMART stands for See, Mark, and Reward Training. See your dog doing something you like? Mark the behaviour and give a reward. I've consciously tried to incorporate SMART into my daily life with my dogs (using whatever treats come in our monthly Bark Box), with great success.

For example, I've made a point to reward the dogs on and off for checking in and waiting for me on off leash hikes (called a variable reinforcement schedule). This is actually a throw back to "old fashioned" dog training. When I got my first dog at 9 years old, my grandma told me to keep a bit of food in my pocket and every time the dog came up to me on her own, give her a piece of food. This was how my grandpa taught all his dogs to stick close to him, while farming in the 1940s and 50s. Now, I have to tell Tiki “Go” to send her back out for free time when she constantly checks in, because OMG FOOD!!

If you have any interest in dog training, definitely read Plenty in Life is Free. And before you think that I am some sort of master dog trainer, please note that as I sit writing this in a coffee shop, there are visible bite marks in the bottom left corner of the book, courtesy of whichever one of my dogs grabbed it off the coffee table while I was at work.

Still, it was better than their review of the Grumpy Cat Book...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Wonderful Thing About Jake Milner

I recently brought Eric this mug back from Disney's Animal Kingdom:

Since Jake's nickname is Tige (a reference to his tiger stripes), Eric will say "Tige? Is that you?", which has prompted me to sing a little song to Jake for the last month.

The wonderful thing about Tiggers 

Is Tiggers are wonderful things!

Their tops are made out of rubber

Their bottoms are made out of springs!

They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy

Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun! 

But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers

is I'm the only one!!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Alma Matters

The dictionary defines alma mater (derived from the Latin for fostering/nourishing mother) as "the school, college, or university that someone attended". In my mind, with my tendency towards hyperbole and vivid imagination, I imagine an Ivy League campus, where I'd be on the rowing team. In my own experience, I never felt such a deep, romanticized connection with either university I attended. I didn't, as I imagined, leave school with fond memories, and go on to wear a well-worn sweatshirt from my beloved alma mater on Sunday mornings while lounging around the house or walking the dogs. I've never really liked school, and I never really reminisce about the wonderful times I spent at university.

After my third year of vet school, I had a summer job working at the Winnipeg Humane Society, essentially as a (supervised) veterinarian. I loved that job more than any other work I had ever done, and got out of bed every morning excited to go to work. I spent the whole summer in Winnipeg, and felt that I gained more from those few months than the rest of school combined. At the end of the summer, I left behind some wonderful friends and colleagues, who were just as sad as I was to see me go back to Saskatoon. Two of the doctors that I worked with gave me a parting gift of a WHS t-shirt, a gift that moved me to tears and that I wore with pride. I loved it so much, and everything that it represented, that I still have it, despite its well-worn, holey appearance.

Now on Sundays, I get up and, without realizing it, reach for my WHS t-shirt; Eric will laugh,"Oh, you're wearing your dog walking shirt again." Seems I found my alma mater after all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Some Days

Fittingly enough, as I drove to work that Friday, I mulled over my love/hate relationship with my job. When it's great, it's the best job in the world. I can't imagine doing anything else. When it's bad, it's heartbreaking and takes a piece of your soul that you never get back.

It was one of those days. I had two euthanasias scheduled, and a third happened quickly when an emergency appointment revealed the dog was dying of terminal cancer. We literally had no more room to store any remains until our crematory pickup.

One euthanasia had been scheduled by the rescue that I work closely with. Doing outreach in marginalized communities is the most difficult type of work to be doing, and they handle it with compassion and patience. The dog I was scheduled to euthanize was senior, with serious health problems that had been neglected for years, and a flea infestation so bad I could watch them scurry across his back between his remaining hairs. I couldn't in good conscious let him return to his owner, even with treatment, as I would be sending him back into the same situation that caused the problem. His owner signed his euthanasia consent form and left in tears. I walked him to the back.

He walked happily beside me, took treats, and enjoyed the tasty canned food we fed him for his last meal. I drew up the syringe that would end his life and placed it on the counter. I looked into his trusting eyes and he wagged his tail at me.

In all my clinic experience, private practice, the teaching hospital, a shelter, I've always understood the necessity of euthanizing animals, even in cases where I don't agree 100% with the decision, because it is a part of reality. This is my job. But as I looked at this dog, for the first time ever, I couldn't do it. I just couldn't.

Some days I hate my job. I was stuck between a rock and hard place. I couldn't go through with it, yet I couldn't send him back where he came from, and I couldn't move forward with saving him without his owner's permission. I also couldn't risk the owner feeling that we had stolen the dog after she asked for help; if word spread through the community that we were in it to take everyone's pets away, no one would trust us and let us help their animals.

After several phone calls to the rescue co-ordinator, and several anxious hours waiting to hear confirmation that his owner would surrender him, we got the phone call. His owner would relinquish all claim to him. By now he'd had a few good meals and flea treatment, and had several people lined up to foster him.

Yes, some days I hate my job. But not today.