COVID-19

Jason is my second husband and I like to think that the hard lessons learned in my first failure, make me my best self in this one. I am hyper vigilant to monitor my expectations of Jason. My list is my list. His list is his list. If I am overwhelmed he steps in to re-organize and  prioritize so I can focus. It works this way and no other.

As clients started cancelling their spring break reservations with the kennel, Jason become a full time fixture in my daily routine. The teenagers transitioned effortlessly into “summer” mode. Joey started a full time job working with machinery and metal and mud! In his spare time he renovated his room and built a loft in his cabin. Michael worked very hard to get as many hours at Save-on as he could to avoid farm chores. Peytanne focused her time painting her room and staying digitally socialized. Her Telkwa School was diligent and proactive in their distance learning. The daily workload included Zoom art lessons, Gymnastics, and science projects. Journaling and reading seem like self driven activities…unless you are a 12 year old girl whose 2 older brothers have no focused direction.

Organizing grade 7, 9, and 11 into one family driven lesson was without question demanding. I set up flip board charts, created schedules, clearly outlined the rules and had a family meeting to explain how the COVID-19 schooling would commence. Politicians promised students that their grade would remain the same no matter what. (Thank gawd for the off button on the remote!) I silently thanked the universe for a slow kennel so I could spend time with my kids and work on grades that were already set in stone. Michael’s silent eye roll and exaggerated breathing was easier to handle than Joey’s smirky twinkle coupled with hiiillllariousssss ways to say “no!”. Peytanne’s look of misery as she doodled during her pretend reading session was expected and I appreciated her effort of simply sitting at the table.

As my kennel duties turned to teacher duties, money issues started leaking out of the cracks. The research into politicians promises of help for small business (“the back bone of the economy!”) was grueling and frustrating. My small business met none of the criteria of eligibility for support. My expectations of government funding did not disappoint. The RDA was given a large budget to help people like me, and I appreciate their effort of answering my phone call. As teacher duties became investigative journalism chores, my expectations started leaking out.

While we worked, we all counted on Jason to drive us back and forth and pick up a few extra chores. Five minutes after his first “teaching” session with his angelic daughter he walked calmly into the grooming room, sat down and simply said “no”. In Jason’s recount I can see Peytanne’s red eyes focus on him…hold her breath…purse her lips…firmly grasp her mechanical pencil and methodically release threads of black lead onto the table. As quick as he arrived in “quitting teacher” mode, he switched gears to “positive student”. He promised to work with me and zip through grooming to make up lost boarding income. Two minutes into my lesson, Jason’s eye glazed over. I tried to get his attention a couple times before I quit.  With a sigh of unmasked relief he was dismissed. Jason is an absolute artist in the way he tunes me out…most times I can be talking to him after ensuring his focus and direct eye contact and he honestly cannot repeat back to me what I’ve said, and that is when he is listening.

My expectations of Jason listening to me have always been very, very low. Instead I resorted to a honey-do list…a full flip chart sheet of endless “must do’s”. I let go of any expectations I had in the hour I was creating the list as I watched him sip his coffee while his eyes drifted slowly from the list to the floor. In an effort to be involved he would throw out a question that to him had no answer. He left the kitchen to make his usual morning rounds checking on the animals and interrupting my complicated new accounting system to tell me someone had pooped in the kennel and he was headed to the dump…again. After patiently waiting for an acknowledgment of the honey-do list in any form, I switched to reverse psychology. His honey-do list turned into a full page of humorous tasks that I wrote with Peytanne while I tried to teach her the art of sarcasm. A very important life lesson when you are a diva! My expectation that he would refocus on the honey-do list exploded into another trip to town. Jason stopped me outside that day and asked if my expectations were always this high. This was my slap to wake up and refocus on what is important. This family is important. I just need to set new goals for myself.

Yes, sometimes my expectations are too high. Many times I simply cannot control my brain to set new goals…first I must get rid of the thing that I am expecting someone else to do. In the last 2 months the boys have checked on the pets, filled their water and food bowls, brought them scraps from the kitchen and walked away quickly before noticing the huge pile of chicken manure impeding their roost, or the algae covering the large fish tank that holds a single solitary goldfish, or the fencing that needs to be secured around the bunnies to keep them safe. As Jason starts his return to the mill, the chores pile at my feet like the chickens stinking pile of shit that I thankfully can not smell.

Last night I locked the chickens in their filthy coop. Soon I will head out and load them into the crates Jason picked up from a friend. He insisted on having chickens five years ago, what a grand idea that was! He also wanted a goat and a pig…thank gawd I won those arguments! I really do love my chickens. The rooster I named after my Uncle Rick, and he is anything but a “dick”. He sits on my shoulder and is mostly kind to the hens. Nobody wants him and so I will not load him into the crates. I sat in the coop last night and tried to determine who his favorite girls are so I could leave him with company. His favorite isn’t hard to pick out, she has a bare back and is always the first to bed and the last to come out in the morning. She will not be staying with us. I hope she finds some peace in the free range she will find in her new home. I will keep my lovely buff brahma “Lady” who is chronically ill. I will also keep the orphington girl named “Nettle” as she likes her routine and the stress of finding her place in the new flock will be stressful for her. I am also keeping one of the backyard mixes “Baby” that hatched here as her crop is always very full and wiggles when she walks. I can give her the extra attention to keep her eating her grits. With my 3 needy girls and my sweet rooster I wonder who will be the next favorite hen for Richard. As long as his “beyond prime” body focuses on protecting and guiding the hens he will have a coop and harem to call his.

Letting go of my dream to be part of a small farm has been overwhelmingly hard. It started with Bob the cow, then the sheep (Sally & Stella), last fall it was the pony and the last of my sheep, sweet Aghy. With the future absence of the chickens, rabbits and goldfish I am looking forward to beating down the knee high grass in my round pen so me and Nucents can hit the trails. Again…my expectations are leaking out. The reality is that as our parents age and stubbornly refuse to make life changes it falls to me to make sure things are not slipping through the cracks. Ignoring cracks create crevices that are simply unmanageable. I say this as I sip my tea and let my gaze drift to the floor dreaming of a quiet horseback ride through the trees.

The expectations of being home for my kids while starting this business was laughable. Having them grow up on a farm and learn the reward of hard work was missed while I was cleaning up poop. As I give up the hopes I had I am careful to rein in my expectations of what the future will be.

I will give my friends and family all that I can in the form of a quick digital quote. Peytanne is easy as I search for diva quotes that promote self love and acceptance. Michael needs inspiring ideas to help him accept the unfairness of adult life. Joey is easy…stupid quotes that make him smile and start his day off on the right foot. Migon gets quotes about peace, quiet, nature, and love. Christie is easy…pull up the Budda quotes…nothing specific…just general solid advice from the guru of life. Mom gets my undivided attention every morning at 7am to discuss what she did yesterday, what she will do today and what the kids need. Raya gets my attention as I try to inspire her in business brainstorming sessions several times a week.

I will continue to endeavor to make paperwork flow, clients happy, keep things clean,  cherish the dogs around me, make self-care part of my routine, and simply let-go. Let-go of expectations. Let-go of unmanageable dreams. Let-go of clutter and sentimentality. Simplify and take each moment as it comes to me with love, admiration, and peace.

Peace begins when the expectations end. -Budda-

 

Puerto Morelos

Change is hard. If you don’t believe this…ask my Mom. Instead of embracing change or taking control of change, my Mom chooses to redirect her focus and ignore change. Subconsciously she is an expert in her field. When my Dad passed away tragically at the age of 53, just 2 months before the birth of his first grandchild, my Mother re-directed her entire physical and emotional being around the baby named in my Dad’s honor. That baby is now 5’11”, (1″ taller than his Grampa Mike, with aspirations to reach 6’4″ like his great Grandpa Smith) 16 years old and coming to the end of his 11th school year. Like me Michael is a procrastinator. Instead of embracing or controlling change in my life, I procrastinate.

Procrastinating is not a good feeling. Being productive is empowering…but even that is a double edged sword that can become all consuming until the truly important things fade into the background of routine life. It’s all about balance. I say that like I know what I’m talking about.

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I’ve spent my Mexican holiday focusing on embracing change, empowering  balance, and being present. I know, I know…the latest fashion phrases. I hear preaching of this new age thinking in so many different ways. We can talk about it until our throats are twisted and dry, but to actually live this way is difficult. Even the simple act of being present can be overwhelming and frustrating.

I spent a lot of time snorkeling this year and overcoming my unfounded anxiety of being underwater. This task was physically accomplished with a full face mask. I was able to feel in control by breathing through my nose or my mouth. When I had to adjust my seal, I didn’t watch the water creep up in front of my eyes like a car filling up with water as it sinks to the bottom of a watery grave. I will never go back to the old school masks again!

The act of working with the ocean current instead of fighting against it with my weak limbs was humbling and meditative. I had to watch the sea grass as it bent towards me in one solid pliable carpet and focus on inhaling one calm breath in…and letting it exhale as the grass moved away from me in the current…inhale, relax…exhale, kick, kick. When I got my timing right, the giant fins attached to my feet sent me floating effortlessly to the next mountain of coral waiting to be explored. I forgot to breath with the ocean when a giant eagle ray was flying around me. I yearned to keep pace with it and spread my wings as if in mirror image of the grace and majesty of this foreign creature. The invisibility of my awkward presence with the green sea turtle as he foraged through the sand and grass was surreal. How do you be emotionally present in such a moment of purity? As the group moved off, I worked to get my weak brain wrapped quickly around the words “endangered”, “wild”, “real”…and before I could truly be present…it was time to look for that next moment.

We looked into the rock caves to find giant lobsters, black eels with white markings, porcupine fish rocking against the sand in perfect ocean rhythm, rock hinds chasing grunts out of their space, and trumpets with tails pointed towards the sun and noses at the coral. Giant permit fish flashing silver in their small groups like huge silver dollars being shadowed by cleaner gobies and blue tangs. Giant nurse sharks were hiding under coral outcroppings with only their tails visible. Sea anemones that looked like underwater mushrooms with bulbous waving tips of purple and shafts of green or pink. There was so much to see that our group just kept kicking so we didn’t miss a single thing. Always looking for the next creature waiting to be discovered…exhale, kick, kick. Never being present for longer than the “inhale, relax”.

My favorite were the cuddlefish. Their plump little bodies in groups of 2 or 3 waving their fins around them like ribbons in the wind. Their large kind eyes looking up as they turned their tentacles towards me, the intruder, and flashed their warning iridescent colors from brown to blue to green in multiple patterns and symphonies. They prepared themselves to open their beaks and push themselves away from the threat in my solid bright colors and course gurgling noises. This is where I could find a true feeling of being in the moment, a real outer body calmness of being one with the ocean and focusing on nothing but the breath of the water embracing me. I was aware of the cool water on my calves and the warm water around my floating fingertips. I saw the sun rays filter and dance through the surface movement to land on the patterned sand. I could hear my breathing. My mind was clear. The true definition of meditating. Inhale, relax…exhale, relax…without words.

Within seconds an anxiety wrapped it’s claws around my chest and I forced my gaze to my leader who I could just make out past the point where the water gets murky. I said a silent thank-you to the cuttlefish vanishing from view as I “inhale…kick,kick…”fighting the current, “exhale…kick,kick…” to find my safety in numbers.

In my dog training experience, I teach a well known method called shaping. Shaping is a way of teaching a complex behavior in small steps. There is a delicate balance to each step…wait too long and the end goal is lost, move too fast and the goal is unreachable. What I learned during my “inhale, relax”, is to embrace the success of being present in that small window of time and know that it is only one step towards being truly present in my life.

I focused on being in the moment during my holiday. The enlightening thing about this quest was that time moved slowly. I could take in the sun and really absorb it into my soul. Life balance didn’t seem so hard to hold onto. Taking the sun into my soul didn’t become something that I couldn’t get enough of. The appreciation of that moment stayed with me, because it was real. This was the first year I did not take the beach (a jar of sand) home with me. I did not worry about the future without the beach because it was within me.

I was surprised at how looking to the next moment sped up time so that I missed the things in front of me. This is where anxiety sits, waiting, and stewing to take away my breath. The future robs me of my present. My first son begins the final step in his high school journey this year. We must look into the future and help him plan, despite my anxiety. I will focus on being present so this next year with him lasts forever.

Change is coming. We cannot stop it. We cannot control it. We cannot re-direct it. We cannot block it. We can be prepared and fight the anxiety of the future with mindful meditation in every moment. Fight change with focus, love and being present. Being present in the way the honey draws circles as it falls onto my spoon or the way my finger follows the fur up the forehead of my pup. Being wholly present in hugging my towering son, watching him eat, stuffing his hands in his pockets, covering his hair with a hood, or listening to his adult voice say things that I heard when he was little. Being present in my family so I am never without them. This is how I control change.

We want what we want.

More puppies with all those in rescue and pounds waiting to die?

It would be a lie to say that this comment directed at me from my beloved Uncle Rick was not hurtful. One of the many reasons I love him so deeply is his passion. It’s a Smith family trait. Fiery, driven, passionate, opinionated, dramatic and frankly a tad bit devious. We have all made choices in how to direct that inherited drama. For most of the Smith girls this means directing it at each other. Uncle Rick was brilliant in redirecting his drama into his work, his life is about enjoying the fruits of his labor. He enjoys travel, warm climates, and life’s greatest comforts…but he does so in a bubble. A bubble he created to keep him safe from the misdirection of his many sisters. Who can blame him!

I inherited my drama from my mother. I like to think that in sharing my genes with my levelheaded, fun loving father I was able to dilute that trait. I have been proved wrong time and time again. The reason for this could be that my father came from solid backgrounds of Russian and Irish. His calm, passive side was most likely a learned trait!

In following my passion for animals I was dedicated to our small town vet clinic. Dr. Martin was passionate about rescuing and helping low income owners be responsible. We worked closely with Lakes Animal Friendship and Turtle Gardens Rescue to be a force in our town to stop overpopulation and abuse. Year after year we worked together to host free spay/neuter clinics, cost discounts for shelter dogs, and the capture and release of wild community cats. We had guest surgeons come in and teach us how to sterilize animals with high efficiency. It was an exciting time for me, I felt alive and safe in our tight knit rescue circle. I became one of those clinic staff that openly judged breeders because I saw them as the problem. If I made them feel bad maybe they would reconsider their actions. I actually thought I had a position that gave me the power to use guilt to save animals that had no voice. Another Smith family trait, I’m afraid…guilt as a weapon! My pedestal in my own mind was so far in the clouds I started right fighting with the people closest to me. If I couldn’t guilt the puppy mills into changing, maybe I could educate the people I love to not support them. The fall from that pedestal was hard, I think I broke every bone bouncing off the sharp canyon ridges on the way to the rocky ground. https://burnslakevetclinic.ca/community-services/ https://www.lakesanimalfriendship.ca/

My frustration in not being heard by the people I was trying to guilt or educate enclosed around me. Meanwhile the defeat felt by the rescue groups was just as palpable for me. The free clinics being used by wealthy families instead of low income, intact community cats being “claimed” by hoarders, Turtle Gardens organisation ripping apart from the inside, the thriving of puppy mills and abuse, finding & keeping volunteers, political & legal hoops, financial instability…the list is extensive.

Turtle Gardens operators started out as selfless people who gave up everything they had to take in and re-home unwanted pets. Dave would travel miles to break into an abandoned house and rescue an emaciated mother with 6 newborn puppies. The gas money came from supporters who saw the pretty picture Yvette painted with her blogs and social media. The truth was dirty, poor, disease ridden and painful. Dave’s idea of rehabilitation was to let the pack teach the new arrivals how to behave. A theory, at it’s basics, that is very traditional. It was easy for me to support Dave & Yvette in their passion. I could overlook the poop stained jeans of the scruffy man who carried 4 puppies in his arms to see the vet as vomit dripped down his shirt. He knew each and every dog by heart alone. They were all named Fred, but their hearts defined them. The stories he brought in with him of the neglect, abuse and cruelty surrounding these rescues was disturbing. I felt proud to be part of the solution as I scrubbed my hands free of shelter stench. Turtle Gardens failed when Dave and Yvette could not physically do the job anymore. Their son took over creating chaos and running the shelter with an extreme notion of “rehabilitation” and a deliberate breeding philosophy of “mutts/rescues=money”. https://www.burnslakelakesdistrictnews.com/community/turtle-gardens-closed-for-intake-of-animals/ https://www.adoptapet.com/adoption_rescue/78533-turtle-gardens-spay-neuter-society-topley-british-columbia

Believe it or not this was not the breaking point of my soaring pedestal. It was only one of the cracks that started started quietly and slowly.

Uncle Rick sitting under his Texas palm trees, smoking his cigar with a crystal goblet of Brandy has probably never heard of Karin & Catherine Adams. In 2014 the SPCA seized 53 animals from Houston, in 2018 from Calgary another 16 dogs, and 8 more just weeks after that from a hotel room. Social media has been a formidable ally to follow these women and warn the community to keep a close eye on their pets. Our dogs happily jump into their van only to find themselves shoved into a tiny crate, deprived of food and water until they are rescued or sold. These cunning women love the game. They weave their tales of the perfect puppy while gathering multiple deposits and fees from waiting families. I first met Karin in my role as an assistant at the vet clinic. She was requesting our services to use as a defense against the SPCA. We knew who she was. We knew what she was doing. We knew her alias’, her cooperating family members, and the SPCA investigation. We headed out to her property to find anything we could to help the SPCA case. She knew we were coming. The property was spotless. The animals were healthy, pens dry, clean dishes full of food and water, clean shavings…not a spot of dirt! There was one emaciated horse with a documented medical record. We tried and failed to prove what we knew. The people who purchased animals from these women said they had no choice but to “rescue” the animal they paid for. Karin Adams started her empire here and has since spread out across BC and Alberta and even creeping farther East as their games go public. The more public her name and her game is, the higher the high she gets, as she sells another puppy to another family who simply wants what they want.  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-animal-cruelty-karin-adams-catherine-1.3275858 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/dogs-woman-arrested-seized-animals-distress-innisfail-charges-karin-adams-1.4753312 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/catherine-adams-sentencing-postponed-1.4795275

In 2017 the SPCA seized over 2 dozen animals at another local puppy mill. The operator was widely known in the horse community as having an ideal of “natural care”. Letting his herd of horses fend for themselves as wild horses do. The horse community clearly ignoring the reasons that wild horses became extinct on this continent over 10,000 years ago. The property owner came into the clinic one cold winter day and told me about the litter of puppies he just had. He was thankful that most of them died outside as he could only sell 2 or 3 of them. The SPCA investigation was aided by the passionate people of our “rescue family”, dedicated to bringing down this well established operation. The evidence pictures showed old dog houses falling into holes that had begun as dirt circles pounded into the ground by the feet of the mother dogs. Dogs tied by short chains to spend their days running round and round the piece of wood that was their home. There was no water for these dogs, no food. The horses that couldn’t survive on their own got eaten by the dogs who had nothing else. A “natural” circle of life. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-spca-animals-seized-1.4026091

The same story, the same investigation, the same consumers. Different abusers, different excuses, different animals. Here is where another crack in my failing foundation crumbles along the edges threatening a clearly unstable “me” at the top.

My work at the vet clinic was inspiring, dedicated, humbling and self-righteous. My co-workers were like family to me. I loved them, looked up to them, followed them and took on their beliefs. I also made excuses for them. A co-workers puppy was bought from that exact same “natural care” puppy mill. My excuse for her was that she simply didn’t know. She called her dog a “rescue” loud and clear to all who would listen. After the investigation, the evidence, the shut down…she bought another puppy from him. She said no money changed hands so she was not actually supporting him. She traded her new “rescue” puppy for farm equipment. This was my breaking point. She looked down on me from the god like position I put her in and with a single, slow moving, deliberate middle finger pushed me off the edge to lay broken on the rocks below. As hard as we all worked towards a common goal, at the end of the work day we went home to our purchased puppies because like everyone else “we want what we want”.

As I lay in pieces on the rocks that used to be my pedestal, looking up at the blue sky I concentrated on the single cloud over my head that rained hopelessness, frustration and a complete dissolution of my identity. Clearly the issue of overpopulation and abuse is NOT solved by rescue groups, or the SPCA. The issue is US. The issue is the human condition. The issue is our gawd given right to dominate the earth regardless of the consequences. We don’t even care enough about our own children living in a garbage filled toxic environment enough to recycle. We can’t physically see what’s on the other side of the door so we selfishly ignore it. “We want what we want.” It’s easy for puppy mills to take advantage of this because we let them. The solution is not to track Karin Adams, or trade farm equipment for a puppy. The solution is not to leave it to the SPCA or the rescue/shelter groups. The solution is not to shame, guilt or educate other people. The solution is US. We need to take off the blinders, look inward to our own choices, care about what is on the other side of the door, trust our instincts, and welcome the consequences. We need to stop making excuses, pop our bubbles, stop idolizing “rescuers”, and stop lying to ourselves.

My Uncle Rick is passionate…in his bubble. His bubble keeps him safe and I will not be the person who pokes a big fat pin in it when his back is turned…but… The truth is that his bubble lives in Texas. Google pure-bred rescue in Texas and there are pages of rescue groups! Let alone mixed breed rescue/shelters! If you live in Texas you are physically able to rescue any type of dog you could ever want. You can have what you want! In rural, northern BC it is not this easy. As passionately out spoken as he is about rescuing dogs he is equally as passionate about Boxers. It’s easy to see why, Boxers are spirited, fun loving, goofs that match Uncle Rick’s personality seamlessly. Uncle Rick once lived in BC where he wanted what he wanted and purchased purebred Boxers. I better put that pin back in my pocket!! The ugly truth is that those Boxer breeders are the very reason why there are Boxer shelters and we are the reason why that Boxer breeder breeds. Without education and support from those breeders, dogs pay the price. When we chose to support breeding operations, do we know what those operators stand for? Will they, without question or judgment support their puppies? Will they ask about you and the environment their puppy will live in to set you up for success? Will they turn you away when you must give up your dog? If we all walked away from the answers that don’t support our new puppies, NO dog would ever be in a shelter. We need to hit the issue at the source, the breeders. We can get hung up on the definition of puppy mill vs back yard, buying vs rescuing or we can simply choose as a collective to support each other in making the RIGHT choice. Supporting breeders who support their puppies will shut down puppy mills. Supporting breeders who support their puppies will keep dogs out of shelters. We are the issue. We are the solution. Consumers have the ultimate power.

I am confident that I can see the consequences of my choices. I know how my actions affect abuse and neglect. I know what I stand for. I know who I am. I know that I am finally part of a real solution. I had to see the issue from every side, I had to accept my role in the issue, I had to be brave enough to stand up for what I believe is the solution. My passion makes me a Smith at heart. This 2300 word blog is my response to a single sentence from my Uncle Rick. Fiery. Driven. Passionate. Opinionated. Dramatic. Proud. I am proud to be 1/2 Smith, 1/2 Russian-Irish!

It’s getting harder and harder to choose the right breeder. My advice is to ask your breeder for references. References from people who the breeder did not sell to, and people who returned their puppies, people with puppies and adult dogs. Ask those references about the breeders support and education. Talk to your breeders. Are they open and honest? Do they have a website, facebook site? Do they always have puppies available? Do they have a contract? Purchasing a puppy is not the issue, purchasing from the wrong breeder is. Breeders of pure-bred perfect Boxers can be the wrong breeder. The proof of that is physically seen in Boxer rescues. We can all choose to be part of the solution, we just have to want it.

 

Kennel Newsletters

My very first Newsletter came out last month and included a little blurb about the foundation of modern dog training, how daycare routines change with the weather, business planning and an overview of our services, mission and contact information.

I hope to continue discussing training foundations using this newsletter as a template. I want to illustrate the core concept of leadership as it webs out to communication, bonding, boundaries, and focus before we ever start basic obedience.

My newsletters will be a catalyst for things to come at Bakers Acres. A heads up for what’s coming down the pipes…like conclusions from business planning…ugh! 2020 will see a new way of invoicing and slight increases in pricing. Our January newsletter will outline some exciting new services including shared, real time grooming sessions.

Nov

My second Newsletter (Dec) is out today and includes kennel holidays for Winter and the coming Spring. My wonderful husband (yes, I’m kissing butt!) surprised me with a ticket to Mexico to see my Mom in February. The cold weather affects my mood and Jason knows that without something to look forward to, the winter for me is eternal. I have no illusions about how my mood affects Jason and that this ticket may just be a survival tactic for him.

The second training discussion focuses on communication and how we can use this concept to promote bonding, trust, leadership and stop behaviors before they become an issue.

I’ve included a short overview in the December newsletter of an upcoming grooming handout. As a groomer I find myself explaining the same things over and over. We are all torn between keeping a long coat for warmth during cold weather and keeping our pups comfortable. Matting is a real issue not only for comfort but for insulation, insects, dirt…things that can make a real difference to the overall health of your dog.

Dec

My newsletters are directed at my daycare clients but I believe there is some compelling information that we can all learn from and so I’ve decided to share with everyone. I hope you enjoy.

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Walter

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Danzy

Potty Mouth

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

So said the great Albert Einstein. Clearly the man never worked in a dog kennel. He was right about one thing…timing is essential for minimizing repetitive chores. Still I find myself flirting with the clock so my monotonous figure eight is, at the very least, efficient. It takes only seconds for a miscalculation to end in hours of scrubbing.

Scrubbing floors, blankets, furry feet and fluffy ears. Yes, even I, can make scrubbing sound cute and fun. After all, my job is simply playing with dogs all day. Right? A few muddy feet and full dinner dishes…what else needs to be done besides an entertaining bout of fetch, a relaxing snuggle in the sun, or a rousing game of tag?

There is one very important personal trait that allows me to do this job well, my complete lack of smell. You would think that after the first time of watching chlorine vapors rise from a urine soaked mop to burn my sinuses I would stop mixing bleach into my cleaning routine. My ingrained need to be clean simply will not allow me abandon the cleaning power of bleach just because chemistry can magically take 2 liquids and create gas. Thanks Mom! The irony is that I now have to wait for someone to start gagging before I realize I missed a soiled blanket.

Now you are all sitting there and asking yourself how I could possibly missed a soiled blanket. Well…let me tell you…at bedtime I tuck an exhausted, adorable, chocolate tri, Cocker Spaniel into his room. I’ve carefully pre-planned Charlie’s early dinner 3 hours before and during this final romp with all his buddy’s, I have carefully set him up with clean blankets, a full water bowl, and a nylabone. He loves to dig the light fleece blanket into the heavy cushions underneath until he gets just the right nest to curl up in and dream away the quiet night. In the morning he lifts his tired head and asks to sleep in a little bit longer. I can see that he buried his nylabone overnight in his blanket nest and is sleeping on it so nobody finds his prize.

He’s the first one I shoo out the door with tired eyes and this is where timing becomes essential…everyone wants out at the exact same time…the silent click of the front door is the “freedom bell”. I’ve strategically arranged bedrooms with puppies in the first run so I can quickly pull the cord on the guillotine door and they can relieve their tiny bladders outside. The older dogs are on the right hand side of the kennel and will be let out the front door into the yard as a single charging gang. Bing bang boom, in 10-20 seconds on the clock, everyone has outdoor access to deposit their night’s built up waste.

Despite strategic “puppy placement” the baby had to go doodie sometime during the night. In his excitement to see me in the morning he ran through his soft “away-from-home” stress poop leaving adorable little brown puppy prints from one end of his room to the other. His brown caked paws have jumped up inside his room and have literally flung the smelly butt mush up the walls while small drips have boomeranged over his head and landed in his fur. I count my lucky stars that he wasn’t tall enough to fling dung droplets over the barrier to land on me. As if the puppy poo room wasn’t bad enough, when one pooch smells tushy tots in the warm enclosed kennel overnight they all feel the primal urge to empty their colons. After 4 mop buckets, 3 loads of laundry, disinfectant, smelly candles and good open air session the kennel is once again clean. On my way out of the kennel I grab the poop scoop and start removing the deposits on the path from the main kennel door to the front gate preparing for the arrival of my 9am appointment.

Believe it or not there is a special skill in handling the pooper scooper. The first line of defense is in the scan…discerning poop from rocks and leaves is a “Where’s Waldo” cartoon that usually ends up with the sole of my shoe finding it before my aging eyes do. Solid, healthy, non-squished butt nuggets can be flung with the metal rake into the scoop like an expert golfer tapping the ball just the right way so it lands in the hole. Trampled pancake stink wads show off my expertise at maneuvering the rake tines under the flat mass and gently pulling upwards to untangle the grass or cedar bark from the hotcake. If you pull too hard the edges will break apart and crumble forcing me to pick up tiny pieces of the camouflaged explosion. The flat metal scoop is a challenge all in itself…dogs love to poop on things. I remember my first pup Shylo would carefully position his butt over Gramma’s perfectly placed and pruned planters to deposit his surprise. The scoop’s flat edge makes it hard to retrieve strategically placed poops from the tops of my garden rocks or bushes…tip it too much to one side and you loose the whole load, too high and the poop will land in pieces on grass under the scoop, too low and the poop will fly over and hit my feet.

In seeking validation for my endless doo-doo battle I tune into the “Twisted Groomer Humor” on facebook, the uplifting ladies on this site post cute pictures of caca piled into heart and pretzel shapes, dirty squirty rooms from newbies who disregarded the clock, poop in water dishes, pooped out toys, wrappers, and whole potatoes, poop on hands, under nails, and on bare flip flop toes. The virtual community gathers together in sympathy, understanding, camaraderie, and laughter to keep moving forward and not let the poop get us down.

After a full day of grooming and supervising doggies in my care, it is once again time to get everyone’s munchies ready. Dinner, Play, Bed. My routine pushes exhausted pooches outside to deposit any remaining butt truffles while I set up their bedrooms. Charlie’s bedding gets straightened and I pull out the hidden nylabone to make sure that Charlie doesn’t have to sleep on the hard knuckle. Hidden under the small fleece blanket with his nylabone…yep, you guessed it! Poop! Poop that has been dug into the fleece, covered up and slept on! This crepe turd peels seamlessly away from the blanket so I can start the last laundry load of the day.

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I clean up shite all…day…long. I know you are all thinking it’s not my dog! Believe me, it’s your dog, it’s every dog! They know where the magic doodie spot is at home, it smells like doo-doo! Just follow your nose! That singular yummy smelling magic spot doesn’t exist at the kennel. Mature dogs who have the routine down to a science at home can hold it an extra minute because they know the door always opens exactly at 8:13am.  We are all creatures of habit. They go potty at 8:13am. That’s all they know.

Albert Einstein was right there is a reason for time. But time doesn’t exist so that everything doesn’t happen at once…time exists to teach us humility. Time teaches us that we need to be organised with careful execution. If we get distracted and tune out the ticking of the clock, our execution fails and time speeds up to stab at our hearts with anxiety. Time is our ultimate teacher. Time is the parent who teaches us to fish. You can not conquer, cheat, or manipulate time…you must learn to work as a team, laugh when you fail and celebrate when you succeed. Well behaved takes time. Friendship takes time. Love takes time. Time gives us the free will to sink or swim. Time Management is a critical life skill that offers no safety net, no sympathy, no guidance, just a kick in the pants to keep us moving forward.

Courage

Any fool can know. The point is to understand.

Albert Einstein

3 elderly female beagles were abandoned near Burns Lake. They were clearly used consistently for breeding and were suffering from many serious health complications. This story is not about them.

Lakes Animal Friendship has again gone above the call of duty to offer rewards, find foster homes, provide medical care, kennels, food, blankets, and bowls. On their facebook page they are looking for the owners. The comments spat horrible insults at the people responsible: “heartless”, “appalling”, “low life scum”, “offensive”, “incompetent boobs”, “cruel”, “jerk face”, “monsters”…. The uproar and outpouring of love for the abused resulted in (to date) 160 comments and 615 shares. For this small town, that’s impressive! It’s like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast as he goes to rescue Belle with the towns people behind him carrying spears and axes crying “Kill the beast!”. Lakes Animal Friendship’s main goal is education, run by an early childhood educator, but this story is not about them.

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The people who drove away from these hardworking pups leaving them in the middle of no-where, with no way to survive…who really knows how they are feeling. Are they on facebook and reading the insults? Are they taking it to heart? Are they relieved the 3 extra mouths are gone? Are they watching Netflix on their 70″ flat screen tv that was funded in puppy money? Do they have an outbuilding with tired mothers and growing babies? Will they continue to breed Beagles, or change breed to remain under the radar? The only thing I can tell you for sure…they will continue to breed. This story is not about them.

The outcries from the public call for punishment! RCMP! SPCA! Fines, jail time, public beatings. Like the hangman dressed all in black leading the guilty in rags up the stairs of the well used wooden gallows. The crowd throwing rotten fruit and stones to inflict pain on the condemned. The SPCA can institute fines and jail time after investigating, collecting proof, and proving their case. We see the SPCA doing just this in BC and Alberta to punish the Adams women. They investigate over and over. They collect proof over and over. They prove their case in court resulting in fines and jail time over, and over, and over again. The SPCA are doing everything they can with the money available to them. They raid puppy mills, confiscate animals, provide love and care for the abused…yet we still look to them as the governing body that is failing us. This story is not about them.

I love the Albert Einstein quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We buy from puppy mills, see the abused parents and cry for justice, over and over again! Are we crazy? Are we stupid? LAF works hard to educate people to “adopt, don’t buy”. Clearly they think we need education. I won’t deny this fact but in general, we aren’t stupid, we are entitled. We want what we want. If the consumer says “I want a $1 burger!”, the companies provide it. They provide it any way they can. It’s literally killing us but we don’t care, we want that $1 burger! We buy from puppy mills, it’s literally killing the mothers and fathers of the puppies produced but we don’t care, we want that $600 beagle.

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So if we know the steps in the process…#1.Puppy mills provide consumer demand #2.Animals are abused #3.SPCA saves animals and prosecutes operations…we can then lay blame where blame belongs. Blame is the start of the process that will change things. And we want them to change. 160 comments wants change! We blame the puppy mills, and expect the SPCA to enforce it. Since this is working so well, we clearly don’t need change (sarcasm is rearing it’s ugly head in frustration). Are we really this stupid? So let us again look at the steps in the process…#1.what would happen if the consumers demand was not that $600 beagle?

What do consumers want? They want a happy, healthy puppy to join their family. If you want the perfect puppy from perfect parents with rigorous testing, you are simply going to pay for it. But we don’t want to pay $3000 for it. We want the $1 burger that doesn’t kill us. Like an entitled teenager, we want what we want, our pretty cake decorated perfectly and unchanged for all time but we want to eat it too! So we buy the $600 beagle and absorb the lies the puppy mill tells us because we want what we want. If society finds out we knew we were buying from a puppy mill we cover our guilt by saying we had to rescue that perfect puppy from suffering the same fate of the unseen mother.

Yup, this story is about us. The consumer. As long as the consumer wants it, there will be avenues to get it. The consumer is all powerful because we have the money and the all mighty buck is really the only governing body we need. In being all powerful, we are not stupid, we don’t need to be educated, we need to be honest. Honest in how our actions of entitlement affect the unseen forces that lay behind it. Honest in how our monetary support of puppy mills promotes abuse and neglect and the courage to own that. The courage to make different choices. The courage to eat the cake while sacrificing it’s beauty. The courage to not be entitled. The courage to make the right choice for the mother that birthed the puppy and not the puppy itself. The courage to make mistakes and own them. The courage to be vulnerable.

HONEST Food

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” Albert Einstein.

I put more research into what my dog’s eat than I do for myself. This is because I don’t trust dog food companies, I question the motives of the industry past what I consider capable for my awareness. When it comes to the foods I consume, I trust the grocery store to bring in safe and healthy food from proven and trustworthy companies that are highly regulated by associations that have been core designed to protect us. I trust this because a human life is valued at 6-9 million dollars in our “honest to goodness” court systems.

I don’t know who regulates our food. The World Health Organization? Health Canada? Canadian Food Inspection Agency? Public Health Agency of Canada? Canadian Food and Drug Association? Agriculture Canada? All of these people together? I wonder if all of these companies work like one big happy family…6 strong-willed sisters in one room, given a problem, would any of them actually survive? (I imagine a quiet luxury boardroom with all 6 sisters safely cocooned inside. The conversation slowly turning to savagery as the girls locks of blonde hair shake loose from their tightly woven buns to unfurl and transform into medusa’s serpents as they rise up and attack each other in a fury that spontaneously implodes the whole room from the inside out.)

I don’t know who regulates the complex processes of getting that food to me. What are the responsibilities on the farmers, the packaging plants, the shipping companies,  the drivers, the stores? Slaughter houses are now called processing plants, does this mean they do things differently? It is all so overwhelming that it is easier to simply trust that the food I buy is good for me. Trust to a point that I don’t even read labels, not for me or my children. I ignore the laws and labels as I know that those laws are in place because society believes in them. I ignore the news headlines that say processed meat is linked to cancer, sugar causes diabetes, organic is not organic… GMO, gluten contamination, salmonella, mercury, listeria, botulism…I trust the stores will remove dangerous foods and protect me. I trust our Buns Lake, small town store as the final health and safety check by people I know, people I trust, friends, family, and clients.

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Michael & Joey

My lifelong friend Raya is dedicated to becoming a motivational speaker. I once tried to motivate people to rescue their pets. I thought I could educate people simply by being passionate about doing what’s right. What I learned was, we are inspired only when we open our minds. Our minds are rarely open to receive new information and honestly another’s passion is simply not enough to inspire change. We need to be open-minded and have a need deep within us to want to change. Change requires time. Time…well that’s one thing none of us have thanks to technology.

Here are the facts as I know them: the food industry’s strategy is to confuse us! Mission accomplished! Why do they do this? I believe they do this like any good business marketing must…you simply cannot please everyone. As long as you can create doubt then you can sell that product, that product is your business, that business is your life. The other fact I know…our bodies are rejecting the food we eat…loudly and consistently.

In my dedication to change how I eat I started educating myself by…yup…watching Netflix!! A 2017 documentary called “What the Health” is scary stuff man! They quote statistics and research, ask questions they never get answers to and compare our foods with cigarettes! (Both my Gramma Lee and Grandpa John died from cancer. In my adult life I have literally been at the bedside of close friends when they take their last breath and the cancer wins. Don’t pick this wound open, it is a deep one!) This documentary uses scare tactics to make us switch to eating Vegan. By the end of the documentary I am more confused than when I started…like a pig stuck in a wire pen only as big as he is, not knowing how to turn around or walk or even stretch his legs when he is sleeping. He only knows how to stand, eat his processed corn and curl his legs under him until they cramp so badly he must stand again. Trust my instincts! My instincts tell me to run from the agencies that are covered in secrets like a Cancer Society that refuses to talk about the link between diet and cancer or the Chief Medical Doctor from the Diabetes Association that says prevention of the disease is unclear. Scary!!! I like their arguments about the validity of a purely plant-based diet. In saying that I feel this documentary is so far out in left field it can’t be seen. They say milk is basically coagulated cow pus, eating 1 egg is the same as smoking 5 cigarettes, all fish is contaminated with mercury, starch/ carbs/sugar are good. Ok…I’m out!

Another documentary from 2008 called “Food, INC” again talks about the secrets of the industry. “Our food has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000.” They use words like engineered food, the industrial food system, and the marriage of science and technology. By the end of this show I am jazzed! Yes! It costs more to eat what is good for us, a burger is less than a dollar and broccoli is $1.29. This is because big companies deliver what people want. We simply want something cheap. We don’t care how it’s made, we just want it at the price we want it. There is no integrity or accountability in the current food system simply because we don’t want to pay for it. We want to sink our money into $800 cell phones with fancy protectors that play music, search social media and give us directions with the touch of a screen. Again, the issue is us, the consumer. As long as we want cheap food, we will get it. We don’t care if the honey we are buying is actually corn syrup…it tastes like honey, and we have an extra $5 for a Playstation card!

The fact is that where there is money there is fraud. Our global food crisis is no exception.

Corn is cheap…actually cheaper than production costs…which is why we feed it to cattle in the feed lots. Cheap corn in our cattle produces a fat cow AND produces e coli. E coli is excreted in the manure that the cows wallow in 24-7…run off from that feed lot comes in contact with a neighboring spinach farmer tainting our produce AND the cattle coming into the slaughter houses (processing plants) are covered in manure as they are being butchered…manure in the meat=e coli in us. The fact is that if that cow was to eat grass for 5 days, they will shed that e coli, pastured animals create no run off and stay cleaner. Seems pretty simple to me. Big business says this is not sustainable. (I am reminded of the day I got my teenagers a job picking rocks off a field for a local goat farmer…my government employee ex-husband refused to help facilitate this job for them telling me it was not sustainable!) Instead we put antibiotics in the cheap corn to combat disease from the unsanitary conditions, torture and abuse the cattle, pollute our environment, and harm anyone eating the meat. All the while big companies rejoice that they provided consumers with what we asked for. The charismatic character Ian from Jurassic Park says: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Another 2017 Netflix documentary called “The Magic Pill” talks about the Paleo or Ketogenic diet, getting back to nature. Healthy fat, non-processed, low-carb diets. The problem seems so simple. You want a fat animal before slaughter, you feed it carbs. You want a body that can heal itself and fight off disease, you feed it a biologically appropriate diet. This might be it!

So…I took a trip to the store, trying to figure out what I could eat on the Keto diet. Yup, me at the store! I wanted plain yogurt with earthy granola like we had at the silent retreat. Every bag and box of granola was 3-5 times over my daily carb intake for small portions. If I ate the pre-packaged granola, what was I supposed to eat for the rest of the day? So I made my carefully thought out purchases and the next morning I diligently measured out a 3/4 cup of plain yogurt, 1 tbsp of walnuts and unsweetened coconut, and a small handful of overripe, out-of-season, tasteless blueberries. I talked myself into enjoying the tart milk product even though the blueberries and coconut did nothing to balance it out. I was so proud of myself when I finished and clunked in my proper proportions and correct information from the original packaging only to have the Keto app say I was over my carb intake by 41g for the entire day! Forget this! I quit!

Everything has corn in it…everything! Everything we buy is well-preserved, full of sugar, colorful, processed, artificially flavored, chemically ripened, packaged in plastic, cardboard, foils, and containers. It’s quick and easy and tasty, and we love it!

In my recent trip to Puerto Morelos the inconsistencies are amazingly clear. The new cedraui has isles and isles of candy, pop, yogurt, cereal…all sugar free! The mexican fellow on his pedal bike has hot tamales that are honest to goodness made from the earth. Year after year we buy from him. This year he was not there. Vanished like he never existed. Replaced by the ratty little burgundy car carrying mother, father and baby crammed in the front seat, a loud-speaker on the roof, and a hatchback full of sweets…at least its real sugar.

Never-the-less we ate like kings on our holiday! Fresh avocado, home-made goat cheese, pickled onions, shrimp, honey, mangoes, barbecue chicken, granola….and ice cream…ohhhh the coconut ice cream! My new favorite is cinnamon ice cream!

My motivation to eat better has me buying bread from a local lady (we admiringly call the “bread lady”), whole wheat, dill and cheese…I now purchase raw milk and we make our own butter…I buy only local honey and I’m committed to growing and canning my own food this year. I will continue to raise happy chickens for their honest eggs and buy happy, pastured cows that give us hamburger with their sacrifice, free range turkey’s, happy pigs with their tails intact that keep their farmers busy with their happy antics, and raw dog food from the same farmer who provides us with beef. He creates dog food with organ meats and tripe and uses aging cows that have lived a happy and fulfilled life on the farm. I honor their sacrifice by not wasting a single part.

I will pay more for these things. I will sacrifice time away from my computer. I will be proud of providing for my family and I feel strongly that I am teaching my kids to read their labels and be their own advocates. I will teach my children to garden. I also feel motivated that I am doing my part to NOT support the food industry that is killing me. I don’t want cheap food, I want honest food. Honest food that is bought without labels or pictures, without packaging, ingredients, color, preservatives…. Is this food really not sustainable?

The scariest part of this story is that the same food that is killing us is killing our environment. But that is for another blog….

HONEST Petfood

“Once you stop learning, you start dying”

Albert Einstein

Trust my instincts! Live in the moment! “Put up or shut up!” As always, I start with the dogs…simply because I can make my own poor life choices. The animals depend on me to steer them through the human gauntlet of  complicated language driven by rules and organisations who are functioning with deceit, selfishness and the soul sucking need for the all mighty buck!

The grocery store in Burns Lake has always been the social gathering place of friends, family and clients. I never expect to get a simple jug of milk while the kids wait in the truck with their iPhones. If a quick trip is required, I send Jason. I love that mischievous glint in a clients eye when they start asking about poop. “Why does my dog poop so much?”, “My dog has gas…?”, “…loosing her fur?”, itching, constant ear infections, allergies, behaviour issues, house soiling… the list is endless. My answer to them, while I fulfill my addiction to dairy, is always re-directed with a single question…”What are you feeding your dog?”

In a 2017 Netflix documentary called Pet Fooled, the complicated issues and confusing language regarding my redirection is clearly explained. There is a problem in the pet food industry. Clear and simple. A big problem. The evidence of this statement is overwhelming should we choose to look at it. There in lies the human challenge.

As consumers we shop at grocery and pet stores for the convenience and the promise of good nutrition from companies that are passionate about what they do. Right? The clear fact is that our dogs are suffering and dying. They are overweight, diabetic, arthritic, suffer from skin issues and allergies, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. As well-educated pet parents we are experts in allergies….but still cannot muddle through the food labels the industry almost literally throws at us. Marketing tactics include buzz words like pre-biotic, organic, healthy, quality, and natural. Beside an overly simple list of ingredients we see catch phrases like “No artificial” colors, flavors, or fillers…this from chicken jerky treats laced with fatal illegal antibiotics that took society 6 years to recall. Evidence exposed in these recalls (or the lack of them), clearly shows the fact that we are feeding our dogs from a dangerously un-regulated industry despite enduring company claims.

Our education needs to start at ground zero. What do our dogs need nutritionally? We know that dogs are carnivores and they need a species appropriate diet to help their body recover from injury and prevent disease. Dogs can eat raw meat because they have high levels of stomach acid that can neutralize pathogens efficiently, it’s how they were made. Simple and honest.

So…in this over simplified knowledge we can now examine our pet food labels and terminology. “By-products” are the left overs after all the edible parts are removed. Yup! I said AFTER the edible parts are removed! These by-products are recycled, deceased animals that have been collected from slaughter houses, farms, or road kill. By-products can then be rendered with heat and chemicals until, if there was anything of value in it, it’s now removed. Do we need to actually stand in front of a pile of rotting carcasses to know we don’t want to feed it to our dogs? If you are still with me, I’ll throw a few more ideas at you…BHA is a toxic preservative. Cancer is caused by chemical preservatives. Ethoxyquin is a preservative that will prolong the shelf life of dry kibble to “stay fresh” for 25 years. Why do we need this kibble to stay fresh for 3 times the lifetime of our pet?  We continue to stand at the vet clinic with our mouths open asking the doctor “How did my dog get Cancer?”.

Our education cannot stop there…we know that dogs are nutritionally resilient, we know this because we are able to abuse their diet and not always see the immediate effects. So now it is time to read the ingredients. Everyone ready? You’ve heard it before! Corn. Corn is a carbohydrate, we all know this, we know that biologically this is unnecessary for our dog’s nutritional requirement. Yet we still buy dog food with a first ingredient of corn. Whaaaat? “Corn gluten meal” is an allergen and again unnecessary. Color….really? Those pretty red bacon strips look so yummy! To our dogs bacon looks grey. Dogs see their world in hues of blue, yellow and grey. That pretty dog kibble with red, green, and orange coloring shaped into little bones and little hearts is not for dogs. It’s for us. To our dogs it looks grey, brown and maybe a bit yellow….yuck! Color additives Yellow 5 & 6, Red 40, and Blue 2 are responsible for hyperactivity, aggression, thyroid/brain/kidney tumors, cancer, allergies, skin issues….

In order to protect our dogs we must know and understand these labels while  dedicating a bit of our attention to become industry detectives. Trying to find the time is why we simply put our trust in the companies producing the food or alternatively the FDA who is, after all, the regulatory authority in charge of making sure the label on the package honestly meets the rules. The rules are formed by the AAFCO who is a non-government organisation…wait for it…funded by the pet food industry. So lets quickly talk about the rules behind the terminology….the word “Flavor” simply means the food can contain as little as 0% meat. “Natural” can include rendered ingredients. “Organic” must have as little as 3% organic meat. And so on, and so on…

Simply stated…The pet food industry as a whole is not trustworthy. The FDA cares about the rules created by an organisation working for an industry who is literally killing our pets. The pet/grocery stores are not responsible for removing toxic food from their shelves without a recall. It all comes down to money. Again. Did you know that in our society a human life is valued at 6-9 million dollars. Dogs are considered a possession and therefore in our court system they are only valued at the money put into them.

Small pet food companies are passionate about education! They are eager to speak with us and answer our questions. As consumers we need to support the small company’s that are transparent to a point where they lose us in their answers. I don’t need (or want) to understand everything about the industry to feed my dog well…I simply need to trust my instincts. The secrets, carefully regulated responses, and refusals to participate in documentaries or interviews scares me. Why is the pet food industry bending over backwards to hide the research about raw food? There is simply no funding available to back up their criticism regarding this natural way of feeding our family…so maybe we should just trust them…not in my world!!

I want to feed my dogs food. Meat…not decomposing bodies processed with chemicals…but happy cows, happy chickens, happy salmon. Happy, free animals who have lived a full life the way nature meant them to live, and are raised and used humanely with dignity and respect. Cows who eat grass, chickens who can walk, fish that swim in the ocean, carrots grown in untreated dirt, apples ripened on trees, kelp harvested by sustainable methods and dried by hand and sun. Have we come so far removed from mother nature that we have nothing natural or humane to conveniently offer our dogs? Are we not a superior species with intelligence that far exceeds all our forefathers? We watch chickens cruelly mistreated while the by-products of whats left of their rotten diseased corpses are chemically treated and we still support the end product of dry kibble that kills our pets because it’s convenient? If that’s the definition of superior, I’m out!

The scariest part of this story is that the same ingredients in the dog food that is killing our dogs, is legal in human food. But that is for another blog….

Healing details

My long awaited silent hippie retreat began the evening of January 25th, Robbie Burns day! This day is stitched into my heart as Bev Hughs worked tirelessly to stage a Burns dinner each year that included performances by her highland dancers and a traditional haggis feast with all the fixings. One year Bev’s brother play the bagpipes for us as we danced in our plaid kilts. My favorite dance was The Highland Sword because I didn’t have to smile, I could look down at my feet and concentrate on stepping over and through the dull blades as I jumped and turned around the crossed metal pieces. I could never compete with my school friend Angela. She held herself straight and confident and had a natural smile that lit up the stage and accentuated her instinctual talent for dance.

As the retreat groupies settled ourselves into the spacious cabin at Banner Mountain Lodge in Smithers, we made our introductions. An intriguing gentleman in his white dress shirt and slacks named Ian was instantly the story teller of the group telling me that my small town of Burns Lake was named after Robbie Burns. I nodded and smiled. (According to Barney Mulvany Burns Lake was originally named “Burnt Lake” by the Borland expedition in the 1800’s due to a huge forest fire that covered the area. Kerry Guenter believes that our town was named after Michael Byrnes, a surveyor for the Collins Overland Telegraph as shown on an 1866 map. Kerry does mention Robert Borland renaming the area “Burnt Lake” in 1869. The name that we now use as “Burns Lake” has been labelled on maps since 1876. Who knew?) David in his khaki’s had flown in from Edmonton that morning and told us of meeting the Burns Lake Clovis family who took him immediately under their wing and helped him find his way. He was interested that I was connected to the Clovis family by sharing a birthday with her younger sister Maria. With our tummies rumbling we all headed to the main hall for dinner where Migon and I sat with a couple of ladies who had flown in from Vancouver. In our prattle I realized that Shannon was the cousin of my best friend Susie. Burns Lake was indeed famous, but not for Robbie Burns, Burns Lake is famous for it’s compassion, long time kindred spirits, and a deep understanding of family.

As we all fell into silence I expected to feel a magical connection of unity with like-minded people. As I struggled to let down my guard, open my mind and allow this connection in, I was deafened by the amplification of life. The scuffing sound of each footstep as well-worn burnt yellow leather slippers decorated with black fur and intricate beading touched the laminate floor, the hum of the furnace, spoons clinking and chiming against white china mugs, knives hitting wooden cutting boards with a loud clunk, clunk, clunk, paper bags being unfolded, and plastic wrap crinkled loudly as it was removed from the microgreens.

I was able to quiet the sounds around me during our early morning meditation. I was instead overwhelmed with the sound of my own life. The blood rushing to the tips of my fingers and back again with each heart beat, the cracking of my neck deep inside my ears, the ringing buzz of silence, the minuscule readjustment of my crossed legs on the tiny round pillow that cracked my toe in a room exploding sound that made me want to hide inside my skin.

As the light came up behind our meditation teacher who was stationed under the enormous windows that disappeared with the colors in the distance, I simply take in what I see, without thought. The grey sky turning blue as the sun rises and shows a tiny color of peach along the top of a low lying cloud that sat between and behind the dark grey mountains as the snow on their peaks brighten. A moving river of selective grey shadows change the evergreens to incandescence shades of color as the light moves in a pretentious display though the layers of tree species to reach us. Grey leafless aspen turn brown, deep forest green spruce shimmer silver highlights as the wind shifts a branch, the small avocado green pine under the window stand guard at the border of the unbroken crystal white snow that lies through the yellow sleeping husks of the cattails. I am not thinking about how I have failed the meditation by watching the sun come up. In my concentration there is no room for personal judgment.

Our silent breakfast is announced by the beautiful tone of a Chinese gong, once, twice, three times. Earthy dark granola with almonds and seeds topped with tart plain yogurt and a soft white banana that awaits us as we all stare quietly at our meals. Savoring each bite, once, twice, three times. We make our way on padded ankle high blue slippers with tiny white v-shaped accents that happily remind me of Sully from Monsters Inc. to the kitchen sink and silently wait our turn to wash our dishes and put them away. The water running and splashing over bubbles, the tinkle of silverware against plastic organizers and the thud of drawers being closed as we dance in and out of each other accomplishing a singular task as one intertwined creature.

Our free time has us all opening our blank paged journals on tables and laps. The loud cracking of the gold bindings on the fancy embossed books and the scratch of a red satin bookmark being removed from it’s page to let hang from the book core where it is glued. The tip, tap, scratch of the pen as it writes, following the sound of the wrist as it brushes over the paper…tip, tap, scratch, flip…tip, tap, scratch. The tepid inhale of breath through pursed lips as hot coffee hits the tongue and a gargle of air follows the flow down the throat. It’s like being underwater in a busy pool surrounded by the muffled sounds of movement. Physical manifestations of thought, without a voice.

It hits me like a brick wall is that silence isn’t silent. A silent group of people is not connected in any true way other than the simple mechanics of accomplishing the same task. In actuality silence is a very loud disconnect to the people around you. Every noise a drum call to your inability to be silent. Most shocking to me is the lack of emotion. Silence is wonderful in it’s lack of judgment, anger, and hurt, but it is also solemnly lacking in joy and friendship. I miss Mig’s eyes as we laugh at something silly…I miss laughing so hard our sides hurt and we snort as we try desperately to catch our breath. We are so good at brainstorming on a spiritual level that we can finish each others thoughts all the while we are solving world issues. Migon has always been real for me. There is a non-judgment from her on a level that goes beyond spirit, beyond words, but without those words we are separate individuals, not two people as one. Susie and I are like this too but we tend to talk over each other, talking and listening at the same time, never missing one word or diminishing one important thought…like our spirits are collaborating in another dimension.

My sore back was the catalyst that took me silently outside. The majestic beauty of the property was the best part of the weekend. One tiny finch in a group of little birds that broke loose a single seed from the tree, the seed falling silently to the crust of snow and bouncing along the surface, pushed by the wind, until settling in the crevice at the base of a tree. Two long oval shapes tied together by a small center circle in the snow from the foot prints of a white jack rabbit that had hopped over the bank and onto the road, the prints of the tri-colored border collie called Erin following after it kept me company with their silent story. The tiny train track prints of a brown shrew scuttling over the bank in search of food seemed to leap from the top of the bank and continue 2 inches down to dart and change direction fluidly. Upon careful inspection the little shrew had not leapt from the tallest point in his travel but instead tunneled under the snow leaving a perfect round hole completely obliterating the tiny body until he chose to surface again. All this was observed in silence without internal dialogue. A simple concentration that is felt with wonder and appreciation without distracting words. I am skilled at this.

I could sit on the steep bank of Tchesinkut Lake and shut out the world with only the sound of the water tapping the tiny stones against each other gently and rhythmically.  I could watch without patience or impatience at how the sun dried the warm surface of a pebble before the cold water could reach back and cover it again. A tiny perfectly clear wave along the edge of the seemingly still and very dark abyss under the sparkle of the sun’s reflection, that pulled and pushed constantly and silently.

I’m glad I went. I learned that for me, silence is neither healing nor happy, silence is not even silent, words create bonds, and laughter is uniformly non-judgmental. Meditation is healing but found in so many forms that it isn’t simply a matter of learning to sit still and clear your mind. The foundational key to self awareness lies in the details. The sights, sounds, and stories of nature and loosing your self in it is the only healing I need.

 

 

Unexpected

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” Gandhi

My brother has an amazing memory. He can remember climbing the white bars of his 1970’s crib and courageously leaping to his soft landing on the small toddler bed pushed up beside him in our tiny room. My “big girl bed” was covered in a period yellow blanket, probably hand-made by one of my mothers many sisters. I must have slept through the constant attacks from above because I remember only a faded square picture in an old brown photo album, the kind that had one sheet of plastic over card-stock covered in some sort of “always sticky” glue.

I remember very little about my early childhood. A few flashes of Gramma & Grandpa Baker in their “huge” house on 8th ave, 2 doors down from Center street, Christmas day with all the fixings! The boys in their brown vests, the girls matching in delicate blue flower printed homemade dresses, Gramma’s good china laid out around the solid wood table with a pungent spruce tree in the corner all decorated with colorful home-made ornaments. We felt like royalty. That was the year I got Kermit the frog, his long green arms with individual fingers and small velcro squares on the hands. My Dad loved the muppets, Statler and Waldorf who sat in the balcony to heckle and grump at all the other muppets had Dad giggling until it was a full belly laugh and we were all laughing at him.

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I remember almost nothing of the tiny trailer we lived in at the old KOA trailer park. Only a few instant still moments when Mom would adorn her 2 piece bathing suit, drape our beach towels over her arm and we would carefully navigate the trail that led from our trailer to the edge of, what seemed to be, our own private beach on the shore of Burns Lake.

I remember the excitement of moving into the cedar A frame cabin on Tchesinkut Lake when I was 5 years old. Grandpa John took me down to the over grown lake edge and taught me how to skip rocks. After searching and finding the perfect flat stone, Grandpa finally convinced me to throw it in the water instead of keeping it safe in my treasure box. He taught me how to stand, leaned over ever so slightly back and to the right and twist my body forward as I threw the rock. His perfectly flat rock would bounce over the surface of the lake effortlessly, too many times to count. My goal in adulthood was 5 skips, 5 little splashes on the sky’s perfect reflection until it plunked and sunk. 2 skips were ok…but 5 was an achievement. Grandpa John would take my small hand and position the rock perfectly between my thumb and my next two fingers to hold the smooth bottom of the stone in just the right spot. He told me to let it roll off the tip of my middle digit and then again from my pointer to set it spinning. It was the spin that would make it fly! I was set! the perfect rock, the perfect body position, the perfect hold, the perfect lake, the perfect teacher on a perfect day. I concentrated on spinning the rock to make Grandpa proud of me, I drew back, swung my body to the right and threw the perfect stone into the tall purple fire-weeds on the bank behind us. Grandpa John was a serious man, he smiled his tight-lipped smile gently and showed me again, like he had all the time in the world.

I remember when Gramma & Grandpa Baker moved from 8th ave to their house on 1st and Carrol. The pink carpet matched Gramma’s pink recliner perfectly. The fire-place on the back wall was set in red brick beside the back door that opened to a perfectly manicured lawn with the biggest Saskatoon tree I had ever seen. Grandpa John had to share his office with Glenny whose small bed was in the far corner beneath the framed picture of horse-drawn carriages. Grandpa’s desk was opposite that along the wall that bordered the hallway. I would walk past the open door of his office and he would be sitting with his hands on the desk, fingers interlaced tightly and his thumbs twirling round and round each other in a meditative motion so he could think through the latest work conundrum. I remember this time vividly. Saturday morning cartoons interrupted only by Gramma’s special Mickey Mouse pancakes smothered in butter and syrup. Gramma picking me up from school and sitting at the round table in her kitchen teaching me long division the old school way, the way that made sense. The sleepovers with my best friend Susie, our perfect glass tea set in the kitchen with real juice and biscuit cookies! The Mary Kay parties for me and my friends in high-school and the evenings where she hosted the pre-dance girls group. I can hear the giggling and overwhelming chatter and remember Gramma hiding in her room with a good book.

Gramma’s house was the center of activity, fancy dinner parties for the elite in Burns Lake, in the posh part of town…it was without question “the place to be”. Life on the lake was simple. Mom had a large garden and greenhouse that we would eat from all summer long and preserve what we couldn’t eat in the fall. Our cool room was always full of potatoes and homemade jam’s and jelly’s. We spent hours on the lake catching fish and lighting up the little chef smoker to indulge ourselves for months on candied smoked trout. Fall was also the time Dad had to go hunting. It seemed like a chore to me at the time but looking back I’m sure this was Dad’s get away…alone in the woods. No one liked taking a moose to feed us through the winter. It was a necessity. There was simply not enough money. Despite this fact, I never felt truly deprived in any way. We always got new clothes before the start of the next school year. Our tree was always crammed with gifts. We always had a dog.

I remember my first Barbie doll. She was the birthday celebration doll with blond hair and a rainbow chiffon dress over a satin slip. Mom made me Barbie clothes from old Paton’s patterns on her sewing machine. I had everything! Swim suits, slippers, bathrobes and nightgowns, jeans, shirts and jackets for my Barbie. Mom had a Barbie too. She kept it tightly locked away in a blue metal trunk with moth balls. She would take it out once in a while and show me….like taking candy from a baby….she would put it back in the trunk telling me how much money this doll would be worth someday. I’m sure that Barbie is still tucked away in that trunk.

There was no Saturday morning cartoons or Mickey Mouse pancakes on the lake, but there was always cleaning for the girls and chopping wood for the boys. Sunday was our day to indulge on pancakes and listen to Abba on the 8-track, after the work was done. You wouldn’t think there was an art to dusting, but there is. Kids nowadays have no idea how to dust. They have one fancy colorful mini duster with soft chunky hairs that they swipe around the edge of the cabinet and call er’ done! If I handed them a dry toothbrush and asked them to dust they would stare blank eyed at me with their mouths open in disgust at the used toothbrush in their hand. I worked hard for Mom cause I had my eye set on a Cabbage Patch doll, everyone else already seemed to have one. No dusting meant no allowance. Plain and simple. No second place ribbons, no exceptions, no make up chores.

Gramma took me to my swimming lessons on Burns Lake. I hated the cold murky water that harbored little vampire leeches and the slimy plastic on the bottom under the sparse layer of sand that the village used to keep the weeds down. On the other hand I loved the special book they gave you with empty spots for all your swimming patches that you added like stickers in a sticker book as you moved your way from Turtles to Dolphins. Extra special was the date and signature of the instructor in your book as you moved up, like winning the Olympics. Gramma promised to take me to the drug store to pick out my Cabbage Patch after our lessons. I stood in the second aisle from the mall wall and took in the sight of the dolls all neatly in their boxes. Not one was the same…blonde and brunette yarn heads with cute dresses, blue and green eyes, dark, light and medium skin and little boys in overalls. So many choices. If my mother had been there she would choose the blonde girl with the pink dress and ribbons in her pigtails. Gramma waited patiently for me to look at them all in detail. I finally choose a bald baby girl in a plain white muumuu with white lace along the edges, white bonnet and tiny white knit booties. Gramma looked at me and asked “Are you sure you want the bald one?”. I surveyed the group again. It was my money. I worked for it. It was my choice. I said “yes”, expecting my mother’s voice to come out of my grandmother saying the one I chose was ugly but Gramma just nodded and smiled supporting my choice. The doll’s name was Celeste. She had her own birth certificate and adoption papers. To this day Celeste is with me. I have her papers, her bonnet, booties and dress. That was independence for me, individuality inside a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Life was simple on the lake, it was also hard. I learned to cherish the things I had, and work hard to earn the things I wanted. I came across a post in the buy and sell the other day selling her Cabbage Patch collection in “un-played with” condition. Gack!!! What a crime! Of course I had to have one! When I stopped by, I was VERY happy to see that the ones that were left had indeed been played with and loved. They no longer had their birth certificates or adoption papers, there was old marker on the tops of their bald heads, holes in their thumbs and missing ribbons and bows. They brought back for me a feeling of cherishment and gratitude. A feeling about a doll that I missed passing onto to my boys as I thought I would. I missed teaching them to highland dance, figure skate, braid hair and love The Little Mermaid. They didn’t like the Nancy Drew or Little House on the Prairie books. They had no use for Barbie’s or Wendy Walker. They love to cook, make slime, play basketball, snowboard, ride motorbikes and light fires. I am grateful that I always have a boy around to get the boy things done that need to get done.

The words on this page are all that is left of the feeling I get from Celeste. It doesn’t diminish it, just changes it into something I didn’t expect. A feeling that’s all mine, that can’t be shared, taught or recreated. This realization also makes me feel like it’s time to do some hard-core de-cluttering. Some Cinderella magic in turning the physical memories into words and letting go of the things I have no room for. When the words are not enough…the pictures are.