Depth Perception

 “We are all animals of this planet. We are all creatures. And nonhuman animals experience pain sensations just like we do. They too are strong, intelligent, industrious, mobile, and evolutional[...]And like us, they are surviving. Like us they also seek their own comfort rather than discomfort. And like us they express degrees of emotion. In short like us, they are alive.” – Joaquin Phoenix

Pic courtesy of The Mandarin Duck

Pic courtesy of The Mandarin Duck

My mom hated cats when I was growing up.  She would never harm one, but she claimed they were creepy and sneaky.  And it totally grossed her out the way they would come slinking up around your legs, like a snake coiling around a tree branch, eyeing its prize. My mom was never raised around cats.  Dogs, sure.  But there was never a cat in her house when she was a child.

One day, when I was 15, my mom accompanied me to the stables where we boarded our horses so I could work on some horsemanship skills.  She usually didn’t come with me, but today she did.  Inside one of the empty stalls was one of the many barn cats.  And in the corner of that stall, was a mewling mess of adorableness – she had given birth to her kittens!  I showed mom, and she mumbled something about them being cute.

The next time she accompanied me to the stables, the kittens were about 6 weeks old and a patchwork quilt of tabby, calico and gray fun.  I watched them and laughed as they scampered about the stall.  My mom stopped to look, too, staying for a few minutes before moving on.  I noticed that one of the kittens hung back under the feed bin, and every once in a while, one of the larger kittens would come and terrorize the little calico, who happened to be a runt.  My protective nature took over.  I rushed inside and seized the tiny little calico and brought her outside to spend time with me while the horses were in paddock.  I showed her to my mom, and mentioned how the other cats were picking on her.  My mom gave her a little rub on the head.  The kitten sat down on the picnic table we were sitting at, and looked up.  With those eyes.  You know the look I’m talking about.

The Look

The Look

“But mom”, I wailed, “If we leave her here she could die!”  The little kitten played along gamely, vogue her best pathetic “If You Leave Me Here I Could Die” look.  My mother caved. I named her Belle, and she lived with me for the next 15 years of her life, until the day I had to let her go. She went with dignity, as she had gone through her life.  My mom sobbed the day I had to had say goodbye to Belle.  For something had happened.  Belle had charmed her.  About a week after I brought her home, Belle started winding herself around my mother’s legs in hope of some canned food, or at least a cuddle.  And my mother would respond!  My mom mentioned she never realized cats could be actual loving, sweet companions.  Who could blame her?  She’d never been around one.

I’m proud of my mother because she was able to open her mind that something could be more than what it was perceived to be.  She entertained the notion that she may be wrong about a preconception she had, and more importantly, was willing to change.  Since I moved out with Belle, she has had 7 cats, all of whom have lived to a ripe old age.  Two are still with her.

So what am I doing writing about cats on a dog post?  Animals are animals.  All are able to feel pain, fear and abandonment.  Those feelings were the reason my mother took Belle in to begin with: not because she liked Belle, or even liked cats.  It was because my mother was capable of understanding an animal’s need for safety, and my mother was able to reach past her distaste to help an animal in need, even one she didn’t particularly care for.  In the process, she found a new trove of love and companionship she didn’t realize existed before:  cats.

This doesn’t happen to cats alone.  In some societies where dogs are considered vermin, people are changing.  My friend, Jocelyn, writes a blog a blog about love, family and relationships in China, including AMWF (Asian male/Western female) love called Speaking of China. 洋媳妇谈中国.  Obviously there are going to be some cultural differences in a marriage such as Jocelyn’s.  Finding common ground and understanding can be difficult.  But “if you open up your mind, maybe I can open up mine” is the only way to go about it.  This includes the concept of what deserves compassion.

Jocelyn recently referenced a story a peer had written:  The Day I Changed my Chinese Parents-in-law. Minds can be changed, even in a small village in China.  A family who once looked at dogs as vermin can accept that maybe they were wrong.  And look at the rewards they get:  love, kisses and the companionship that only a dog can give you.  A true, loyal friend.

Jocelyn herself even mentions a similar situation with her in-laws:

“They weren’t always kind to dogs either, but now that John and I helped raise their newest dog Snoopy (who we’ve socialized to be a very loving and affectionate dog), I think everyone in the house has fallen in love with Snoopy!”

 

 

Jocelyn's husband, Jun, and their dog Snoopy.  Where Jocelyn is living in rural China, most people keep dogs to protect their property.  Having a dog as a companion is unusual, but gaining popularity.  Photo courtesy of Speaking of China

Jocelyn’s husband, Jun, and their dog Snoopy. Where Jocelyn is living in rural China, most people keep dogs to protect their property. Having a dog as a companion is unusual, but gaining popularity. Photo courtesy of Speaking of China

I’m not asking you to change your mind about an entire species, as these people all did.  This blog is (supposed) to be about dogs.  If you’re here, you already love dogs.  Spread the word about what humanity means.  Be an example of education, the same way Belle educated my mom about what a cat can really mean to a human. Don’t assume that because you love animals and care about their welfare that everyone does.  Some people have never been around a dog or a cat, and therefore have no commonality with them.  Without shared experiences and memories to draw from, it’s hard to make a connection, and without a connection, there is no empathy.  Help share that empathy.   After all, that’s the greatest gift of all:  finding love and companionship where you never realized it could exist before.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Married to the Mob

Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.

Franklin P. Jones

[Editor's note:  My husband, Michael came up to me the other day as I was writing a blog post.  He asked what I was doing, and I told him.  He mentioned that he should write a blog post for me about what it's like being married to a dog trainer.  Of course I jumped at the chance!  So, I present to you, Michael's take on what it's like being married to someone who trains dogs]

I guess Orion is my Co-Pilot

I guess Orion is my Co-Pilot

I ran into one of my co-workers in the kitchen the other day. “I see you like Darwin Dogs on Facebook too! We hired Darwin Dogs a few weeks ago. Did you hire them too?”

I see it coming before I answer. “No,” I replied. “I’m Kerry’s husband.”

My co-worker began to laugh. “Does she Pilot you when she wants the dishes done? Does she do that thing she does to the dogs when you do something she doesn’t like? Does she give you a ‘negative’?” It kept up like this for quite a while. It was clear my co-worker was enjoying himself.

Of course, the answer is “No”, the reality far more pedestrian — we’re a normal married couple who treat one another like any other married couple. That is to say, we fight sometimes, get along most of the time, and love one another dearly. However, there are probably a few key ways in which my household differs from others:

1. We don’t tolerate bad behavior from our kids, or our dogs.

I think one of the key insights in having a well-behaved dog is to think of them as children, at least in a sense. When you see your children behaving badly, you correct the behavior.

However, when a dog starts jumping on most people, they think, “Ahh, that’s just a dog being a dog.” When a dog jumps on one of us, we immediately think of a small child yelling, “gimme gimme gimme”, and react appropriately.

Along those lines:

2. My dogs are the best behaved dogs I’ve ever met.

This is one of the perks of being married to a dog trainer. Frankly, I can be (and have been) a bit lazy about working with our dogs. I could chalk it up to having a full-time job (I work in technology), or the importance of the division of labor and specialization and all that, but the truth is more simple – I know my wife will do it and will do a better job than I will ever do, so I let her have at. In fairness, guess which of us sets up this blog and maintains the webpage?

Kerry thinks this is her girl, Sparta.  Kerry is wrong.  She's secretly MY Sparta.

Kerry thinks this is her girl, Sparta. Kerry is wrong. She’s secretly MY Sparta.

3. I hear a lot about dog problems

It has given me a lot of insight into dogs, and the typical types of problems dog owners have. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that nearly every owner thinks his or her problems are unique – everything from submissive urination, “aggressive” dogs (which are normally anything but) to simple poor leash-walking. My wife deals with the same problems over and over, which helps her to be better at her job. If she saw something new every single session, she wouldn’t be nearly as good as she is. Which brings me to:

4. My wife is *damn* good at what she does

Of course I’d probably say that even if it weren’t true, but I’ve been fortunate enough to accompany my wife on a few training gigs (somebody needs to stand outside in the winter and pretend to be the postal delivery person), and I’m amazed at just how well she does her job. While my wife is training dogs, she is really doing something far more involved – training humans how to interact with their dogs in a way the dogs will understand. My wife takes her role very seriously. Often, my wife is all that stands between the would-be dog owner, and either a well-adjusted dog, or a one-way trip to the shelter.

5. My wife has a demanding job

Though you might not realize it, her job is full-time. Beyond the training, there is the blog to maintain, calls to make & return, text messages to answer, volunteer work, market research — the list is nearly endless. The home visits themselves are really just the tip of a vast iceberg.

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Orion took a little while to warm up to me at first, but after some patience, was soon rewarded with a happy-puppy dance every morning and a lap dog to enjoy my coffee with.

While most of the things I’ve listed are positive, there are also drawbacks to being married to a dog trainer – we usually have more dogs than I’d prefer running around the house at any given moment, there are dog treats stuck in our washing machine, and my wife is required to work odd hours.  And of course initially when I’d ask her what her training schedule looked like on a particular day, my heart would skip a beat when she would casually throw out: “I have an aggressive Shepherd mix at 10, and then a puppy session from 1-3.”  Now I realize that aggressive dogs are typically just scared, and I know that Kerry finds the puppy sessions more exhausting. Fun, but exhausting.

Wait....who's dog is this?!

Wait….who’s dog is this?!  KERRY?!  DID WE GET ANOTHER DOG?!

Part of me does still get a kick out of people’s reactions when they hear what my wife does for a living.  I love watching her get all excited answering questions about their own dogs, which invariably happens when they discover her profession.  I’m proud of the volunteer and charity work Kerry does, and how she stands up for what she believes is right.  But if I were to sum up Kerry in one word, that word would of course be “Pilot”.  Someone who can calmly take the controls if necessary.  Someone who is confident enough to know when someone else should fly the plane.  Someone who knows their limitations, but tries every day to stretch those limitations.  Kerry is someone who inspires me to do the same.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Michael Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio