Soapbox | Soapbox Soapbox en-us Fri, 08 Mar 2013 02:00:00 -0800 Fri, 08 Mar 2013 02:00:00 -0800 Orion <![CDATA[I Think Your Dog Might Be a Feminist]]> I have a confession to make. I am a feminist. I think your dog might be too.

Regarding feminism, I’m not sure how a movement about equality became so loaded. But today is International Women's Day, so it's a good time to talk about it. My mother raised three independent women, encouraging us to pursue our educations and careers. Yet she told me she isn’t a feminist because she likes to wear heels and makeup and be pretty.

“But Mom!” I laughed, “I do too!”

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I didn't even know dog clothes like this existed! Photo via Zazzle

Here’s the way I see it: There’s still a lot of inequality in this world -- it also includes racism and so-called ableism (prejudice against people with disabilities) -- and a lot of it has to do with valuing one group of people over others. Some call that the patriarchy. I just call on the numbers, a well-known example being the gaping chasm in pay. If you're a woman, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you're still earning about 20 percent less than your male counterparts. A 20 percent difference is better than generations before us -- when the mere thought of a woman in the workplace was startling -- but this is 2013! We have tiny computers that hold unthinkable amounts of data -- a 20 percent difference is unacceptable! I know you work hard, and I think you deserve to be compensated fairly. That's why feminism is still valid.

Dogs are feminists because they don't care what we look like. I hate that one of the primary issues still plaguing feminism is what to do about harmful media destroying girls' self esteem, holding them back for the rest of their lives. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, women are more likely than men to develop an eating disorder fueled by narrow media representations of beauty. Forty-seven percent of school age girls claim to want to lose weight because of the images in magazines, and 69 percent of girls grades 5-12 look to media for what the "perfect" woman is supposed to look like. In high school, I was one of the more than half of teenage girls using unhealthy weight control methods such as starving and laxatives. Even successful, professional women are developing eating disorders.

A dog helped me deal with such issues.

After the devastating loss of Annie, my family rescued an Australian Shepherd named Jasmine. When I sat in my room crying because my hair would never be straight and my legs would never be skinny, Jasmine would come and lick my face. She didn't see my puberty-induced stretch marks or acne or crooked teeth. In her own way, Jasmine was reassuring me that the features that matter most are the ones that can't be seen. She loved me because I was kind to her and not because of what I did or did not look like.  

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Me and Ambroise -- I miss him all the time! Ambroise loved me even when my skin was all broken out, like in this photo.

Dogs need feminism. They need their female human friends to feel safe walking them at all hours of the day in any neighborhood in any manner of dress. Because dogs love walks. When I was a dog-walker, I bonded with a black Lab named Ambroise. He was a beautiful soul. He would lie down to let children pet him, and he knew which shops along our main route harbored friendly workers with treats for him.

He never barked -- in fact, he was a bit shy. Until one day, when a strange man approached me. The man first told me to "Smile, you're so pretty" (how many of you have heard this one?), and when I told him I wasn't interested in talking (I was on the job, for goodness sake), he stepped forward, cornering me, and reached out a hand. That's when Ambroise growled for the first time ever. The man quickly withdrew.

This was on a busy street in a nice neighborhood populated with mothers pushing strollers in the middle of the day while I was wearing perfectly normal walking clothes. What would have happened if I didn't have Ambroise with me? I don't know, but I do know that I shouldn't have to worry about walking around, with or without a dog, just because I'm a woman. 

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And dogs LOVE walking! Photo via Who Needs Feminism?

One of the greatest reasons I think dogs are feminists is because feminism seeks to undo hierarchical structures of power that usually place men at the very top. It's a very patriarchal way of looking at the world, and a similar idea of power has gained an unsettling foothold in the world of dogs. The controversial and now debunked Domination Theory of training is based on the idea that dogs need a "pack leader" to force them into submission. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's official position is to "not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it."

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We wrote about this shirt back when the ASPCA was selling it -- it's cute!

In an even greater display of harmful power structures, puppy mills continue to run rampant because dogs are valued only as property. As we've seen time and time again here on Dogster, crimes committed against animals are not treated with the same gravity as crimes against people, even though they demonstrate the same lack of respect for life.

Michael Vick destroyed the lives of multiple dogs, subjecting them to unspeakable torture, and he only received 23 months confinement, some of which he served in his own home … and he even has a new dog! I'm not comparing women to animals (I'll leave that to PETA), but our struggles begin looking awfully similar when the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- which calls for specific language ensuring our constitutional rights regardless of gender -- fell three votes short of ratification in 1982.

In the White House, the expanded Violence Against Women Act was only barely reauthorized this year. It's only recently that cities and states began calling for bans on the retail sale of animals. We're both struggling to gain recognition within a system that continues to favor a narrow group of privileged people.  

I know I'm a feminist, and I think your dog might be too. After all, she would be the first to object to being only "man's best friend."

Wouldn't you, too?

Read more about dog rights on Dogster:

Fri, 08 Mar 2013 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dogs-and-feminism
<![CDATA[Is It Wrong That I Hate Same-Breed Meetup Events? (My Boyfriend Loves Them)]]>
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Moxie as a puppy at our first Italian Greyhound meetup. Look at his little sweater!

There's something about Italian Greyhounds. And those ears that sometimes collapse in a "washerwoman" style atop their heads, then find themselves slicked back for a run. Or those intelligent eyes and ever-worried eyebrows. Then there's their lean, sloping forms and those feet that seem to be prancing on air. And don't even get me started on their needy girlfriend personalities -- if you need to be needed 24/7 the way I do, have I got a breed for you.  

If one Iggy can make my day, surely two dozen would make my year, I rationlalized as a young dog owner staring at an e-invite to an Italian Greyhound meet-up in my city. Moxie was finally done with his vaccines and ready to socialize, and the first meet-up we attended was overwhelming, but not awful.

He was going to be a large Iggy, and everyone commented on how our puppy had enormous feet. "He'll grow into them," I said, as polite conversation continued over wine and cheese. Mox shyly sniffed the butts of many a taller pup and I got several recommendations on where to pick up yet more dog sweaters, so we determined our first foray into meetup land a success. The second meetup we attended was exactly the opposite.   

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Moxie with a new friend at our first IG meetup.

It was more than a year later when we decided Mox could use some sighthound friends. The meetup invites had been rolling into my inbox like clockwork every month, but other engagements had routinely gotten in the way. We showed up, thinking it'd be the same butt-sniffing and small talk, but people were decidedly strange about their dogs. 

Mox had grown into a handsome 20-pound boy, tall and lean, but many IG parents had dogs on the smaller side of the spectrum, half Moxie's size. All the dogs were off-leash as they usually are for these things (the venues always have tall fences or walls to avoid a runaway sighthound) and when Moxie approached some of the other dogs to say hello, their owners would sweep their pets into their arms, up away from him as though he was going to harm them. 

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This hulking beast is much more Moxie's speed.

It was very frustrating to watch our gentle boy being barred from socializing with other dogs at what was supposed to be a social event. I asked a few people what the problem was, and they gave weird responses -- the general consensus seemed to be that they were worried he was going to trample their IGs because of his size. 

I understand being overprotective of your pup, but this was a wee bit much. Mox has routinely met larger dogs of all breeds on walks, at the park, and at the office, and he's never once been trampled. I don't have a heart attack when he dances with other dogs; a bit of light roughhousing is a character-builder as far as I'm concerned (hey, that's how I was raised).

We left the meetup early and I told myself it'd be a balmy day in January before I attended one again. All those helicopter dog parents together in one backyard again? No thanks! 

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Moxie sniffing some lady dog butt at the park.

But last year, around the time of Moxie's fourth birthday, I looked at the monthly invite in my inbox and decided to give it a third try. The venue had changed, and maybe the people would be different. The sun was shining and it seemed like a nice day to rub elbows with people who loved Italian Greyhounds as much as I do, right?

I'd attended the first two same-breed meetups before coming to work for Dogster and let me tell you, attending this most recent meetup with a brain that is now hypersensitive to dog issues and politics was NOT fun.

While nobody whisked their smaller IG away from Mox, I cringed when one woman told me her new Iggy puppy had arrived on a plane from Missouri a few days earlier. Holy red flags, Batman! When the small talk turned to where people's dogs had come from, a good percentage of the attendees had a shady breeder story to share. 

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I will admit: seeing other dogs in sweaters was the best part.

Don't get me wrong; my own dog is from a breeder. But she's one of those rare diamond-in-the-rough ethical types who I wrote about over here. Poorly-bred Italian Greyhounds are a health nightmare, with their predispositions to hip dysplasia and dental issues. 

I wanted so very badly to put my Dogster editor hat on and start lecturing this bunch about puppy mills and backyard breeders but I didn't want to be that person, especially when the damage was done and all the sweet dogs dancing around me were here to stay. How rude would it be to wish them into oblivion? Even the Missouri plane puppy seemed to be somewhat well-adjusted. Though I couldn't help but think about the rusty cage her mother was probably still living in Dog-knows where.

Moxie didn't discriminate, and loved racing with that mouthy puppy. As soon as he appeared to be worn-out from the wrestling, I leashed him up and headed home, mentally climbing on my high horse. I have no intention of attending another one of these little get-togethers anytime soon. 

When I told my boyfriend, Jeff (Moxie's dad), I was going to write about this, he said his opinion was different and I invited him to share it. Here we go...

Counterpoint, via Jeff:

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My partner, Jeffrey, likes the meetups more than I do.

I think you may be missing the point. The reason I take my dog to meetups like these is for his enjoyment. I know how much he loves hanging around other dogs and playing and such. If he is happy I am happy. The more energy he can blow off the better.

As for the people side of things ... well that is of secondary importance. Come to think of it, the last meet up I went to had a great spread of food and wine (thanks to a very nice and generous local pet store owner). Also, the meetup was at a small local park that was quite charming and perfect for the canine affair.

As for whether people get their dogs from top breeders, rescue or "less than top" breeders, that is not for me to judge. There are many dog owners that feel just as ill toward anyone that gets a dog from any breeder. Owners of top-bred dogs judge owners of lesser-bred dogs while both are being judged by the altruistic owners of rescues. Its all a little much for me and personally I do not waste any time worrying about that stuff.

What matters to me (and to the dog) is how well you train and treat your dog once you get him. Do you keep your dog cooped up or do you walk him often? Do you love your dog or do you simply want your dog to love you? Do you know how to really relate to your dog? Do you understand your dog?

There is probably more I can add but it is time for me to walk the dog.

But let's talk about you, Dogster readers: Do you ever attend same-breed parties? Did you find them fun or kind of discouraging when you meet people who appear to be somewhat dog-stupid? Do you think Jeff is right? Highlights and/or horror stories, please. 

Fri, 22 Feb 2013 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/i-hate-same-breed-meet-up-events
<![CDATA[If You Bought Your Dog, I'm Judging You]]> Editor's Note: Megan Segura is a contributor to Dogster's sister SAY Media site, This article first ran on xoJane, but we're rerunning it (with permission!) so you readers can comment on it. Please note that the opinions expressed below are just the author's and not Dogster's.

If there's one thing I have a passion for, it's animals (and Ben Affleck -- he is a god), and with the recent hurricane that has displaced many of them, they are on my mind. It might be concern that I’m feeling, but it quickly turns to anger.

It starts innocently enough. I scroll through my Facebook updates to see what my friends are up to, I see a photo of an adorable puppy, read the description, “Just picked up this cutie from the breeder” -- and then it happens. My face gets hot, my stomach drops, and the rage begins. I am judging that person for buying the dog.

While my love for animals guides my opinions on several topics (eating meat, wearing fur), I am generally pretty calm about other people's beliefs. But it’s the willful ignorance toward dog breeding that sends me over the edge.

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My friend’s dog, Daisy, was found abandoned outside a Taco Bell before being adopted. She is a little lover.

Conversations with others usually start in agreement when someone says, “Puppy mills are the worst. It’s pure torture, and you’re a monster if you buy from them.” But inevitably, it follows: “I mean, it’s only OK if you’re buying from a legit breeder who is nice to the dogs.” No. No, no, no, no, no. NO!

To me, the only acceptable form of becoming a dog or cat owner is through adoption (or divine intervention). It's not that I believe all breeders are out to hurt dogs (although most purebreds come with a list of health problems), I just don’t see how someone can feel good about buying or selling furry family members when there are so many out there who need good homes. Here are some of the reasons I have heard for buying pets:

1. I grew up with a [specific breed of dog], and I really want one now

Fantastic! Go adopt one! Even a quick trip to PetSmart on Saturday will show you that every once in a while a purebred will come through. Another option is to find a rescue group for a particular breed you're looking for. Puppy mills continue to be shut down, and as a result, those purebred pups need homes.

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This is me in my cat hat, judging you.

2. I want a puppy who I can start training from a young age

Puppies are adorable. But for similar reasons listed above, this doesn't mean you can't use a shelter in your quest for the perfect pup.

3. I want to know what kind of personality I will get

Well, friend, that's just not going to happen. Sure, you can get a sense of what a particular breed has historically been known for, but it doesn't always work out that way. Furthermore, most shelters want you to love your dog and are willing to let you have a trial run with a dog before fully committing.

4. My friend once adopted a dog, and it was aggressive

It's true that some dogs who come through shelters have been abused or put in situations that have turned them aggressive. But isn't that sad? Not only have they had bad lives, but now it keeps people from bringing them into their homes. I'm grateful to organizations like Pets Alive and Best Friends Animal Society that rehabilitate aggressive animals.

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5. I want to breed my dog with another, so I can sell the puppies for money

Well then, you are a creep, and I have no use for you.

Part of the reason I feel so passionately about pet adoptions has to do with the sad stories I come across. I once passed a shelter that had a 13-year-old Beagle up for adoption. I asked the adoption counselor what his story was.

"His family gave him up. They had him his whole life but his old age started affecting his bladder, so they decided to get a puppy."

It's in moments like this that I wish bodily harm on others.

As a bona fide cat lady (I have three cats, which equates to 20 when you live in a New York City apartment), I can tell you from experience that adopted pets are some of the most loyal family members you will ever come across. My cat Supertramp (named for Chris McCandless, NOT the band) has become my protector. Even when my husband and I are joking around, if he so much as raises his voice to me, she will run over and start climbing up my body to get my attention until I tell her it’s OK.

So, if you or anyone you know are looking to add to your family, think of adopting. And if you’re in the New York area, please help these animals who are in urgent need.

Mon, 12 Nov 2012 07:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/on-buying-dogs-vs-adoption
<![CDATA[What Happens If Your Dog Is Sick and You Have a Job?]]> A while back, my friend "Maggie" (not her real name) almost lost her job because she called in sick. Her boss wasn't fond of sick days as it was, and he had made it very clear that the fewer sick days, the better, especially in that economy.

When Maggie told him that the sick day was really to take care of her dog, he was livid.

"At first he told me not to bother to come to work again," she said. "Then when I started telling him that my dog could be dying, he eased up a bit. He said I'd have a day to deal with it, but that I wouldn't be paid."

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Sick, lonely dog photo by Shutterstock

Maggie didn't care about the pay. She wanted to be there for Oscar, the Rottie mix she'd rescued when he was a year old. The 11-year-old gentle giant was having major renal issues, and despite her administering subcutaneous fluids and giving him meds round the clock, he was really struggling.

The day she called in sick to care for him, she was afraid he was on his way out. She spent the day between the vet's and home. She was able to help Oscar get through that very bad day, and then had a friend check on him the next couple of days when she went back to work. She was very grateful when Friday evening came along.

"It was horrible being at work knowing Oscar was all by himself except for my friend who went over twice a day. I just couldn't focus on work, and got nothing done anyway," she said. "Oscar was always there for me, and I wanted to be there for him."

Oscar died a year later. Maggie had the fortune of scheduling a vacation week around the same time that he was at death's door. "But if it came down to getting fired or being there for Oscar, there would be no question. I'd be there for him and deal with the consequences later."

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Worried man at work photo by Shutterstock

"Home alone" may be a cute idea for a movie, but when it comes to ailing dogs, it's enough to make your stomach churn. If you've ever had to go to work and leave your sick dog alone, you'll know the feeling. You can't even call your beloved dog to check in. He's just there, alone.

Bosses tend to be more understanding about sick kids than sick pets. Another friend took a few days off to tend to her ailing pooch a few months ago. I asked what she told her boss. "I said it was 'female troubles.' The truth wouldn't have gone over so big. But my coworker could easily take a few days off because her kid was sick, and that was no problem. She didn't have to lie," she told me.

With the economy picking up and the job market improving, more people will be heading back into the workforce. That's great news, of course, but it also means more dogs will be back to being left alone. And that means more worried owners, and more dogs who have to face sick days with no one there for them.

Have you been through this before? What did it feel like to be at work while you really wanted to be able to take care of your dog? Or did you just not go to work? If so, did you tell the truth to your boss? Let's talk! 

*Her name has been changed because she finally left her awful job and is looking for a new one. 

Wed, 07 Nov 2012 03:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/do-you-get-time-off-when-your-dog-is-sick
<![CDATA[Ask GiGi: Should Dogs Believe in Santa Claus?]]> Dear GiGi,

My friends and I were wondering ... Do you believe in Santa Claus?  


Riley from Pleasanton, CA    

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Can you tell I'm excited about the holidays?!

Hey Rrrrrrrriley!  

That seems like an odd question. Are there people who don't?! Guess they've never had a run in with fat guy and a reindeer before. Remind me to tell you about the time one of them scared the bejeeeepers out of me a few years back. Talk about treat-obsessed!  

Anyway, let's not jump the gun, Riley. We still have one of theee best ever holidays on the planet coming and I'm not talking about National Eat Mud Day. It's the one and only THANKSGIVING!!!! I'm beside myself with the anticipation of falling turkey, dropped stuffing, flung sweet potatoes ... ah, the list goes on. Humans' eyes are always bigger than their stomachs. Combine that with sleep-inducing turkey tryptophan and you have lots of lazy eaters and food doing the inevitable tumble off the plate, onto the lap and KAPOW! onto the floor and into my belly! Oh man, it's gonna be amazaballs.  

P.S. Remind me to tell you about the time I found a WHOLE meatball on the floor of IKEA. The second best day of my life.  

Gobble Gobble!


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Got a question on etiquette or relationships? Send it to

Need more GiGi? Of course you do. Browse the GiGi archives for some doggone good advice.

Mon, 05 Nov 2012 11:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/ask-gigi-santa-claus-is-real
<![CDATA[A Dog Died on Our Date, And I Never Called the Guy Back]]> This is the story of how I went on a date, and the date’s dog had to be put down, and I never called the date back. Up to now, this story has remained one told when slightly inebriated and trying to get a laugh.

Let’s back up a bit. This was the summer before I left for college, and I’d recently been unceremoniously broken up with. It was long overdue, mind you, but the timing -- two days before prom -- pretty much stung like hell. As a result of my heartache, I took to going to the gym, kicking my own butt, and becoming a Canadian equivalent of GI Jane (the shaved head is a story for another time). I was a size zero, about to leave town for school on the East Coast, and heading out dancing with friends. I wanted nothing more than one last fun summer before hitting the books again.

I don’t remember how I met Jared (not his real name), but we ended up going on a couple of dates: pretty casual stuff, a coffee here, a drink there. A couple of weeks after we started hanging out, he told me that he had to housesit, and would it be okay if he made me dinner and we could watch movies? Seemed like a perfectly romantic and normal thing to do, so I said yes.

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Illustration by Scott Smith

On date night I arrived at the door, rang the doorbell, and a huge HARUMPH greeted my ears, followed by the lumbering gallop of a pony, then an earth-rattling thump of a large dog skidding out on hardwood and hitting a wall. Jared opened the door and sheepishly mentioned that he was dog-sitting for his friend as well, and politely held the docile beast back as I took my shoes off.

For the record, I am a dog lover, though my immune system often stands in the way. Unless the animal is perfectly groomed or is a breed known for its hypoallergenic properties, I develop massive welts if a canine even looks my way. To be clear: I LOVE DOGS. But the second a slobbering sack of adorable gets within a few feet of me, I start wheezing and swell up a couple of sizes.

The oversized dog -- we’ll call him Bear -- was a kind if rambunctious soul, an aged gent of a dog with white whiskers freckling his black Lab face. He had a slight limp covered up by his youthful outlook and energy. Bear tackled me in a hug, licked my face, and proceeded to steal my shoe. I adored him.

The evening was going well, though Jared and I didn’t have much in common, so much of the night was spent preventing Bear from eating the leftover hamburger and me doing my best not to trip over him as he playfully lumbered around the kitchen. Despite the oncoming hives I could feel pulsating under my skin, I was very much enjoying playing with this gentle giant.

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Illustration by Scott Smith

Unfortunately, the evening then turned. As we settled down in the living room to watch some early-2000s rom-com I’m sure Jared thought would impress me, Bear began acting strange. He started pacing the room and whining, becoming more and more incoherent by the minute. His limp became more pronounced, and he started shaking uncontrollably. After the credits rolled, Bear collapsed on the floor and foamed at the mouth.

Jared and I looked at each other in panic. After a moment of terror, he jumped into action and cradled Bear’s head in his hands. I ran to grab the instructions left by Jared’s friend, and frantically called the 24-hour vet emergency clinic downtown. After a shaky conversation with the on-call nurse who picked up, we were told to bring him to the clinic immediately.

I must reiterate at this point that Bear was just that, an Ursa Major of a canine, a sturdy mound of muscle and fur. Jared and I carried him to the car together, and I got in the front seat, where Jared placed the frightened creature in my lap. I cradled him, as much as you can cradle something nearly as big as you and covered in allergy-inducing fur. Jared drove quickly to the clinic in silence as I stroked Bear and did my best to remain calm and comforting. I pet his head and held him close, as he trembled and tried to get out, get away from whatever scary thing was happening. Though I’d never seen this before, I knew it was bad.

When we arrived, the vets grabbed Bear and loaded him into the clinic, and I stood dazed and shaking, covered in fur and urine (Bear had peed in panic during the drive). The asthma had set in, and I was breathing hoarsely. Bear had bumped my eye in his struggle, and now the right side of my face was swollen and itchy and I couldn’t see well. I hadn’t realized I was crying.

Half an hour later, Jared came out. I guided him to a curb, where we sat side by side. He told me there was nothing they could do, that they had to put Bear down. He’d begged them to try everything, do anything to save him, and now he couldn’t even bring himself to call his friend again, as he’d had to leave a message the first time. At that moment, when he realized he’d left a voicemail in panic, Jared broke into tears, and I held him as he cried. At that moment, I was the only one to console a man who faced telling his best friend that he’d lost his other best friend, so I did all I could: I stroked Jared’s hair, held him close and told him it would be okay.

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Illustration by Scott Smith.

After a silent ride home and an awkward goodbye, I entered my parents’ house. After having a bath and an exhaustive sob, I fell asleep face down on my pillow, waking up the next morning with a throbbing headache and puffy eyes. I went off to work at the coffee shop and didn’t mention it to anyone.

Here’s where you won’t like me: I never called Jared back. He reached out to me the day after it happened, and the day after that, and the day after that, but I never called him back. Maybe it was the trauma of the evening, maybe it was the fact I didn’t know him very well, maybe it was because I had absolutely no idea what to say to him, but I never called him back.

In writing this out, I’m reminded how traumatic and sad the evening was, and how scared Bear was. At least I know that the last people he saw cared about him and took great care of him while he was in pain. When I tell this story now, it’s often a joke told in one of those “worst date” one-upsmanship competitions. After a couple of “he was 40 minutes late” or “I got really drunk” or “he made fun of my stamp collection” stories, I bust out the big guns, describing with how I was on a date, had an allergic reaction to a dog he was dog-sitting, the dog passed away, and I never called the guy back again.

It always gets a laugh. But I don't think it should anymore. 

Editor's Note: All illustrations by the talented Scott Smith.

Got a Doghouse Confessional to share?

We're looking for intensely personal stories from our readers about life with their dogs. E-mail, and you might become a published Dogster Magazine author!  

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 03:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/a-dog-died-on-our-date
<![CDATA[What to Say When People Insult Your Dog]]> Ever at a loss for words after someone insults your dog, whether it's intentional or not? As members of a civilized culture we're supposed to bite our tongues, walk away, turn the other cheek -- call it what you will. Well, sometimes for me words flow as freely as water out of the hose from which my dog drinks. And you can use this to your own advantage. We've put together some snappy replies to the sometimes unthinking -- and sometimes downright mean -- comments and questions often hurled our way as dog owners. So the next time you get tossed a curveball, here are a few snappy comebacks designed to educate people who will, in turn, think twice and pay it forward.

The Breed Profiler

What they say: “Is that a [whatever breed]? That’s a mean breed that will bite.” 

What you say: "Like people, my dog is an individual and he cannot speak for himself. As his representative, we ask you nicely retract and refrain from stereotyping us or our fuzzy friends as something or someone we are not,” so says Missy Johnson, dog lover and founder of Dogs for the Paws.

This also works: “Google the name Lennox when you get home. Stereotyping based on looks is wrong.” 

When we know better, we do better. Educate people. The onslaught of social media and Internet outrage could not save Lennox. In his name, do your best to educate people. Or at least try. It’s been my experience that some folks can’t (or won’t) open their minds to change. But it's worth trying.

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Cute dog tucked in by

The Belittler 

What they say: “You’re planning a birthday party for your dog? Seriously?”

What you say: “Indeed. I might even dress up like a cat so Rover and all his furry friends can chase me around as a form of entertainment."

The Ageist

What they say: “How old’s your dog?”

What you say: “Ten [or anything deemed 'old' in this society].”

They return: “Wow, that old.” Or, my personal favorite: “He’s a senior citizen.”

You shoot back: “He still thinks he’s a puppy and in my heart, he’ll always be one.” (I stopped saying, “She won’t tell me even though I card her every time she wants a shot of whiskey in her water bowl.”)

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Hand patting smiling dog by

The Thick-Headed

What they say: “Sorry to hear your dog passed away last week. Think you’ll get another one?”

What you say: Actually, what you say depends on who is saying it. Some people have good intentions when they say this. When I experienced this after my dog Brandy Noel died, I was floored, often nodding a silent "no" and wondering what a good response is to such a statement. We don’t ask if someone will get another mother, father, or sibling, because we know they are not instantly replaceable. For some people, a dog is just that. Those of us in the know, well, we know better. 

If you feel inclined to reply with dignity, something like, “Max isn’t replaceable, but my heart will let me know if and when it wants to open itself again” tends to work, and is respectful. 

The Clueless

What they say: “They let dogs stay here? Wow, that’s surprising!” (when staying at pet-friendly accommodations)

What you say: Three choices. 

Educational version: “They do, and in fact, thousands of hotels and bed and breakfasts are doing the same all across the United States, Canada, and beyond.” 

Funny version: “And sometimes he lets me up on the bed.”

Fed-up version: “My dog doesn’t smoke, steal towels, or play the television loudly. I stopped bringing my husband/wife and started bringing the dog!”

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Young French Bulldog by

The Disciplinarian 

What you see: You witness someone “spanking” a dog in public. 

What you say: “When you hit a dog, you teach him to fear you, you break his trust, and you weaken his confidence. Insecure dogs are the ones who are more likely to lash out in an aggressive display.” 

I can’t take credit for that. I read it in trainer Victoria Stilwell’s book, It’s Me or the Dog. I used to be afraid to confront someone hitting a dog. I realize my lack of action is an action, and I’ve become more adept at speaking out, calmly and rationally. I know this one opens really strong emotions for some, but for me anger and physicality begets the same. 

The Irresponsible Cad 

Action: Someone who doesn’t clean up after their dog

What you say: “There’s no handle to flush. Would you kindly pick that up, Sir?” I try to show respect with the “Sir” or “Madam” and give them the benefit of the doubt. 

I’m not angry, I’m a dog parent, and I know I’m not alone. The words to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” ruminate in my mind as I close this article. What negative questions, remarks, or actions do you encounter? Do you have any comebacks worth sharing?

Thu, 09 Aug 2012 03:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/what-to-say-dog-insults
<![CDATA[Let's Talk About Dogster Values: Yours and Ours]]> Here at Dogster, there's always talk of the importance of point of view -- how, without standing up and championing something, a publication fails to stand for anything at all.

Given this, I am often asked what our point of view is, and usually, it's not simple to articulate. Not because we have no point of view at Dogster and Catster; quite the contrary. At Dogster HQ, we are fiercely opinionated when it comes to dog and cat issues, so it's difficult to just pick one and say "There, that's what we stand for," and call it a day. To illustrate this, I presented the slide you see below at a recent company presentation. I didn't expect anybody to actually read the entire thing as I raced through my slides. It really was just to make my point. 

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This doesn't come close to addressing Dogster's stand on every last dog and cat issue out there; nor does it get us closer to a definitive point of view when it's lumped together like this. But it did help us to brainstorm and distill our thoughts into five messages we feel are important. So the next time someone asks you what those crazy kids at Dogster HQ believe, you'll have the answer in five easy bullet points. This is the long-winded edition, so bear with me.

5 Things We Believe at Dogster

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Oh, Mr. Socks has a distinct personality like you wouldn't believe.

1. A dog is not an "it" or a "that." A dog is a "who."

A little backstory on this one: When I joined the Dogster staff three years ago, the first thing I did was bring journalist Maria Goodavage on board to run our For the Love of Dog blog (which has since been rolled into Dogster Magazine). Within her first month on the job, she e-mailed asking if it was okay if she referred to dogs as "whos" in her pieces, since she wasn't comfortable calling them "that" or "it." I told her it was funny she mentioned it because I had run into that same wall while writing my own pieces and very much preferred "who" as well.

Long story short, an editorial guideline was born. And while we haven't been all wild and flashy about this particular point of view, it's the undercurrent in every story you'll read on the site. Are we saying dogs are people? Maybe not exactly, but you can't deny they are sentient individuals with distinct personalities, no?

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We hate to break it to you, but that basket of puppies just isn't real. Who puts puppies in baskets anyway? Photo via Shutterstock.

2. We care immensely about where you get your next pet, and we think you should care, too.

Puppy mills are hell on earth, make no mistake about it. We would love to see every last one shut down and the only way that's going to happen is if people stop patronizing them whether they mean to or not.

Too often I meet otherwise intelligent people who tell me they "rescued" their dog from a pet store. And before you say it, I'm not talking adoption walls/fairs/events at said pet store. Whole different beast altogether. In the beginning, I would get incredibly worked up and give these folks my judgmental glare of pure horror (TM) and a piece of my mind, but these days I realize it won't help the situation. At this point the deed is done and these people have likely already learned the hard way about what a puppy mill or backyard breeder is. 

Our stand here at Dogster is to educate rather than bully people about their choices when it comes to where they get their next dog. So you can expect to see more articles like "This is What a Puppy Mill Dog Looks Like" and "Meet Rosie, the Poster Pup for Backyard Breeding" on the site -- and we hope you'll share them as we run them, because we feel these are important stories to tell.

Maybe if we tell enough of them, it'll make a dent, however small, in the sick statistics: At a Petfinder talk I attended last month, founder Betsy Saul estimated that 40 percent of pets in the U.S. today are from mills. That makes my stomach turn. 

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Spot the rescue! Spot the dog from the responsible breeder! Must you play this game every time you hit the street?

3. We champion adoption. And we support responsible breeders.

Adoption is woven into Dogster's DNA. We have an entire section of the site featuring listings of precious pups waiting for their forever homes. So, yes, we are completely behind the adoption message. Some of our favorite people run some of the most amazing, inspiring rescues we know. But just because we love adoption and frequently champion it in our articles doesn't mean we are instantly vehemently anti-breeder. We are staunchly anti-irresponsible breeder, it's true, but we also support those who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of the particular breeds who have won their hearts. 

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PSST! Speaking of adoption, would you like to adopt Beasley? Our community manager, Lori, is in danger of becoming a HUGE foster fail. So please contact Muttville and take The Bees home!

At the last Blogpaws conference, I ran into a woman with the most beautiful Italian Greyhound and asked her whether he was a champion. She actually looked over her shoulder before answering me in hushed tones that indeed he was, before quickly going into a spiel about how she'd had rescued dogs before, and how this was a breed she had intensely researched before connecting with a highly reputable breeder, and so on and so forth.

I was saddened that she felt she had to go on the defense to justify owning a perfectly healthy, well-adjusted, and well-bred dog, but being shamed in public for owning a purebred (even one from a responsible breeder) is pretty common. Enough with the shaming, people -- it's not helping anybody get anywhere fast.

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Vick could learn a lot from Gandhi. Photo by NineBall 2727 via Flickr.

4. We believe harming dogs is criminal and should be condemned by society as such. 

I always get that Gandhi quote in my head when we report on the atrocities humans inflict upon animals.

This one: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." We at Dogster believe we have a long way to go as a society based on this alone.

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I think I may qualify as pet "slave" instead of parent.

5. We believe we can help you become a better pet parent (or owner or slave or chief of staff ... whatever you want to call yourself).

Dogster's editorial program is a work in progress, and one of the things we're trying to do daily between the cute posts, opinion items, and dog news is provide readers with solid advice from experts and experienced pet parents alike. We know our readers encompass everybody, from beginners to seasoned pet pros, and our mission is to have items of interest to both the enthusiast and the novice.

Dr. Eric Barchas has been keeping his "Ask a Vet" column going strong (he was Dogster's very first blogger years ago!), as has marvelous trainer Casey Lomonaco, whose column runs every Tuesday. And most days of the week, we have guest writers and regulars talking about everything from alternatives to the cone of shame to the advice they wish someone had given them when they first brought a dog home. 

Anyway, there you have it. These are our values here at Dogster, naked as a newborn puppy. Now we'd love to hear what your values are when it comes to your dogs or cats, or pets in general. 

Janine Kahn is Dogster and Catster's Editor-in-Chief. See her full bio and a video featuring her dog, Mr. Moxie, here.

Recent articles by Janine:

Thu, 12 Jul 2012 03:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dogster-values
<![CDATA[On Absolut Vodka's Greyhounds, YouTube, and Advertising]]> I'm like a lot of folks these days, spending way too much time on YouTube watching goofy videos, listening to music, and being generally unproductive. But when it’s time to get something done, YouTube can be a valuable ally. I fire up my “Work Music” playlist, slap on the old headphones, and get to it, using the tunes to screen out distractions.

A YouTube playlist has advantages. It’s free; it has only the music that I add; I can be as eclectic as I want with the music selection; and while there are ads, they tend to be pretty infrequent. And did I mention it’s free?

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Racing Greyhound by
So, what in the world does YouTube have to do with Greyhounds? A few months ago a liquor company featured a high-tech Greyhound race in an ad campaign called Absolut Greyhound. Several versions of the ad ran on YouTube, along with a full video featuring the music of Swedish House Mafia.

First, the ad targeting was a total failure in my case, because I don’t drink, and if the company thought I would be enamored of the high-tech Greyhound race, it really missed. Watching a lot of dog and cat videos is a pretty good indicator that you love pets, but it does not equate to “You’ll love this ad featuring a high-tech Greyhound race.”

I won't link to the ad, because I feel it exploits Greyhounds. I won't give the company another view here. Instead, I’ll show you these Greyhounds from Golden State Greyhound Adoption, a wonderful organization that finds retired racing Greyhounds loving forever homes.

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Dogster Community Manager Lori Malm walking her mom’s GSGA Greyhounds, Champ and Isis.

What’s not to love? I’ll give these two (three counting Lori) face time in my column anytime. Just looking at the beautiful faces of Champ and Isis makes me even madder about our topic this week.

I originally aimed to critique the ad much as I would do for one of my media classes. I intended to wow you with my understanding of shot composition and editing theory, then argue the ad was a reprehensible exploitation of Greyhounds. The problem with that approach? You would need to see the ad to verify the validity of my critique, and I would need to describe key elements so that you'd be exposed to the ad’s content regardless of whether you saw it.

But I will say this: The ad is absolutely demeaning to Greyhounds. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But the company making the product, and the production team that made the video, are not at fault. We are.

Let that sink in. We are. You. Me. The folks next door. We’ve allowed our culture to slide to the point where marketing people make decisions for crass advertising strategies and (deep sigh) those crass strategies work.

Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction argues when authors creates, they do not write to a void. The author has a “created audience” in mind -– a group of people who would find that particular story or theme attractive, enjoyable, or in some way acceptable.

Authors create, in short, image of themselves and another image of the reader. Authors make the reader as they make a second self, and the most successful reading is one in which the created selves, author and reader, can find complete agreement.

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Daisy is another happy rescued Grehound. Photo by ex_magician / Flickr
Am I starting to make sense? If no one watches, why show something? If no one will read it, why write? If no one will buy it, why make the product?

There’s a sentiment that popular media -- including advertising -- leads society. Media shows the path to enlightenment by opening doors and breaking down barriers. It’s a fallacy. Media follows society, it does not lead. Media is like a comedian playing to an audience he does not know. The comic starts off the show with material designed to show where the audience’s head is. Are the members into innuendo and nuance, or straightforward in-your-face jokes? Then he ramps the show up or down as needed. In other words, the audience leads.

The part of this that really upsets me is knowing Pogo was right: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." We live in a world where animals are abused every day. Why should we be surprised if a vodka company creates an ad featuring dog racing? Dogs and cats are dropped off at shelters every day because people find the animals inconvenient. I get that there’s a difference between the broken-hearted family forced to give up a pet because they can no longer afford its proper care, and the people who simply abandon a pet because they can’t be bothered. That  said, do any of you believe there isn't a market out there of people who think high-tech Greyhound racing is pretty darn cool?

Yeah. Pretty sad.

Advertising measures the pulse of a society. You don’t need to look any farther than your TV set, computer monitor, or the pitches bombarding you in a movie theater before the feature starts. We’re the culture of “me,” and not much else matters other than what we want and when we want it. I’m old enough to know things haven’t always been that way. Somewhere between watching Andy and Opie walk to the fishing hole (R.I.P. Andy Griffith) and the emergence of the Internet, which lets you watch that iconic show pretty much anywhere and anytime you want, society has evolved (or perhaps devolved) into something more complex and less pretty.

But I refuse to leave you without hope. Here’s a commercial, albeit an older one, which uses pets to sell a product (fireplaces) and a theme (gentleness) in a style and manner I am happy to share.

Now that’s some exploitation I can live with. Absolutely.

Thu, 05 Jul 2012 07:30:00 -0700 /lifestyle/absolut-vodka-greyhound-ad
<![CDATA[Flexi Leashes Are Dangerous In the Wrong Hands, But Here's Why I Love Them]]> Occasionally the universe aligns to bring great fortune, and one article inspires another. Such is the case this week. Last week I wrote “Four Awesome Things for Dogs that Some People Think Are Cruel," discussing the appropriate and recommended use of scheduled feedings, muzzles, crates, and long lines.

A long line can be as simple as a length of rope or other material with a handle at one end and a leash clasp on the other. My favorite long lines are inexpensive and easily made in an afternoon with supplies from any hardware store. Created by Colleen Koch, the device is my favorite for most situations where a long line might be required for safety. (But be careful and wear long pants when using it with dogs with lots of energy -- you don't want rope burns on your legs.)

Regarding retractable leashes, using them irresponsibly puts dogs, people, and other animals in danger. Because I've been meaning to write something for my own clients, a new blog post, "The Great Flexi Debate," was born on my Rewarding Behaviors blog discussing the appropriate use of retractable leashes. Here's an overview.

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Walking the dog by

The Good

+ Retractable leashes are great for relatively unpopulated trails or parks. (Caution: This might not apply to dogs that have extremely high prey drives.)
Retractable leashes are great for relatively unpopulated trails or parks. (Caution: This might not apply to dogs that have extremely high prey drives.)

+ They are great for use with dogs that are already trained to walk politely and give their handlers attention on standard, six-foot leashes.

+ They will probably allow your dog to walk two miles for every one you walk.

+ They can be a safe way for you to enjoy beautiful areas your dogs cannot safely enjoy off-leash. Retractable leashes allow both my dogs to experience beaches, forests, mountains, lakes, and trails that we would otherwise not experience, providing more sniffing and exploring opportunities than they'd get on a standard leash.

The Bad

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Miniature Dachshund on long leash by

+ If your dog is not trained to walk politely on a loose leash, a retractable leash might encourage pulling behavior via opposition reflex. See the Rewarding Behaviors blog for a tip on equipment cues.

+ Dropped flexi leashes can be extremely frightening (What is that monster chasing my tail?!) and cause your dog to run away, far and fast. You are advised to desensitize your dog to a dropped leash.

+ Retractable leashes present a safety risk to dogs. Never attach a retractable leash to a prong or choke collar or any type of head halter (like a Gentle Leader). Call your dog back before he reaches the end of his retractable leash and reward him for returning, so he doesn't flip himself over hitting the end of the leash at full run.

+ These leashes are a safety risk to humans and have even caused amputations. The tape-type products are generally safer than the rope-type. Wear long pants to reduce the chance of rope burns, and hold the leash only by the plastic housing, as grabbing on to the leash itself may cause rope burns at a minimum and amputation of fingers at worst.

+ Retractable leashes are not recommended for dogs with reactivity problems in environments where triggers might be encountered.

The Common Sense

+ Small children should never handle a dog on a retractable leash.

+ Don’t use a flexi leash on city streets, in city parks, in veterinary offices, at dog events or large walking events, or where there is a lot of traffic, dogs, or foot traffic.

+ Never allow dogs to play on retractable leashes, even if they are friendly and well acquainted. 

+ If you are walking your dog and encounter a dog or person who wants to greet your dog, lock the leash at a length of six feet or so before approaching.

+ Your dog should never have enough length of leash to run into the road.

+ Retractables are best for walking a single dog. Several dogs can tangle quickly, and the bulky housings are awkward to carry when you are dealing with more than one.

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Dachshund on leash by

Examine your leashes, like all training equipment, before use. If the leash is damaged or frayed, if the locking mechanism is slow or ineffective or spontaneously pops out of locked position, or if the clasp doesn't close securely, replace the item immediately. It's advisable to replace a retractable leash every two years or so anyway.

+ Have a poop-scooping plan -- my dogs are taught to sit and wait while I grab a poop bag, lock the leash, place it on the ground, scoop and pocket poop, and pick the leashes up until they are released.

+ If you see another dog or person, give your dog a pre-trained hand target cue to get back toward your side where you can lock the leash at a six-foot distance.

+ If you use your retractable leash in areas where your dog will be swimming or if the leash gets wet, fully extend it and lock it into place to dry when you get home to prevent mold or mildew.

I know many people who hate retractable leashes, but I think more than the leashes themselves these people hate irresponsible use of the leashes, which is unfortunately common. I've heard some say they want retractable leashes banned. This might be a logical decision within busy urban environments, but not when used according to the terms described here.

With a well-trained dog and responsible owner paying attention to the other creature at the end of the leash as opposed to texting or chatting on the phone, retractable leashes can greatly enhance exercise opportunities and quality of life for dogs and their people.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a retractable leash? Have you had bad experiences with it? Do you have any additions to the list? Is the solution to ban the tool, or to teach owners how to use it responsibly?

Tue, 12 Jun 2012 03:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/flexi-leash