Things I have learned from my dogs

Over the years, Deb and I have been fortunate to share our lives with many dogs. We have had many foster dogs who eventually went to new homes. Mostly though if we foster a dog we generally end up adopting it. We don’t generally foster young dogs, instead we focus on senior animals who need stability and security in their last years. Every dog we have had the pleasure of knowing has taught me something. Dogs are patient and wise; unlike us, they do not demand that you get their lesson immediately. Dogs have seen the very worst and the very best humankind has to offer yet no matter what they have been through, the violence and cruelty they have been subjected to most dogs still have an ability to trust us.

Tippy – unconditional love is a powerful healer

Tippy was my very first dog as an adult. She was a Maltese/Shih Tzu cross. I had just started university when Tippy came tome via a friend. This dog showed me the wonder that is unconditional love. During the first couple of years she was with me, I was going through counselling trying to deal with my fucked up childhood. Tip probably soaked up more tears than she should have. We were inseparable. She came to work with me, we went to grad school together, she was my constant companion. She was fiercely loyal and I adored her. Others were not so fond of her though. She was a little, shall we say, on the dominant side. Her place in the car was the front passenger seat and she did not like it if someone else was in that place. She would make their lives miserable![1] She also didn’t appreciate it if I had someone sleep with me – she would growl at them all night. For such a small dog,[2] she certainly had a big presence.

The Chunk – embrace life and enjoy things with abandon

The Chunk was my accidental Shih Tzu. Dog lovers know the kind, the dog and breed you never knew you wanted! The Chunk was a force to be reckoned with. Typical of her breed, she was incredibly stubborn and tenacious. The Chunk was all about doing what felt good – she was a true hedonist. We were happily her slaves. When she really enjoyed things she did so with abandon. She loved to play on the bed in a little game we used to call ‘shih tzu abuse’[3] which involved pushing her away, trying to grab her paws and body slamming her. She would never do this in front of the other dogs for some reason. She exemplified the idea that to live life to its fullest you sometimes had to do it with abandon.

Piper – loyalty to those you love is not negoitable

Piper has taught me so many things, it is hard to know where to begin. I think I will start with patience. Piper took 3 years to completely toilet train. We all spent hours upon hours outside, in the rain, the heat, the snow, telling Piper to go pee. Twenty minutes was a good morning. She would sniff, eat grass, run the fence with Diesel next door. It also seemed that just as she was getting ready to pee something would distract her and we would be starting all over again. Piper is also incredibly loyal and attuned to me. If I am sick, she is always right beside me. She does not ask for attention she is just there. If I do not go up to bed the same time as Deb she will stay with me even though she really wants to go up for treats. She tolerates all the other dogs who want to be with me because she knows that she is my #1 dog in the house. Occasionally she gets tired of the interlopers and will launch herself on me for some love and snuggles.

Zoe – it takes focus to meet your goals

I adore Zoe. She came to us from Turtle Gardens 3 years ago. She was a former breeding dog who had lived a rough life. Once she got here, she quickly put her past behind her and became the diva she was always meant to be. I have blogged before about Zoe and how she gets her own way all the time. Zoe seems to have a unique skill wherein she can punish us if we don’t give her what she wants. Most of the time it is just easier to give in so at least she will stop for a while. This dog has such single-minded focus it is scary. If it was her job to cure cancer it would be done. World peace? She was just bark until everyone put down their guns.

Jesse – embrace change to meet your needs

Jesse is the newest addition to The Swamp. We adopted him through Bully Buddies. Jesse has had a hard life, you can tell just by looking at him. He worries about everything. Losing his Dad has been very difficult for him. Yet he has been able to come here and adapt. Jesse is 8 and he has some pain issues from the botched surgery on his back legs. He has never lived with multiple dogs yet he is managing here just fine; he has great patience with Sawyer who is in love with him. He hates to be left alone and has severe separation anxiety yet he will go into his crate without much fuss. He is even bonding with us. However we know that should he ever see his Dad again he would be over the moon and then crushed even more if he couldn’t go with him. Jesse has taught us that making the best of a bad situation, being adaptable and rolling with change is what we all have to do. Jesse is trying so hard to be resilient and still enjoy life.

[1] Just ask my best friend Joe!

[2] 7.5 pounds on a good day.

[3] Don’t worry, no shih tzus were harmed in this activity.

Lists from The Swamp: 10 reasons I love autumn

  1. Even before autumn starts I love seeing the leaves on the trees fade and grow tired. It signals to me that the hell that is summer is almost over.
  2. I can enjoy the sunny days without being overheated.
  3. The local food scene in Maple Ridge is to die for! Lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat.
  4. The crunch of leaves under my feet.
  5. Watching the trees turn brilliant colours. Where I live, we have lots of blueberry farms and the bushes turn brilliant shades of purple and blue.
  6. The cold bite of the air in the morning.
  7. Temperatures going down to single digits so we can ditch the air conditioner for the year.
  8. After a long summer break, new movies and music are released.
  9. The first smell of someone burning wood in their fireplace.
  10. THANKSGIVING!!! My favourite of the turkey holidays.

What is your favourite season and why? I love autumn and spring the most. Winter comes in third; I loathe summer.

Democracy is for Sissies

Is it just me or does it seem that our politicians are ruling via subterfuge? It seems like most government made decisions are one big shell game: ‘quick, look over there, shiny’ while a new tax is shoved down our throats. We can’t even count on them to maintain the integrity of their own values and ethics throughout the course of their time in power. Democracy has become code for bait and switch.

This week in politics in BC, our Premier, Christy Clark, has decided that the culture at the BC Legislature is ‘sick’ and that she tries to stay away from it as much as possible. She likened it to the complaints made about the ‘beltway’ in Washington, DC. These comments, originally made in May, were released when it was announced that the legislature would not sit this fall. Clark clearly has an overblown sense of her importance. To compare BC politics to what happens in Washington, DC is like talking about your acne problem when you have a little zit.[1] All of senior civil servants, you know those people who provide crucial factual information to government politicians, all sit in Victoria. If she is not there, she can’t get all the information to make policy decisions. If her ministers behave as she does, they will also not be getting crucial information with which to make decisions.

Cancelling the fall sitting of the legislature is hubris at its worst. The provincial government just announced that revenues are $1 billion dollars below projections. If the legislature does not sit, then the opposition does not get access to this information to ask questions. I actually think there is a more sinister reason for not having a fall sitting. The timing of this supposed deficit announcement is curious. It is a little more than 6 months before the next election. I predict the BC Liberals will have a feel-good budget delivered in February and the shortfall will become a windfall. Everyone in government will slap each other on the back and congratulate themselves on their uber-financial management skills. They will then start the dog and pony show as they hand out the pre-election goodies. Personally, I am tired of being bought with my own money.

We can’t even count on politicians to stay true to their own beliefs in values. Apparently, once upon a time, Stephen Harper was against omnibus bills yet his government has passed one and has another one planned for the fall. Whoops! There goes your democracy right down the omnibus toilet.

All of this begs a much bigger question: when did democracy become a game of collusion and subterfuge? When did political parties abandon ideology and brokerage politics?[2] I used to think brokerage politics was a horrible development, now I long for those days where you could still tease a little bit of ideology from party platforms. Politics is now a game of confuse the voter, say whatever you need to so you are elected then do whatever the hell you want. Re-election campaigns start right after an election. We used to get a measure of peace in the first 2 years after an election, now the attack ads start almost immediately.

Leadership seems to be something that is missing from all politicians modus operandi. Real leaders build consensus, they answer tough questions and they lay out a vision for the future. We are so short on any kind of vision as everyone is focused on the next election. If you are an effective leader, you don’t have to resort to confusion and downright lies to convince people to follow you. If you want to lead effectively you have to be accountable; people watch your every move; you are a role model. I see no role models amongst the current crop of politicians. Instead they are all focused on maintaining their positions of authority even when they can’t stand to work at their place of employment.


[1] Primarily this is due to structural differences. In the US there is no party discipline to speak of so every vote is up for grabs. That means lobbyists are trying to convince 535 people of their position each time there is a vote.

[2] Brokerage politics saw the reduced reliance on ideology for policy decisions. Parties tended to move towards the centre so they had a better chance of getting elected.

Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘can’t you all go out at once?’ edition

We are back up to six canines at The Swamp. This means a lot of getting up and down to let them in and out. Obviously we try to get as many dogs out at a time to minimize the trips however they always seem to have other ideas:


Kiefer is ultimately lazy and he only does things on HIS schedule. Often we will have just let most of the dogs out and back in. Ten minutes later in Kiefer time[1] he wants out. If he deigns to go out with everyone else he won’t come back in when the door opens again. Instead he lays in the grass until I have sat back down, become comfortable again and picked up my crochet hook. It never fails.


She will go out with everyone but she won’t come back in. She likes to hang out in the yard ridding it of every possible threat. She barks and carries on particularly if the German Shepard dog is outside next door. Her other favourite pass time is barking at the coyotes who are yipping somewhere. She also takes forever to pee. Her toilet training is rock solid but man don’t try to hurry that dog up!


Or Mr. Whiny Pants as I like to call him. Sawyer is afraid of the cold. In the winter trying to get him out from underneath his heated blanket is Herculean feat. His toilet training is still suspect so he must go out or he will sneak off to have an accident in the bathroom. Pretty much with him you get to stand and watch him pee, which is quick thankfully, and he comes right back in. If you don’t wait you will just be walking back in about 30 seconds when he decides to bark and cry. Then there are the nights he wants to go out multiple times for no apparent reason. He can whine like no dog I have ever heard.


Zoe is a Shih Tzu. This breed seems to have something against getting their feet wet. The rainy season here is a nightmare. She will not go off the step and she sometimes pees right there so everyone else gets to dodge it. At least she generally responds well to the lets go out excitement and doesn’t take forever!


When Gracie arrived at The Swamp she seemed to have stellar toilet training. She would race outside, pee and whatever and come right back in. It was all a ruse. She is now in boot camp, which means she is made to get up in the morning which she hates and we are teaching her to pee on command. She is not so happy to go out and pee now. She is starting to get the command now so it is taking much less time. Of course I am comparing her to Piper who used to take 30 minutes to pee when we had her in boot camp!


Jesse is a rock star! He goes out and comes in quickly. Although, I have never seen a dog who pees for as long as he does, I swear sometimes it is 90 seconds of peeing. I am not sure what is up with that. It might be his kidney disease.

In other news I have been reading all the entries posted on the Dog Shaming blog. I have to say that I feel pretty damn good about our dogs! No one has eaten the furniture, our underwear or eaten anyone’s false teeth! Our crew are angels.

[1] Hmm, he is a Newfoundland after all…

Canada and Iran – an oily standoff

Last Friday, the Canadian government severed all diplomatic ties with Iran. Usually when countries take this step there have been increasing tensions and perhaps a series of escalating incidents. One might fairly ask what precipitated this event. The answer is, well, nothing. To be fair, diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have not been great since the revolution in 1979. Iran has always been a little pissed that Canada smuggled 6 Americans out during the hostage crisis. Factor in the death of Zahra Kazemi and relations have been strained. So the question is why now? Why would we take such a drastic step in the absence of any kind of simmering diplomatic feud?

I have a theory. Stephen Harper is from Calgary. I have blogged before about how American Calgary is in its view of the world. Although born in Toronto, Harper’s education was at the University of Calgary. Particularly in the 1990s, the University of Calgary was a hotbed of a pro-American brand of conservatism.[1] Both the economics and political science departments were rife with these politically motivated students and faculty.[2] Who knows how or why this started; did Calgary create them or did they impact Calgary? Regardless, this is the school of thought that informs our prime minister’s policies.

Now, what does all of this have to do with us severing diplomatic ties with Iran? If you were to listen to Vic Toews[3] you would have heard him say that Iran is the biggest threat to global security.[4] Iran’s threat to global security was no different last Friday than it was the Friday before or the year before that, so why now?

As an historian, I have been trained to look for broad conceptual contexts in which to situate events. When an event does not make sense, historians are trained to tease out what may actually be going on. Given how American Calgary is, I began to think about why Americans might take this kind of action. Pretty much all American foreign policy has to do with money, and it’s compatriot, oil. Iran is a major oil producer and a competitor to Canada. As we all know, Harper and Alberta have been trying to find a way to move Alberta’s bitumen to China. Harper has his eye set on China and moving bitumen there as a means to diversify our exports and take advantage of China’s huge economy. What does all this have to do with Iran? Well, if Harper can isolate Iran even more than it already is or provoke some time of military strike, Iran will be further isolated in the international community. UN sanctions will follow and China will be looking for a new source of oil.

I don’t think my theory is wrong. The drums to war have been beating for quite a while with regard to Iran. While I believe the Iranian regime and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are reprehensible, the rights of sovereign nations are still paramount. Invading Iran because they supposedly have nuclear weapons sounds a whole lot like Iraq having ‘weapons of mass destruction.’  Any action that impacts Iran’s ability to sell its oil on the open market benefits Canada.

As a British Columbian all of this really concerns me. It seems that Harper is willing to squander our hard earned, though somewhat tarnished now, international reputation to sell Alberta’s bitumen. He is also willing to put our province at risk to do it. The Gateway pipeline is almost universally opposed in BC. I fear this pipeline is going to be shoved down our throats whether we want it or not.

The pipeline is not good for Canada. It will ship unprocessed bitumen out of the country leaving us in our familiar ‘hewer of wood, drawer of water’ role. Like lumber, why would we ship this stuff out of the country without processing it and creating more jobs in Canada? I wonder if we might feel better about the pipeline if there was to be a refinery in BC that would process the bitumen before it shipped out to China? The reason we are not doing this is because it would make it more expensive and the Chinese would rather process it there for cheaper. So Harper is willing to sell out Canada to benefit is buddies in the tar sands.[5] Now there’s a surprise.

[1] I was at the U of C at this time as well. Some TAs in the political science department were caught trying to sell Reform Party memberships to undergrads.

[2] Tom Flanagan comes to mind.

[3] Who listens to him anyway?

[4] Clearly if we were to believe Vic we should be severing diplomatic ties with the US, but I digress.

[5] Make no mistake it is the tar sands. It has been called the tar sand for decades. Only recently did some PR schmuk come up with ‘oil sands’ to try to convince people it is not dirty oil. One is not against the tar sands by calling it the tar sands; one is simply being precise.

Dispatches from the Swamp – ‘the new dogs’ edition Part 2

Part 1 is here.

Bully Buddies asked us if we would foster a senior pit bull cross who was languishing in a shelter.[1] Jesse’s life had been rough. His owner had difficulty caring for him from time to time and he could no longer. Jesse had 2 botched cruciate ligament repairs that have left his back legs weak and painful. If that weren’t bad enough part of his spine is fused. He saw a vet to determine if his pain could be treated and he was started on Metacam and Tramadol. Jesse arrived at The Swamp 2 weeks ago.

Handsome senior pittie face.

The first thing we noticed about Jesse was his absolute obsession with balls. He had to have a ball in his mouth at all times. He was also desperate to play fetch. Thankfully this obsessive behavior has calmed down. Jesse does have severe separation anxiety. He becomes very stressed when left alone. After 2 weeks we have figured out how to manage this for the couple of times a week he needs to be alone.

Waiting for the ball to be thrown!

We took him to our vet last week, as we were concerned that he may be diabetic as he was sucking back the water and is very thin. He has kidney disease. So we are not sure how long Jesse has given that he has to be on Metacam[2] for pain management. We will not compromise quality of life for any senior dog – he has to be pain free. He also needs to gain about 7 pounds, as he is really thin right now. He received a cartrophen shot[3] and he is getting green lipped mussel to help his arthritis and strengthen his back legs.

You can see how thin he is here.

Jesse is a good dog who has had a rough life; you can see it in his face. He is not used to any kind of comfort. He loves lying on the couch however, he really does not want to go in there without one of us. So every evening he goes towards the living room while looking back to see if someone is going to come with him. Yesterday he had the courage to go and lay on the couch without me going with him!

Here is Jesse’s top 5 favourite things in the whole world:

5. Stuffies – like any pit bull, Jesse loves to rip apart the stuffies. Luckily for him we have a whole laundry basket full of old ones that he can destroy.[4]

4. Bones – Jesse really enjoys a good bone. He works on them for a long time. This probably why his teeth are really clean.

3. Cuz – Oh my god! He loves a good Cuz. I am very happy once he has punctured it and it no longer screams![5]

2. Stuffed Kongs – Jesse gets one of these at bedtime. It takes him a while to empty them. Deb is also getting very creative. Last night it was chicken and cheese microwaved so the cheese melted.

1. Balls – of course the number one thing on Jesse’s list of favourite things are his tennis balls or any kind of ball.

This is one of Jesse’s favourite beds note all the toys!

We hope that Jesse is with us long enough to lose the worried look on his face; he has seen so much adversity. It is our job to make sure this dog knows some comfort and stability before the end of his life. We don’t know how long he has but we will make sure every day is a good day for him. A huge thank you to Bully Buddies for pulling him out of the shelter. It is situations like this where rescue is at its best – pulling a dog that is likely not adoptable but doing it for the dog.

Jesse laying in the sun in my office.

[1] The request did not come out of the blue. I had been involved in a thread on FB about perhaps taking an aggressive French Bull dog. The Frenchie didn’t need our help after all.

[2] Metacam is an NSAID and can be hard on the internal organs like the kidneys and the liver.

[3] He will have these weekly for 3 more weeks.

[4] This behavior has lessened.

[5] Anyone who has lived with a Cuz loving dog will understand.

Observations about Calgary

I was born in Calgary. I lived her up until I was about 18 when I left to do Katimavik. I came back when I was about 22 and went to school. I was away for a year at Queen’s doing my Master of Arts degree. I finally left again when I was 34 for Vancouver. I have never looked back since. I love living in Metro Vancouver.[1] All of the things I disliked about Calgary seem to be so much more magnified 13 years later:

  • I find Calgary very American. Not a big surprise as it is built by oil. This city has grown so much and it really seems to be expansion for the sake of expansion. It is Manifest Destiny run amok. There are so many new ‘communities’ everywhere and very little infrastructure. Almost every strip mall is packed all the time. The traffic situation is out of control from what I can see.
  • Consumption is so much more visible here than in Metro Vancouver. The trucks are bigger and louder. With no Air Care[2], I have seen so many vehicles spewing toxic sludge. The one thing I have noticed is that there are certainly fewer dump trucks, which does make me happy.
  • Believe it or not, drivers here are more aggressive in Calgary than Vancouver. I commute 45 minutes each way for work so I spent a lot of time on the highway. And while we have our fair share of assholes, it is nothing like what I have seen here.
  • I am very surprised at the lack of health care infrastructure here. It seems like the system here cannot keep up with demand. I am not sure if it is mismanagement or a true lack of resources flowing in. Given the amount of money brought in by the tar sands you would think the government could at least afford a decent health care system. My mother is always complaining about being able to access doctors and other health services.
  • I was reminded how much I hate how they name the streets in developments. We used to live in Oakridge and every street was Oak something. It makes it really hard to find addresses. Along with this goes the penchant for everything looking the same. My mother lives in an area where you can’t even plant flowers if you want to because all the landscaping has to look the same. She can’t even have a fence put up for the dog.

I get that Calgary is not all bad. Some of my most favourite people live here. However, there is zero chance that I will ever move back here.

[1] Given that I found my biological parents in Vancouver just this year, I wonder how powerful the call of geography can be. From the time I learned about Vancouver, I always wanted to live there.

[2] I am not an Air Care fan but it does keep some of the worst polluting vehicles off the road.