Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big Black Dog Syndrome

Niobe in her Hannibal Lector issue muzzle. 

Today was downtown farmer’s market day.  It’s only three blocks from where I live and I try to visit every week.  I’m trying to live the vida loca, after all.  I’ve gotten into the habit of putting Kieran’s backpack on him and taking him with me since he’s been so well behaved and he’s big enough to carry a respectable amount of produce home on his back.  But as I was getting ready today Niobe kept throwing herself at me, reminding me she was there.  She might as well have been yelling ‘Take me!  Take me!’  She had a heartbreaking eagerness that I couldn’t deny.  I thought about it and decided I wouldn’t be bringing home much, if any, produce today.  So I clipped her lead to her collar, put on her muzzle, and off we went.  Kieran stayed behind to shake his proverbial fist at us in the window.

As a note, Niobe and Kieran always wear their muzzles in crowded places.  For their protection as much as anyone’s.  As much as I trust that they would never hurt anyone, there’s always the unexpected or unexplained.  Such as the time that while trying to socialize Kinley (who is not particularly friendly or trustworthy around strangers.  She was also born deaf and startles easily.) we took her into a pet store and a stranger walked by and saw her Halti.  Wrongly assuming that the dog bridle was a muzzle, the woman said ‘look that dog is wearing a muzzle!’ and then for no sane reason that I could discern reached down and grabbed Kinley’s face.  Surprisingly, Kinley did not bite the woman, although I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.  I always keep in mind that woman’s stupidity when walking into crowds with my dogs.

Anyway, the market was a bust.  Most of the vendors were packing up to leave.  The only thing I purchased were some perogies from our Russian food vendor.  On the way home we stopped off at the drugstore and as I was securing Niobe to a tree in the shade to wait for me a cyclist approached to chain his bike up.  ‘Your dog looks vicious’ was all he said as he walked past.  Niobe was just standing there staring at me, ears pricked forward since she’d been listening to me talk to her moments earlier.  Her curly tail was wagging slightly.  No, he didn’t ask if she was friendly.  Which is common enough and usually perceived as perfectly polite.  He stated that she was vicious.

I was immediately filled with a great deal of annoyance which was probably obvious in my voice as I replied very curtly:  ‘She’s not.  She only looks that way to you because she’s wearing a muzzle and she’s black.’  He said nothing more and I walked away.  Niobe sat patiently awaiting my return.  In my experience the statement I made is true.  When people see my dogs without the muzzles I have scores of people who want to pet them or remark on how adorable they are.  Well actually, Kieran gets called adorable (I suspect the floppy ears and goofy expression are to blame) and Niobe is referred to as beautiful.  When I put their muzzles on...they become vicious monsters in the eyes of the ignorant.  Amazing that a couple of leather straps can achieve this.  But it’s more than just the muzzle.  A large part of this falls under the category of Big Black Dog Syndrome.

Big Black Dog Syndrome is defined as a phenomenon in shelters and pounds where unusually high numbers of big black dogs (BBDs) are overlooked by potential adopters and are left sitting in cages for years or are euthanized to make room for new dogs.  There are many theories for why this happens:

•    Black dogs do not photograph well.  I can attest to this.  I’ve spent much time trying to photograph my lovely black furballs, and the pictures never do them justice.  I have many blurry photos of black fur with teeth or tongue.  Because they don’t photograph well they don’t catch the eye of potental adopters.
•    Black hair is more visible on light furniture and carpets.  Since I have neither of these things it is not a problem for me, personally.  My white cat Mau, on the other hand, leaves evidence of his presence everywhere.
•    Black holds a superstitious element for many people.  Black cats are bad luck (and also have a hard time being adopted from shelters).  The bad guy is always black.  Black signifies evil.
•    Black dogs are seen by many to be more aggressive or unfriendly.

And it is this last theory that came into play at the farmer’s market.  There is no reliable evidence to suggest that colour plays any part in the temperament of dogs, and yet perhaps on an unconscious level many people associate black dogs with meanness.  This may be because of the general media portrayal of black dogs.  Since black dogs aren’t easy to photograph, they aren’t used as often in commercials, television, or still ads.

Which dogs are best known in the media?  Lassie, of course.  The light coloured and long furred wonder-dog.  Old Yeller...until the ending.  Another light dog.  The 101 dalmations.  Lady and the Tramp.  Benji.  More recently homeward bound and Beethoven.  All these ‘good dogs’ are portrayed by light coloured dog actors.*

When do you see Big Black Dogs in the popular media?  Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers are frequently used as guard dogs and attack dogs in movies.  How many times has the human hero broken into a yard or building only to be chased by a black blur with teeth?  And that’s the key.  It’s an ill defined black blur of vicious teeth and growls.  Scary and mean and without personality.  You don’t need a dog to photograph well to capture that message.

And so with such a background Niobe is seen as a vicious dog before the person has done much more than glance at her colour, her alert ears, and her black studded leather muzzle.  All forty pounds of her.  The fact that she’s sitting nicely, watching her owner, obediently waiting for the next command, and the slight wag of the tail are not seen by the average person.  She’s been stereotyped.  The fact that she’s wearing a muzzle confirms it.  She must be a dangerous dog.
Niobe and Kieran.  Clearly they are both vicious Big Black Dogs.

Kieran and Niobe are both BBDs.  They were also both rescued from shelters.  Niobe, with her pointy ears, intelligent alertness, and vocalizations was abandoned at the shelter three times before she was a year old.  I’m her fourth owner and she’s been with me for two and a half years.  She has been with me sufficiently long enough for me to be offended when she has been unfairly cast into the roll of ‘bad dog’ based on her appearance alone.

‘Your dog looks vicious’.   Honestly, what a rude statement to make to a dog owner.

*Yes, I’m aware that Cujo was also a Saint Bernard.  He was also the star of the movie...and rarely is the bad dog cast as the star.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Words That Make You Think

What is a Canadian? A Canadian is a fellow wearing English tweeds, a Hong Kong shirt and Spanish shoes, who sips Brazilian coffee sweetened with Philippine sugar from a Bavarian cup while nibbling Swiss cheese, sitting at a Danish desk over a Persian rug, after coming home in a German car from an Italian movie... and then writes his Member of Parliament with a Japanese ballpoint pen on French paper, demanding that he do something about foreigners taking away our Canadian jobs


Friday, August 13, 2010

My new wheels.

No...these were the old wheels.
Sometimes we do not choose frugality but have it thrust upon us.  Until recently I was driving a 2008 Honda CRV.  And let me tell you, that is a beautiful vehicle.   I bought it for practical reasons...and the fact that I just fell in love with all the nifty luxuries.  There was lots of room in the back to accommodate dump runs, animal crates, and building supplies.  It had all-wheel drive to handle the country back roads of the Highlands where we lived in the winter months.  It was comfortable to fit four adult passengers and all of our Pipeband Gear on our way to parades.  And it handled like a dream.  I swear I haven’t been paid to endorse this vehicle.  

My point is that when I bought the vehicle there were practical considerations aside from ‘’s pretty!’.   A few months later I unexpectedly moved from a rural area to an urban one.  The vehicle was no longer practical but I hung onto it anyway partly because I needed a vehicle and partly because I was too stupid  stubborn to admit the vehicle was now too much for me.  The vehicle cost a considerable amount to keep on the road and spent most of its time sitting parked and unused.  Eventually the extra money it cost to keep ‘the beast’ running put me into financial hardship and I fell behind in my mortgage.  I made the decision to get rid of the Honda. 

At this point I had to consider my transport options:

a)    I could use public transit.  This would have been a perfectly viable option except for the fact that I work full time night shift and there are nights that the transit system shuts down too early and starts up too late in the morning.  I don’t fancy the idea of sitting around for two hours every day after work waiting for the bus.  Especially with my critters sitting by the door crossing their legs and patiently waiting to pee.  Taxis were prohibitively expensive. 

b)    Purchase an old ‘beater’, ie something that had a few hundred thousand kms on it and was (barely) considered road worthy.  I looked around half earnestly and became distraught pretty quickly.  After having driven my dream car for two years it’s more than a little difficult to lower one’s standards enough to get excited over a ‘91 Buick.  (Hardly any Rust!  Only 400K on it!  Nevermind what that unidentified smell under the rear seat is!  Oh, the brakes stick sometimes...and you have to manually adjust the antenna to get FM stations...)

c)    Walk.  Again, maybe this would have been an option but for the fact that I live in a terrible neighbourhood and work fulltime nightshift at the other end of the city.  It’s slightly further than I am comfortable walking or biking.  Especially during the dark. 

This is when I did my research and discovered the e-bike.  An electrically assisted bicycle that has been becoming more popular in recent years.  Especially in urban centres.  The more I read about the things the more intrigued I became.  Especially when I learned that it's completely legal to drive on the roads and the trails of Ontario and you don’t need insurance, registration, or a license plate.  Long story short I bought one outright for about $50 more than what my SUV was costing me per month.

The new wheels! 

The company I chose is one called Gio.  It is a Chinese company (which I am not thrilled about) that transports these bikes to BC and distributes them from there via auction.  These bikes have become a preferred means of transport in China because they are quiet, small, and do not require the use of fossil fuels.  They are bicycles even though they look like scooters.  Under all that molded plastic is a typical bike chain, typical pedals, and typical grip brakes.  But the electric motor propels it forward somewhere between 20-30 km/hr. 

I’ve been riding my Gio-Bike for five months now.  Through rain or shine she gets me to work every day.  Sometimes I'm a little damp and have bugs in my teeth...but I'm there on time and that counts.  Every night I plug it in to recharge and I'm told that it costs about $0.08 a charge.  My favourite part of having an e-Bike is driving past gas stations and looking up at the towering advertisement of $1.03/L and realizing I don't have to buy gas for my e-Bike...ever.  I'll be honest, I've been known to grin obnoxiously at the people with their anxious expressions pumping gas into their vehicles.  I'm a jerk, what can I say.  Then again I have found that people in their cars grin obnoxiously at me from inside their warm and dry cars while I'm being rained on.  

When the winter comes, it will no longer be practical to ride a bike around the city.  At that point I'll have to look at my options again (dog sled?!?)  and figure out what I'm going to do for the winter months.  In the meantime I'm enjoying the leisurely ride and the freedom from fossil fuels and insurance companies.  I'm also enjoying the fact that while cars drive around downtown constantly looking for parking,  I can legally park anywhere a bike can.

Honestly, I do miss my SUV sometimes.  I miss the convenience and this summer in particular I miss the a/c!  I miss the luxury of being warm and dry on rainy days.  I also miss being able to shop at Big Box stores and buying in Bulk.  I can also no longer go to the hardware store and buy more than a couple pieces of lumber or other renovating supplies.  I have to plan carefully when I shop, and this too is saving me money.  I have far fewer impulse buys and I've started to carefully read all the Flyers and compare prices.   I miss my SUV until I realize how much it was costing me...and the environment.  Then I get over it, hop on my e-Bike, and drive past all the cars waiting in line at the lights.  That's the ultimate irony, I think.  Their vehicles are faster and far more powerful, but while moving around the city I get around about as quickly as they do.  At a fraction of the cost.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Scanning Code of Practice

This is a post that only applies to my fellow Canadians.  It seems as though very few people, actually no one,  I’ve spoken to are aware of this nifty little policy that has repeatedly saved me a good deal of money.

It is estimated that 2% of all purchases scan through at the incorrect price when you take them to the cash register.  Rarely do these errors ever seem to be in your favour.  Unless you diligently check your receipts for errors every time you shop, that’s a good chunk of your wallet gone for no particular reason. 

The Scanning Code of Practice is a policy that many retailers have agreed to, I suppose in order to make it look as though they’re not intentionally trying to rip you off.  Or as they officially phrase it on the government website:
The purpose of the Code is to:
  • Visibly demonstrate retailer commitment to scanner price accuracy;
  • Provide retailers with a consistent national framework for dealing with scanner price accuracy issues; and
  • Provide the retail industry with a mechanism for consumer redress in scanner price accuracy cases, to be managed by a Scanner Price Accuracy Committee.
Here’s how it works: If an item is scanned at the register and the price on the register is higher than the posted price, the customer is entitled to $10 off the price of the item.  If the item costs less than $10, the item is free.   It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

If you don’t believe me, here’s a report from a couple of years ago about it on Marketplace.  (Sorry, I couldn't embed the video, and can't find it on youtube).

Most large outlets adhere to this rule.  Places where I have personally used it are Costco, Loblaws, Sobeys, Home Depot, Walmart, and Canadian Tire.  Especially Canadian Tire.  Our local store seems to make a ridiculous amount of pricing errors...none of which are to the benefit of the customer, believe me.  In the last year alone I’ve gotten frozen chicken breasts, milk, a frozen cheesecake, router bits, a thermometer, a litter locker, some yard tools, and various kitchen wares either free or at $10 off. 

If the store is bound by this policy, and many of the large retailers are, there will be a sticker somewhere in the vicinity of the cashier, or on the front door that looks like this: 

In my experience, it’s usually partially obscured.  I don’t believe it’s something they want people knowing about.  I’ve also personally found that no cashier in the last year has argued the point with me...but none of them has volunteered the information either. 

So next time you’re at a major retail chain have a glance around for the sticker and keep an eye on those receipts, you could save yourself a pretty penny. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Critters and First Aid.

Kieran.  Yes, that's what his tongue is supposed to look like.
I’ve been thinking lately about what I would do if something sudden and unforeseen happened to one of my furry little crumb stealers.  As much as we prepare, sometimes things catch us off guard and it’s good to put a little thought into these things before they happen...and not wait until you’re in a highly stressful situation.

Last year my brother and I were walking the dogs just before I was to leave for work.  I was running late as it was and probably was a little more impatient than normal.  I also wasn’t as observant as usual.  On the way home I noticed that Kieran was leaving a dark paw print on the sidewalk.  Blood.  He’d thoroughly sliced open his pad on a broken beer bottle that someone had tossed into the grass.  Because the streetlight was out I hadn’t noticed it, and Kieran had run straight through it. 

The pad of a dogs foot is a very vascular area and from what I’ve read it’s the sort of injury that often requires stitches.  When I got him home he immediately proceeded to run around in circles as I gathered up the First Aid kit.  Frankly, it looked like someone had slaughtered a small furry animal in there, between his blood and the tumbleweeds of fur that are a normal part of my home’s decor.   There was a lot of blood.  I called my work and let them know I’d be a few minutes late. 

After cleaning the wound and applying pressure for several minutes it seemed as though the bleeding had slowed.  So I put on a compress dressing, put on a knitted baby booty (It was actually supposed to be part of a gift basket for my cousin’s baby shower, but fit Kieran perfectly) and wrapped the whole thing with a tensor bandage to keep it in place.  But, of course, I’m right at home with wounds and dressings.  I’m a nurse, and the sight of blood doesn’t generally cause me to get overly excited. 

I told my brother to keep Kieran quiet, watch to make sure he wasn’t bleeding too much, and periodically check his paw to make sure it was the same temperature as the other one.  In other words, to make sure I hadn’t wound the bandage too tight.  Kieran’s also obsessed with his feet.  So my brother needed to make sure Kieran didn’t remove the dressing and start licking the wound.  Knowing my brother would call if there was a problem, I then left for work.

The wound took several days to heal enough that it stopped bleeding when we went for walks, and now he has a light scar across his ‘palm’.  The lucky thing is that my brother was there to keep an eye on him right after the accident.  If he hadn’t been there, the story might have gone down differently.

But what about situations that are more sudden and more dangerous?  Last year there was a rash of dog electrocutions on the streets of Toronto.  Faulty wiring near the sidewalks.  Bleeding is one thing, but what happens when your fur-baby stops breathing suddenly?  How many of us know how to perform CPR on a human, let alone a dog or a cat? 

I wouldn’t even know where to begin with a four legged critter.

You can’t prepare for everything, but knowing the basics just may be enough to save a life some day.  And then it’d be worth the ten minutes of your life you took to learn it.  In an upcoming post I'll go over what I have in my critter's First Aid kit (Yes, they have their own separate one) and tips that have saved me vet visits.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


What is it, you ask?  Well, basically it’s a weed.  One that grows wild...and one that you can safely and nutritiously eat.  I’d read about this plant here and there on the interwebz, and my interest was piqued.  A food that's wonderfully healthy for you, reputed to be delicious, and  Oh, yes.  I'm all over that like bees on honey.  It’s apparently becoming quite popular in culinary circles and with the locavore movement.  In a time where food costs are soaring, anything that can cut down on the grocery bill is a bonus.

Anyway, I found some at the Farmer’s Market and brought home a bag containing more than I’ll possibly be able to eat for $2.50.  You can eat it raw, (And I did nibble at it a little.  It tastes like any other raw green...with an unexpected almost lemony zing to it!) or you can use it in the same way you’d use spinach. I opted for the cooked method, since I'm not a huge fan of green salads.  For my first experiment with the stuff I tossed a handful of the little leaves into my rice maker with some brown rice, onions, red peppers, and split peas.  Garlic and seasonings too, of course. This is my go-to recipe when I want something filling and satisfying without putting a whole lot of work in.

I'll be honest, what came out of the ricemaker didn't look nearly so appetizing.  The leaves had wilted, of course, and the colour had changed to a pale and washed out runny green.  Whereas spinach usually keeps it's deep green colouring.  But the whole mixture smelled pretty good and I was famished, so I dug right in with my fork.  The outcome?  Delicious, as advertised. That lemony zing I mentioned really comes out when you cook it.  Quite tasty.

In the future, I'll be keeping an eye out for areas where I can harvest the wild stuff.  Or maybe it will become a fixture in my 2011 garden.  In the meantime, even if I eat it every day for the next week, I probably still won't make it through the whole bag.  Pretty good value for $2.50.  Even better value when I find my own source.  I'll keep you updated.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Words To Live By - July 31/10

'A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.'

-Robert A. Heinlein