Eight moments of Zen

Thanks, Forest Poodles, for inviting me to share eight photos of happiness. Here they are, my eight moments of Zen.

Reading with my pups

This is pretty much my perfect day. Reading on the beach with my dogs. I have it as the cover photo on my Facebook page, on a sticker on the back of my iPhone case, and printed on my business cards. No one’s asked me what book I’m reading. It’s Poser by Claire Dederer.

Isis, Summer 2010

My sunshiney Isis in the summer of 2010. She loved her pool, and her soccer ball.

Selfie with my sidekick

I take more dog selfies than I do solo selfies. Here’s one with Mia during a lunch break on a day when I took her to work. Rob had been taking her to his work more often than I was at that point, so this is me reclaiming her as my sidekick.

Snuggle Bug

This is a selfie too, although I’m pretending to be asleep. Most mornings, the dogs wait to jump on the bed until I’m in the shower. Sometimes I have to get back in bed and snuggle with them before getting on with my day. Leo is my snuggle bug.

Christmas Mia

When I was in grad school in 2001, the internet was still pretty new. The girl with the computer next to mine discovered a hilarious picture of a kitten online. Whenever things got slow or stressful, she’d bring the picture up and we’d laugh our asses off. That’s sort of how I feel about the above picture of Mia. Rob took it at his work while I was in Los Angeles for Christmas. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile.


This is Abe. I made a video of him at the Humane Society of Skagit Valley and almost cried when it resulted in his getting adopted. And almost cried again when he got sent back for barking too much. He did finally get adopted again for real.


Eight-week-old Leo, the day we brought him home, June 2010.

Isis under the dogwood

I took this photo of Isis on an October afternoon with perfect light. It was one of several awesome photos that day and I never did anything with it until my book cover designer picked it for the cover image of Bark and Lunge. She cropped it perfectly, and I’m still not tired of it, even after staring at it on the book cover, T-shirts, postcards, and banners.


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I love all my dogs equally

Mia fountain
Looking at my Instagram feed last week, I realized with shame that it had been a while since I posted a picture of Leo. It’s not that Mia is more beautiful or more photogenic than Leo, just that Rob had been taking Mia to work a lot. He takes her on long walks during his lunch and practices with his new cameras, and therefore we wind up with lots of beautiful pictures of her.

That night I took a few phone pics of Leo at the Bad Dog Park, which was strangely empty. Everyone must have defected to the new Best Dog Park, so I’ll take the kids there tonight. Here he is, actually lying down at the park because there was no one else to play with.

Bad Dog Park

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Purple Flowers Mia Majesty

Rob made this photo of Mia last week at work. I love it so much that we need to make a companion one of Leo and then mural an entire wall with it.

We celebrated Mia’s birthday last week. We brought her home four years ago June 4. Who knows how old she really is, but she brings magic into our lives every day.

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The power of a photo

This post is going to be even less Wordless than usual, but it speaks to the power of a single photo.

This one:

Lovely Linda

Since I started volunteering at an animal shelter, I’ve deliberately not plastered “sad dog” photos all over Facebook. I take dogs on walks and try to get photos of them with my phone that show how fun it would be to bring them home. I don’t like to see sad pictures in my feed and didn’t think anyone else would either. I also felt like people would get tired of seeing these pictures and either tune them out, unfriend or block me.

Last week, I walked two dogs who had been returned to the shelter after living in homes for months. I passed Linda, the German shepherd above, looking so lonesome. Partial as I am to shepherds, I went into her kennel to say hello. She wouldn’t even let me pet her. I sat in the corner hoping she would come over to me. She didn’t, but I snapped a few pictures with my phone.

Later, I posted the picture of one of the returned dogs and almost didn’t post the one of Linda, because it violates my self-imposed rule: Happy dogs only!

But she just broke my heart. She had been surrendered by her owner, who got her as a puppy from a friend, because he was moving and couldn’t take her. She’s only 10 months old.

Of course I don’t know the whole story, and life is unpredictable … but people should not get dogs when they don’t know where they’re going to be in 10 months. The explanation sounds so casual, too. “Got her from a friend.” Who knows? Maybe his friend is the world’s most reputable breeder, but it’s unconscionable for a purebred German shepherd puppy to wind up in a shelter. Any purebred puppy really. If we’re making these dogs on purpose, let’s ensure they have homes to live in.

Plus, she’d already had at least one bad experience, so she is afraid of other dogs, the surrendering party reported. Poorly socialized and now isolated in a kennel.

I posted the picture because I knew someone would want a young shepherd like her.

I was right. The photo came as close as anything I’ve ever posted to “going viral.” I shared with a local German shepherd rescue, the Humane Society reposted it, and a writer for Examiner.com wrote about it. Hundreds of people shared and commented and wanted to adopt Linda. People in Montana and New York asked if she could be transported. (No, but did it occur to you to contact your local animal shelter? They have dogs.)

The shelter got so much interest they had to stop taking applications. They selected a wonderful home for Linda.

What’s the message here? I’ve been posting pictures for a year and this is the first time this has happened. Do people just like German shepherds better than other breeds? Is it because she’s young? Or because the photo tugged on people’s heartstrings?

I think it’s a combination. Being a purebred puppy helped Linda’s case, and the sadness of the photo spoke to people. I was reminded of hearing Joanne McGonagle of The Tiniest Tiger speak at last year’s BarkWorld:

Putting a Face on Your Message: This session discusses the power of one face and how a single image will make your message stick with your readers. You will gain an understanding of psychic numbing and how to avoid turning off your readers when discussing everything from animal adoption to pressing animal welfare issues. You will learn why focusing on positive results and giving a message of hope is important if you want to touch the heart of your reader and motivate them to take action. 

I got that: Psychic Numbing. If I’d posted sad photos of every dog at the shelter, you might have missed Linda. If I’d posted links to every German shepherd rescue in the country, people would think, Oh, there’s too many. We can’t save them all. 

The last part of the blurb is what had me confused. I held back from posting sad pictures because I didn’t want to turn off my audience. But maybe when there’s just one sad dog, people can hold onto hope. If we can find a home for that one sad dog, the problem is not insurmountable.

The next day, Linda had a flood of visitors, and although I wasn’t there, here she is after being plied with hot dogs.

Visiting day

And here’s Abby, a small chocolate lab mix who was brought back to the shelter after several months. Through no fault of her own, she was placed in the wrong home for her. She’s a little reactive to other dogs on leash, but absolutely wonderful to walk, knows what to do with a tennis ball, gives nice kisses, and has a behaviorist’s seal of approval. She deserves another chance.


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P is for Park

pups park

Chilling at The Best Dog Park

I’ve written before about the two dog parks in town, but due to my self-inflicted rules for this All-Positive A to Z Challenge, I can repeat the name of only one of them: The Good Dog Park. (You can probably guess the name of the other.)

Now there’s a third, henceforth to be called The Best Dog Park.

“Have you been to the new dog park?” My hairdresser asked me last week.

“There’s a new dog park???”

I consider myself pretty locked in to the dog news around here, so I’m going to assume that I heard this first from my hairdresser because my dog training buddies have better pro-social activities for their dogs than the Wild West of off-leash parks.

We work hard to make our occasional dog park visits positive, even if that means leaving when the party is just getting started. Our visit last week to the Other Dog Park got really exciting when a year-old German shepherd zoomie-galloped into the fray, and Leo chased after him. I thought, Oh, good, Leo can wear himself out with this guy. But when the young dog slowed down, Leo mounted and humped him.

This has become our signal that it’s time to leave. While humping is a perfectly normal thing for a dog to do (Fern Camacho can tell you more), we keep things polite at the park. We used to have a three-strikes policy, but once Leo fixates on a dog, he keeps going back, so now we pack it up after the first mount.

Which is also what we did for our first visit to the Best Dog Park. While it’s farther from our house than the other two dog parks, it’s worth the drive. We’re still in the honeymoon phase, but it’s amazing! The ground is fully covered in bark, and there are some nice logs for people to sit on and dogs to jump over. More importantly, the people there were more attentive to their dogs than the folks tend to be at the Other Dog Park.

Somehow the dogs even seem better. This all might be because it’s new, but we’ll take it!

For the A to Z Challenge, I’m using all positive language in my posts. Find out how positive reinforcement training helped my dog in my book, Bark and Lunge!


D is for Dedication

Tiptoe with Two Dogs
Dedication is putting your camera on a tripod in front of fields of tulips, setting the timer to take 10 photos after 10 seconds, then running through the mud with two large dogs to pose. Do this 10 times or so, and you might end up with one photo where both dogs are looking at the camera.

You might also end up with dirty jeans, mud soaked through your socks, and a car interior in need of detailing, but it’s so worth it.

Here are some outtakes.

Dedication also is a commitment to give your dogs the best life you can, to nurture their good qualities and help them through their challenges. We’ll talk more about that on Monday, when E stands for Every Day.

For more about my journey to discovering the benefits of positive reinforcement, read my book, Bark and Lunge!