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Happy Valentine’s Day? …is such a thing possible?!

Happy Valentine’s Day? …is such a thing possible?!

(originally posted as Pawprint, February 2011)

February 14 is, to my mind, the strangest holiday humans have ever come up with! It’s been around for something over 600 years (the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about it in the 14th Century!), and is named for two saints who were killed for their Catholic beliefs – certainly not anything mushy-kissykissy-romantic! But today, their names define a celebration of romance that is celebrated just about everywhere in the world!

But that’s not what’s strangest about it. What’s really odd is that there is so much pressure on everyone on Valentine’s Day!

I’ll bet most of you kids have parties at school where you’re expected to give Valentine cards saying “I Love You” or “Be Mine” to every other kid in your class (whether or not you actually like them!). You teenagers have the huge question of whether or not to give a card (or a flower, or chocolate, etc.) to anyone who you kind of like, or who kind of likes you. And for you adults who are still single, it’s worst of all! Do you send a Valentine to the person you had a really awesome dinner with last week, or is that uncool? And if you are in a serious relationship, or even married, just how much do you have to do that day? Have a romantic dinner? Buy flowers?  Give presents that cost a months’ salary?!

Now I’m a dog, and don’t understand a lot about how you humans do this romantic love thing. But one thing I do know is that pressure is the most UN-romantic thing there is! If a kid has to give a Valentine to all the other kids, how does she show how much she likes her best friend? If a teenager has to worry about who to please and who not, how can he express, or even feel, romance?!  And for adults, if it’s all about having to honor a day on the calendar, it’s not really about that person you love!  After all, you could give him flowers any other day of the year – and it would come off as more special, right?!

But worse, this pressure can make Valentine’s a very painful day. I have a friend who was the “new kid in school” when she was in 3rd grade, and when the students exchanged Valentines, she didn’t get a single one! Have you ever known someone who’s been “dumped” on Valentine’s Day, because of all the pressure? It happens a lot! Oodles of heartbreak. It’s just too much!

So what can you do?! Stay in bed all day?!

Okay, I’ll admit: that sounds GREAT to me! But in the meantime, I have three suggestions.

First, in Mexico they call February 14 “Dia del Amor y la Amistad,” or “Day of Love and Friendship.” I like that! What if you decided that Valentine’s Day is a great day to work extra hard to treat everybody with love?  Maybe tell everyone something you like about them, “I love your voice,” “That shirt looks great on you,” or “You’re funny!” (Or, as I usually say, “Wow you smell really interesting!”) Not only will it get you through this crazy day, but you’ll be so well-liked tomorrow!

Second, if there’s someone you’re really interested in, and you weren’t able to tell them about it before, maybe you can use this day to send them an anonymous Valentine! That’s where you sign it “A Secret Admirer” or something like that! That can be really exciting and romantic, even if you never tell them you sent it! (Though it can also be a disaster – what if you send it to her and she thinks another guy sent it… and that guy lies and says “Yes I did…?!” Oh No!!!)

And third, if you have a relationship with someone really special in your life, it’s great to make them feel loved by doing something for them on this day. But plan something else too. And tell them, “I don’t want this to just be about a holiday. I want us to do something special because we are a very special thing!”

Wow, my brain’s hurting! That’s a lot of thinking about human love!

So let me tell you what WE DOGS think about Valentine’s Day. First, EVERY day is a day for us to jump on people and lick them and tell them “We’re CRAZY about you! We’re SO excited to see you! We love you more than ANYTHING!” So V-Day is just another day for that. But we’d love it if maybe, because it’s a special day, you could tell us the same thing… extra! With extra hugs, with extra belly rubs, with extra kisses on the nose, and with extra TREATS!

(But remember, no chocolate! It’s bad for us.

Along with all the pressure and rules and expenses, yummy chocolate is one other thing that you people get to keep among yourselves on this crazy crazy day!)

Lots of Love!

Shirelle

2 For Goodness’ Sake …a few thoughts about what ‘good’ means

For Goodness’ Sake …a few thoughts about what ‘good’ means

The other day, I was sniffing some interesting bushes in a park, and a girl walked by without looking, and almost stepped on me.  I jumped, and she screamed, and froze, trembling, afraid to move.  Clearly, she was really scared, and thought I’d bite her.

Then, with all the voice she could muster – a whisper – she said, “Please be a good dog.  Good doggy.”  I sniffed her leg, and gave her a little kiss on the knee, but, seeing how frightened she was, thought it best to walk away and leave her to breathe.

This whole thing got me thinking, though.  About what humans mean when they say someone’s “Good.”  Now in her case, she meant that a good dog is one that doesn’t rip her legs off, expressing wishful thinking that I was at least that good!  But that’s not what Handsome means when he calls me good.  And when he angrily calls me “Bad Girl!” that’s not because I’ve ripped his body apart in fury!

 

So, just what does it mean when someone says that someone is a good dog, or a good person?

The more I thought about it, the more complex it got.  And for my doggy brain, that was really hard.  But here’s what I came up with:

 

“Good” can just mean the absence of “Bad.”  Like that girl in the park – she didn’t know my best qualities, or even care about them.  She didn’t know about how I protect our house, how I try to keep the yard squirrel-free, how I make sure Handsome feels loved every day by jumping on him and getting his nicest clothes all muddy and hairy… and I have no doubt she doesn’t know that I work hours daily to help out my pack member buddies with their troubles!  No, she just hoped I wouldn’t hurt her.

But “Good” can also mean other things.  For example, Handsome says it to me with a lot of meanings: When he trains me, “Good” means I did a trick right.  When I catch a really difficult ball in the air, “Good” means impressive, that I did something really cool.  And when he’s falling asleep and I curl up alongside him and he scratches my ears and says “such a good girl,” “Good” means that he loves my heart.

But when you hear that word used about humans, it very rarely means those same things.  In the “Lord of the Rings” stories, for example, when Frodo’s always talking about his friend “Good Sam,” he’s talking about the goodness of Sam’s loyalty.  And when you hear people refer to someone they’re introducing as “oh you’ll like her; she’s good,” they’re talking about how well she fits in with their group’s expected behaviors, such as having the right sense of humor or liking certain activities (In other words, “she’s good” could mean someone who likes to go hunting, or someone who’d never harm an animal, depending on who’s talking).

Then of course there’s the term “the good guys,” meaning the people we consider on the right side in a battle.  Batman’s a good guy; The Joker’s a bad guy.  Then people will half-jokingly take that attitude in sports.  “The good guys scored six points against the bad guys.”

And then, there’s “Good” meaning “good enough.”  Such as, “He’s a good singer,” or “She’s a good football player,” etc.   It’s not the same as saying that person’s truly great at that, but that they’re adequate.  “He’s no Daniel Day-Lewis of course, but he’s a good actor.”

Speaking of actors, there’s another meaning of “Good” that I’ve seen in some of the old movies Handsome likes to watch.  It’s a mixture of ability, coolness, intelligence… all those qualities we really want to think we have (yes, even us dogs).  “Is he any good?” a character will say.  “I just want to find out if I’m good enough.”  Etc.  It’s kind of hard to describe, but think of it this way:  James Bond is good, really good.

 

And then there’s another definition.  And this one is my favorite.   A friend of Handsome’s was arrested by a police officer, as it looked like he’d committed a crime.  And after he was released (they found out he hadn’t done it), he talked about what it was like being held by the cop.  “He was pretty tough.  Had me in handcuffs, was really intimidating.  But then while I sat in the car, he offered me some coffee.  Even held it so I could drink it.  I realized, he was actually a good guy.”

Now what did he mean by “Good?”  Of course the officer was on the side of the law; that wasn’t what this guy discovered about him.  And it wasn’t quite kindness; the officer was absolutely scaring him, and hurting him a little by chaining his hands up.

I think the quality that made that officer “Good” was something called Empathy.  Empathy is that quality where you actually feel something that someone else is going through.

It’s not the same as Pity (where you feel sorry for someone in a kind of distant way, like pitying the victims of the volcano at Pompeii), or Sympathy (where you feel bad that someone’s going through some pain, like when your friend loses a relative).

Empathy is more like when you watch someone suck on a lemon and it makes your mouth pucker.  It’s also when you watch a movie and cry because a character’s girlfriend just left him.  Or when you hear about a kid whose dog has gone missing, and your heart just drops as you struggle to imagine how that must feel.

Now I might be wrong, but I’m guessing that that police officer saw this scared guy in his car, shivering in the cold, and thought “Hey, even if this guy is a criminal, he’s clearly not dangerous, and I would feel better if I gave him some hot coffee.”  That’s Empathy.

 

We hear all the time about people who do good deeds just for show.  And when we learn the truth about how uncaring that person really is, we stop thinking that they’re really good people – even if they’ve done something really nice and useful.  No, it’s goodness in the heart that really matters to us.  How much someone feels for others.  And acts accordingly (If that officer had only felt for the guy, and not given him the coffee, no one would consider him especially good).

 

Which brings me back to that girl at the park.  You see, it wasn’t my not biting her that made me a good dog at that moment.  It was my sensing how scared she was and walking away to give her space.

If I’d stayed and sniffed her some more, that doesn’t mean I would have been a bad dog, but it wouldn’t have been as thoughtful, as considerate… as empathetic… as what I eventually did.

And as we go through life, I think that might be something to keep in mind.  It’s fine to put a lot of effort into being great, or being the best.  I’m all for it.  But at the same time, it’s important to remember that maybe the best things we ever do are just simply being Good.

 

Which was especially important to remember when we got home from the park, and I was all excited, and jumped up on Handsome’s white couch with my muddy feet and he started yelling and kicked me out of the house, calling me “Bad Dog” and worse!!

“Bad Dog?”  I guess I was.  But I also was able to know that, deep down, I was a Good dog too.

But It’s Not My Fault! …how to handle disasters

But It’s Not My Fault! …how to handle disasters

(Originally Posted in The Pawprint, in January, 2011)

Sometimes terrible things happen.  A couple of weeks ago, the city of Brisbane, Australia, where some of my favorite friends live, was flooded, destroying homes and businesses and memories and lives.  And at the same time, a man shot a lot of people, including a Judge and a Congresswoman, in Arizona.  When things like this happen, it’s just human nature to ask why.  With the flooding, scientists will find out things to help them predict weather patterns better, and engineers will see what they can learn to build better cities.  But with that shooting it’s tougher.  Why would anyone, even a crazy man, want to shoot these people?

A lot of people thought that perhaps some of the mean things that people on TV and radio had said about the Congresswoman might have inspired the man to want to hurt her.  And some of her political opponents had even used words and pictures about guns when they were saying they wanted  someone else to have her job.  So the question came up: Could this sort of talk and advertising have affected his mind?

Well, really we still don’t know.  And we probably never will.   But the question is still important – is it okay to say bad, hurtful things about people, or things that sound like threats to them?  Especially when you don’t know how your words might affect a person who hears them?

 

So, I thought a lot about it, and I know I’m only a dog, but I think it’s all about the word Responsibility.  Imagine you’re at lunch, and you see someone cleaning up after herself.  That shows responsibility, right?  She’s doing what she should.  Then you see someone else leaving a mess; he’s showing that he’s really irresponsible.  But what if you then see someone else, who doesn’t have to, step in to help clean up that mess?  Doesn’t he seem really responsible to you?  Isn’t he someone you want to trust?

You see, that last person is taking responsibility for things that aren’t even his fault.  He isn’t complaining about whether or not the mess is unfair.  Instead he’s choosing to do whatever he can to make his world a better place.

So in that same way, I’d love it if the people on TV and radio who say or send such terrible things about others would stop.  Whether or not that shooting was their fault.  Just because it might have been, or could be next time!  In other words, I’d like them to be more responsible.

 

Now, I believe in doing as I ask others to do.   And so I’ve looked over what I’ve written on my website, and…  wow, do you know what?  I’ve done the same thing!  I have written over and over again about how useless, stinky, and awful a certain group of beings are!  Not Congresspeople or Judges or Republicans or Democrats, but…  CATS!!!

       And it’s true!  I don’t like cats at all!  They do smell terrible and they walk through my yard in that slow smug way that just drives me up the wall, and they have that yowling sound that hurts my ears, and…

…And yet, I don’t wish for anything bad to happen to any cat, ever!

 

Sure I want to chase them out of my yard, but that’s just because I’m a dog.  But do I want someone who reads my writing to go off and hurt a cat?  Absolutely Not!

I love this world.  I love sniffing around it, making friends in it, playing, finding good things to eat – and I don’t want bad things to happen to anyone in it.  And of course, I have lots of friends who really love cats.  And I sure don’t want them to be sad because something happened to their kitty.

So I’ll say it simply:  Don’t Hurt Cats!  Ever!  Pet them, feed them, take them to the vet, let them sleep curled up in your neck if you like!  (But don’t bring them near me, or they’ll be chased up a tree in two seconds!)

And if anyone who reads anything I’ve written has ever been inspired to treat a cat badly, I am sorry.  Deeply, truly sorry.  And I’ll be happy to apologize to that cat, or that cat’s friends.

So kids, that’s me taking responsibility.  It’s a great thing to try to do.  And if you can live your life with joy and all sorts of bratty fun, but also be able to take responsibility when it’s necessary, you’ll be on the road to becoming great adults.  And you’ll make me proud, and help make this world the sort of place we all can enjoy.

 

Well, at least as long as the weather is kind!

 

The “War on Christmas” …is there really such a thing?!

The “War on Christmas” …is there really such a thing?!

(originally posted in The Pawprint, December, 2010)

For the last few years, there’s been a lot of talk about a “War on Christmas.”  Now we know there are places in the world where people of one faith make war on people of other faiths, which is of course just horrible.  But this argument says that people in America (and other similar countries) are trying to destroy Christmas, by saying things like “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.”  I have a very sensitive nose, you know, and this smelled kind of odd to me, so I went to check it out.

 

Now first, know that all dogs feel the same way about the holiday season – we love that there’s extra food around, dropping onto the floor, but we get lonely when our people leave us alone to visit family and friends.  Beyond that, though, I like to just sit back and watch.  Some people get so stressed out, driving crazy, worrying about everything, while others like Handsome just love the decorations, music, and spirit of giving that seems to come over the whole community.

 

In fact, Handsome tells me that the celebration of Christmas is bigger than ever.  Decorations go up, stores start advertising, and even radio stations start playing carols earlier and earlier every year.  Meanwhile, there’s certainly no lack of churches celebrating the religious side of Christmas.  So what’s this “war” we keep hearing about?

 

Well, here’s what I’ve found.  There is a very sad fact about animal nature.  If you’re ever in a dog park and a fight starts, or even if one dog is beating up on another, you’ll see most of the pooches run to check it out.  They don’t necessarily want to get into the fight, but they sure enjoy the excitement.  Even if everything else in the park is just what they like.

 

Humans are the same way.  If a thousand people are enjoying the mass-love-affair that is the holiday season, but one person says “Hey, that guy over there hates Christmas,” people will turn to listen to what she says.  And since she likes the attention, she’ll keep it up.  And some people will choose to believe her, and next thing you know, the happiest of holidays has become… well, a big stinking dog fight!

 

So here’s the real truth behind the “war on Christmas.”  If you own a small business, you can say whatever you want to your customers.  Maybe you know them personally and can say “Good morning Mrs. Wienerschnitzel, how was your nephew’s birthday party last week?”  Great!  But if you run a big chain of stores or restaurants, it’s impossible to be that personal.  So in order to make your customers’ experience more pleasant, you might tell your employees to say certain things, all the time.  “Welcome to Mutt Steak!  May I take your order?”  Stuff like that.  And then in the holiday season, to be part of the festivities, you might add another greeting in.  And because you have all sort of customers, that greeting’s got to be universal.

 

Now in regular life, it’s great to be greeted by everyone in their own way.  Some people pat me on the head.  Some people ask me to sit and shake their hand.  Some give me a big hug.  Great!  I like to jump up and lick strangers right in the mouth, though Handsome tries to discourage that.

 

So, similarly, if a person wants to greet me with “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Joyous Kwanza,” or “Blessed Eid,” or “Groovy Solstice,” or “Hey, cold enough for ya?!” it’s all fine by me.  But the people who run those big companies just can’t tell their employees to say one of those things!  It would be crazy to tell a Jewish checkout clerk that when her Rabbi buys a sweater at her store she has to say “Merry Christmas!”  Just as it would be ridiculous to ask a devout Christian to tell her priest “Happy Hanukkah.”  So instead, the stores have their employees say something that everyone, from the Pope to an atheist, can agree is festive:  “Happy Holidays,” “Season’s Greetings,” “Ho Ho Ho,” whatever!

 

So, back to those people complaining about the “War on Christmas.”  Is there really a war on Christmas, or are these people trying to start a sort of war on anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas?  Wow, how un-Christmassy can you get!

 

So I say, ignore them!  And meanwhile, I send every happy seasonal greeting there is to you!   Your friendship has sure made mine joyous.  I hope you get gifts you want, that you’re generous to others, that you soak up the spiritual beauty, and especially that you remember to give some special treats to any dogs in your life (but remember: no chocolate candies, those are bad for us).

 

And if you hear someone griping that Christmas is in danger from well-wishers, just know that they’re a big Scrooge trying to ruin everyone’s good time.  Celebrate, and in the words of the beautiful old carol, just spread Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

 

And if you do, in the words of the much newer one, you’ll help make it a Happy Christmas: “War” is over if you want it!

7 Insanity and Super-Sanity …some thoughts about the inconceivable

Insanity and Super-Sanity …some thoughts about the inconceivable

In the last week, I’ve seen just about as much bad news as I can take.  From politicians with their endless arguing, to constant wars and close-to-wars between countries, to continuing economic malaise and environmental collapse… and these are what we’re so used to that we regard it all as “normal.”

But other things aren’t so normal.  In Colorado in the U.S., some men broke into a house, doused the people there with gasoline, and set two on fire.  In Hunan Province in China, a man ran into a school with a knife and stabbed or cut twenty-one children.  And in the state of Connecticut, a young man strode into a school with two guns, killing twenty children and six adults, including himself – apparently after murdering his mother.  All these on the same day!

Humans’ minds are programmed to, when horrible incidents happen, instantly ask “Why.”  We dogs don’t do that; our brains stay much more In The Moment, and we just focus on what we’re feeling and what to do right then.

So when the news came out about this horrible Connecticut shooting, all the people around me started arguing – about why this all happened, and what needs to be done differently – while I just lay on the floor and felt my heart break.

You see, there are a lot of intelligent views out there on what might help prevent incidents like this being so bad in the future.  Stronger security in schools, making it harder for people to get guns, etc.  But none of those deal with the core issue at the heart of this, and all these, events:

The people who did them were Insane.

 

But what do I mean by that?  Well, I looked up the word Insane online, and found two serious definitions:  First: The state of being seriously mentally ill; or Madness.  And second: Extreme foolishness or irrationality.  Now you’ll hear other sorts of pretend definitions (Albert Einstein famously said that Insanity is defined by someone doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results), but those are really just people talking about things that fit those other two definitions.

 

Now, sure, we all do things that are foolish or irrational.  And we might refer to those actions as “insane,” but when we talk about someone running into a school to cut children, we are definitely talking about the other definition: serious mental illness, or madness.  The really really bad stuff.

But let’s be honest: When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that we don’t see more madness in the world.  Think of how often something goes wrong with someone’s leg, or neck, or stomach.  Why shouldn’t things go wrong with brains just as frequently?

Of course, lots of things do go wrong with brains, that don’t result in anything like this.  Older people tend to get very forgetful, some people need to wash their hands strangely often, while others get deeply depressed.  But it’s pretty amazing how rarely a person totally snaps and starts doing horrible things like this.

 

Which brings up a really interesting question:  It’s also a rare occurrence when someone writes a really great song, or invents a new medicine.  But no one calls them Insane for doing so.  So what’s the difference?

It comes down to this – there are certain core qualities that are universal, and what we call “Insanity” is what occurs when someone acts in a way that goes totally against those qualities.

Now you may not have any inclination to music composition, but you’d probably feel pretty good if you happened to write the most popular song since “Gangnam Style.”  You certainly wouldn’t feel that doing so goes against who and what you are.  Similarly, you might absolutely stink at science classes, but if you happened to invent the cure for cancer, I’ll bet you’d feel downright great about it!

Humans have certain innate qualities, just as we dogs do.  For example, normal humans might get involved in wars, but they would never normally want to randomly kill people in their own society, especially children.  Every instinct in a normal human tells them to love and protect children (even if they’re the sort who doesn’t especially like kids very much!).  Humans also naturally have a quality called Empathy, which means they’ll imagine they feel something someone else experiences (you know how your mouth pulls in if you see someone else suck on a lemon?!).

To do something like these horrible recent acts means that those humans didn’t have these normal qualities.  Maybe they were born without them, or maybe they had some experiences that made them block them out.  But even that’s not an explanation for what they did; they had to choose to do these things.  Imagine waking up one morning and thinking “Well it’s a nice day outside.  I think I’ll have some breakfast and straighten up my desk, and then I’ll go throw gasoline on some strangers and light them on fire.”  It doesn’t make sense, does it?

That’s Insanity.  It’s something that’s so bizarre that it boggles the mind when one tries to imagine it.

 

Dogs can go Insane too.  Every instinct in us tells us to protect our loved ones, and give them all the affection we can.  But there’s a disease called Rabies, which, if a dog gets it, will make it attack everyone around, including those it loves most.  (You might have seen a movie or read a book called “Old Yeller,” one of the best dog stories ever written, which has a terrifying depiction of Rabies that no reader or viewer ever forgets.)

So is there a cure for Insanity?  Is there a way to make the world Insanity-free?  Sadly, no.  As I said before, there are ways to try to reduce its danger – by keeping guns out of crazy people’s hands, by having good police and security, and of course by having easily-accessible mental health services.  But some dog out there is still going to go crazy and bite people, and some human is still going to… well… do the same.

 

But here’s what you can do.  Decide what you think is Super-Sane.  The opposite of Insane.  Maybe you think it’s Super-Sane to give some food to a hungry person.  Maybe you think it’s Super-Sane to tell your family you love them, or hug a friend.  Maybe you think it’s Super-Sane to get involved politically for a cause you believe in.  Maybe you think it’s Super-Sane to pray for goodness and sanity and love.

Who knows, maybe you think it’s Super-Sane to go pet a dog, or even adopt a pet who might otherwise never get a home!  That was sure the Super-Sanest thing Handsome ever did (in my opinion, anyway)!

You see, when you do something Super-Sane, you actually make the world a better place.  And who knows, maybe you’ll do something so good that you’ll keep someone else out there from going Insane, or from acting on their worst feelings.  I can’t guarantee it, but it is possible.

 

So be Sanity!  Get out there and live the Super-Sanest life you possibly can.

And meanwhile, one Super-Sane thing I can do is to say to all of you… thanks for everything!  You’re the best pals a pooch ever had.

And have an INSANELY great 2013!!!

 

Cheers,

Shirelle

Health Care: what’s all the yelling about?!

Health Care: what’s all the yelling about?!

(Originally included with Pawprint #1, November 2010)

It seems like all the grownup humans are talking about these days is Health Care. Adding to Health Care, taking away Health Care, reforming Health Care.

When I first heard all this talk, I had great hopes: Maybe they’ll finally agree with me and decide I don’t have to get any more shots!

Because oh I hate shots! Shots in the neck, shots in the foot, shots in the rump! I’m a big believer in equality and justice, and so, if it’s okay for a veterinarian to puncture me with a needle, I think it’s only fair I should be allowed to return the favor with a fang or two!

And oooooooh, there’s one thing that’s even worse than shots. Most kids never get these, but have you ever seen one of those vaccinations where they squirt it up your nose?! Now remember, a dog’s nose is way more sensitive than a person’s. So me getting one of those is like someone squirting a lemon into your eye! And then they sit around and talk about it being good for me?! Give me a break! Stupid rotten nose-squirt shot-giving meanies!

Okay, sorry, I had to have a little tantrum there. The truth is, I trust what Handsome tells me, and he insists that all these crazy things the doctors do – injecting me with this, taking that out of me, squirting whatever up my nose, groping me here and there, and even scraping my teeth – are really important and good for my health.

Most importantly, he says that they do all this for two main reasons – for me to feel good and energetic, and for me to live longer. Well I’m all for those, so if I have to suffer a few strange activities, I guess it’s worth it.

 

But that isn’t really what the Health Care debate is about, is it? I don’t hear any Representatives or Senators complaining about big needles. Their debate is really about insurance. And all the talk about insurance gets really complicated, but at its core, it’s actually pretty simple.

It’s like when we dogs get bones. We could enjoy them right away when we get them, and often we do. But we also like to bury them, so that on a day when we don’t have anything fresh to eat, we can go dig that bone up and satisfy our hunger.

 

Now imagine if a whole pack of dogs did that, buried some bones so that any member of the pack could get one when they needed it. That’s what an insurance company does – you pay a little money to it every month so that there will be a lot of money there for anyone who gets sick or hurt, enough to pay for them to get fixed up.

Now imagine that the leaders of that dog pack decide that all dogs should have to put bones in every month, and that that way all the pack members will be sure to not starve. Sounds good, right?

But maybe one dog says “I’m such a good hunter I won’t ever need a buried bone, so I want to keep my bones for myself.” And another says “I don’t like Fido over there, so I won’t put a bone in if there’s a chance he’ll get it.” And another says “But there are too many of us, we’ll run out of bones!” While at the same time, lots of the other dogs are saying that this is the only fair way for the pack to take care of its members, and anyone against it is being selfish and stupid!

Pretty complicated, isn’t it? Well that’s basically what they’re all yelling about, as far as I can tell. Most countries have some sort of a Health Care plan, and the one that we’re beginning in the United States is different from any other. So we’ll have to see how it works out over time.

 

But for right now, all I can say is, whether it’s paid for by the government, or an insurance company, or right out of Handsome’s pocket, the only thing I like about going to the veterinarian’s office is being done with it! When they give me a cookie, and let me take it in my mouth as I run full-speed out the door!

 

– Shirelle

 

My Top 10 of 2012! – things I’m grateful for today

My Top 10 of 2012! – things i’m grateful for today

Wow has this year flown by!  It feels like weeks ago that I gave Handsome a big lick at midnight to start 2012 right.

 

It’s certainly been a tough one for lots of us.  From wars to attacks to the continuing lousy worldwide economy, to horrible – even fatal – weather, 2012 has tested a lot of people’s and dogs’ patience.  But I’m optimistic about 2013.

 

Why?  Well, because I think we’ve learned a lot this year that can help us do better, because I believe the economy’s on the upswing, and because, well, I’m just that sort of cheerful mutt!

 

But also because so many things this year were wonderful.  Here are ten that I’m especially thankful for:

 

–      Water.  Sounds boring, I know.  What’s simpler or blander than water?  But you might have heard an old song that says, “You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry?”  I’m very active, and so pant a lot, and need to drink a lot.  So I’m grateful for water every time I find any.  And, as clean water gets harder to find, there’s no question, humans need to start caring for this most precious of resources better.  But for now, I just want to bid it a friendly nod of thanks!

 

–      Babies.  Another very normal thing – but aren’t they absolutely amazing?!  Just through luck, I’ve had a few new ones born around me recently, and I am always intrigued by their amazing minds, their deep souls… and, yes, the fascinating smells of their diapers!  I never met a baby I didn’t like, and I’m cheering babies everywhere, but I will take this opportunity to say a special hello to my pals Hazel, Sam, Avery, Chiara, and Judson!  Welcome to my crazy world!!!

 

–      The Black Keys.  I tend to like quieter music in general – the noisy stuff hurts my ears.  But I’m also a puppy at heart, and really fun jumpy tunes with a great beat do get my heart racing!  If you haven’t heard this band, or their SOOOOOO FUN album El Camino, you’re missing out!  Plus it’s so fun to howl along with the chorus of “Lonely Boy,” Oh-OH-Oh-Ohhhhhh!!!

 

–      Red Flags.  Last year, one of my top ten faves was about good friends sticking around and bad friends leaving.  On a similar note, I want to thank “Red Flags” this year.  That’s a term for when somebody does something that reveals to you that they’re not quite as trustworthy as you had hoped.  Like if you’re on a date with a boy who seems a total sweetheart and super-sensitive and caring, and he kicks a puppy and laughs about it.  Probably not the boy to stay with, right?!  Or that girl who’s everything you’ve ever wanted, but suddenly calls you a liar and a cheat because your cousin texted you ‘hello!’  Be Thankful for these moments!  They save us from such hurt and heartbreak later on, and leave you open for possibilities of…!

 

–      Paperman.  Speaking of romance, I don’t see new movies very often (it’s hard for Handsome to sneak me in to the theater), but last week I saw the most romantic, beautiful, touching love story I’ve seen in years!  And it’s maybe ten minutes long!  It’s a short, almost silent, cartoon film called “Paperman,” that shows before Wreck-It Ralph, which I’m sure you’ve all heard of by now.  And it’s sad and sweet and joyous, and all about the magic that can be created when someone refuses to give up on their quest for love.  Which is something any dog – especially any who’s ever been a stray – knows a lot about!  Love This!

 

–      The U.S. Election.  This is a tough one to include.  We all got SO BORED with the endlessness of this contest, with all the insults and lies and half-truths, and of course the incredible waste of money that went into it – money that could have done so many good things for the world.  But I still have to say, I liked that the main participants came off as smart (not always the case), that some real issues did get honestly debated, and that the results bode well for a future where more people will be respected, regardless of their race, gender, orientation, or religion.  But maybe the best thing about this election… is that it’s OVER!

 

–      Gluten-Free Pizza!  Last year I listed Pizza first among things I was grateful for.  But so many people have allergies to wheat flour that I have often found my human refusing to order it (and pizza is one of those things we dogs need you to do – it’s impossible for us to make; the toenails get in the way of our tossing the crusts, you know!).  Thank Goodness for the growing trend of Gluten-Free foods, so those people can enjoy the same dishes as others… and so they can get pizzas they’ll share with ME!!!!

 

–      Insects!  Everybody out there complains about bugs, how they get into food and bite and spread disease and such.  Well, I hate fleas and ticks as much as anyone, but I think our littlest companions deserve a bit of gratitude too.  Without them, life as we know it would end in minutes.  We need them in so many more ways than we know, and if we sit back and observe them, they have so many lessons to teach us – bees with their code of honor, ants with their mutual support.  I’m not telling you that you can’t bite a flea that’s biting you – I certainly do! – but when these fellas are leaving us alone, they’re worth a note of thanks.

 

–      YOU!  No surprise with this one!  I work hard, but it’s YOU who’ve made this site what it is.  The thousands of Pack Members, the tens of thousands of visitors, all of you who send questions in, and all who write back to tell me how my thoughts worked out… or just to say hi!  You are just the best bunch of friends a pup ever had!

 

But you know, up till now, I’ve been able to tell you that, but never to show it. But only up till now!  Because, through the magic of my wonderful friends Sherice and Martin…

 

–      Now you can REALLY Scratch My Ears!  You might have noticed that, on the right side of every page of AskShirelle.com, there’s a place that says “Scratch My Ears.”  And when you’ve clicked it, I’ve loved it and said ‘thanks,’ but now you get to SEE how much I love it!  Go for it. Ear scratches are one of those special things that you can never get enough of in life!  (Like Gluten-Free Pizza!!!)

 

So those are what I came up with off the top of my fuzzy head today.  What are YOU feeling grateful for?  (Or perhaps, not so grateful for?!!)

 

Have a great month and I’ll be in touch soon!

Shirelle

3 Ladies and Gentlemen – a new conception of politeness

Ladies and Gentlemen – a new conception of politeness

 

 

If you’re a lover of old books and movies, you’ll have noticed that there used to be a very accepted concept of Politeness that pervaded society.  But around the 1960’s, when all sort of really necessary changes happened, Politeness began to get a bad name.  How could rules of behavior be legitimate, if they included treating women as less than men, other races as less than white people, and the poor as less than the rich?   That’s the way it had been in the past, and it needed to change.

 

So those rules got dropped, and then, for a decade or so, it seemed that our society lost all rules of decorum.  Then a different set of rules came in, with the creepy name of “Political Correctness.”  This sounds like Nazism or something, but was really a set of social behavior rules set to replace the old Politeness, concerning itself with reducing sexism, racism, classism, etc.  It was certainly necessary.  But I’m thinking we’ve reached a time when we’re ready to bring Politeness back… but improved Politeness.

 

You see, I think there was something great about humans having the concept of Ladies and Gentlemen.  But as our world’s values have changed, that no longer should mean rich white people who treat others as lower than them!  Instead, it’s time for us to redefine these terms, in ways we like!
Now I don’t need to ever be called a Lady.  The rules for my gentility are too simple for that – sit, shake, heel; don’t jump on strangers or bite anyone, etc.  But I know that there are ways I like to see people act, and ways I don’t.  So here’s my beginning list of Shirelle’s Rules for Ladies and Gentlemen!

1.      Ladies and Gentlemen respect older people and children, and avoid doing things that will hurt or offend them.  When I see cars and t-shirts, or even movie posters, saying things that no one would want to say in front of their grandmothers, I know that the people who broadcast these comments are not humans I want in my house.  Since we all know what words I mean, that means that we know better than to put them out there!  And that goes for saying them loudly in public too.

 2.       Ladies and Gentlemen respect themselves.  We see insects and reptiles who treat themselves and their lives with more respect than some people.  While most of being a Lady or Gentleman is about treating others fairly or well, it’s also terribly important to honor yourself, including your health, your feelings, your opinions, and your appearance.

 3.      Ladies and Gentlemen treat all people with respect, regardless of their race, gender, class, or nationality.  This includes understanding that “respect” has to be shown different ways to different people.  The days of open segregation and discrimination are over, but there’s lots still going on in a subtler way (which means it’s harder to tell).  Ladies and Gentlemen really do the work to avoid those evils.  But they also work to show respect in different ways.  People in some cultures don’t like to be touched, for example, while others consider a hearty handshake or embrace to be the way to meet (and I like to jump on everyone!).  Ladies and Gentlemen try to understand those differences, and honor them.

 4.      Ladies and Gentlemen honor their own beliefs with deep integrity, but work to also honor those of others with whom they disagree.   This refers to politics and morality, but especially to religions.  It amazes me that, in this age of the “global village,” people still are so quick to insult or disparage others’ beliefs.  Of course, if a part of someone else’s religion endangers other people, there should be laws that prevent those things being carried out.  But that doesn’t mean anyone needs to put down the beliefs (or lack of beliefs) behind that religion.  Certainly not a Lady or a Gentleman!

 5.      Ladies and Gentlemen consider Kindness a high value, and try to act kindly whenever they can.  This is the core value that I believe a true Lady or Gentleman would have.  This includes basic manners (“Please” and “Thank You” and “Excuse me” still work after all these years).  But if someone behaves with a sort of Politeness that is inherently unkind, that’s the kind of Politeness that the world’s better off without.

 6.      Ladies and Gentlemen don’t take advantage of people working for them.  If you want to see a dog lose respect for a human in one second, let that human insult their waiter or waitress.  That poor worker has no way of responding to them without getting fired, and the insulter knows it.  Maybe there’s a simpler way of stating this:  You cannot be both a Bully and a Gentleman or Lady.  If you’re one, you’re not the other.

Note: This also includes Public Servants.  A Lady or Gentleman treats Police Officers, Firefighters, and members of the Armed Forces with respect and open gratitude.   Even if you don’t agree with every mission they’ve ever had to do, their willingness to do it has risked their lives to keep you safe.

 7.      Ladies and Gentlemen respect that we all share this earth and its resources.  This is one of the rules that just didn’t exist in the old Politeness, but has to be added now.  People who litter, or add to pollution in ways that are unnecessary, or who design policies in their home or work that ruin the environment for others, are Rude and Selfish.  Now that doesn’t mean that to be a Lady or Gentleman you have to be the most strict  environmentalist out there; you just need the awareness that the Earth is like a giant dinner table, and if you hog all the food, or throw your trash into someone else’s place, that’s not good table manners!

 8.      Ladies and Gentlemen honor other people’s divergent tastes.  If you like a certain sort of music, that’s great, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it.  But you don’t really need to force everyone around you to hear it when they don’t want to.  (On the other hand, it’s not exactly Ladylike behavior to complain every time your neighbors throw a party and you are able to hear their awful music!)  Similarly, someone else wearing different sorts of clothes to yours, or reading books you don’t like, actually makes the world a better and more interesting place, not worse!

 9.      Ladies and Gentlemen tell the truth (except when necessary).  They know that gains gotten by lies are not worth their cost.  The core of being a Lady or Gentleman is respecting yourself and others.  If you’re lying (unless it’s for a noble reason), you’re disrespecting both.  The Hebrew Commandment said to not bear false witness against one’s neighbor, but I’m being tougher than that!  Try to avoid any type of lying.  Besides, life is so much easier when you tell the truth, because you don’t have to run around trying to protect the lie.  If you tell the truth, you get to respect yourself the whole time!

 10. Ladies and Gentlemen treat children and animals with love and respect – even the ones they don’t like.  Did I include respecting children in two of these rules?  I sure did.  Because in a funny way, ALL these rules could come down to this one.   If a person acts in a way that honors children’s rights to their present and future, they’re automatically going to be Ladies and Gentlemen.  And when it comes to animals – look, no one has to like everyone (and I’ve made no secret on here about my distaste of cats!), but you humans do run this world.  And to treat animals badly is a sign of laziness and cruelty (again, Bullies aren’t Gentlemen).  If you see a spider in your house, you have the power and the right to step on it.  But if, instead, you catch it and put it outdoors, you’ve just proven yourself a more genteel, polite, and fine person!

 

Okay, that’s my beginning list.  Now here’s what I ask of you: Can you add to it?!  I would SO love that!  Who knows? Maybe if we get enough additions to it, we can start a worldwide conversation, and make the whole human race better!

 

So please, think of something that YOU would like to see on this list, and post it as a comment on this blog!

 

The future is ours!  A whole new world of Ladies, Gentlemen, Dogs…   and, well, yes, cats too!

6 A sad day

A sad day

Generally I’m a very happy dog, but today I’m terribly sad. One of my best friends passed away this morning.

Joe was, I guess, a bull-terrier mix. He wasn’t very old. He had always been super-energetic and playful, always eager to make new friends with whoever was passing by his home. And his play was ridiculous, in the best way. He was small enough to stand on the back of a couch, and strong enough to jump onto it from the floor. So if you got tumbling with him, he’d be all over you, bouncing in and out, and yelping if he was excited and you weren’t playing roughly enough with him. He had a great smile that no one who ever played with him will ever forget.

Last week, he suddenly began acting very strange. Panting, walking slowly, not eating. People thought he might have accidentally eaten something poisonous. But eventually a very perceptive veterinarian thought to x-ray Joe’s neck. And there was the problem – he had two fractures. The x-rays were sent to some experts to see if there was any way to save him, but before the results came back, Joe’s life went out of his body.

It’s not just me. Everyone who knew Joe was horribly saddened by this. The family he lived with is devastated. And his constant companion, a sheepdog mix named Bunny Gorilla (I know, a crazy name, but if you saw her, you’d agree it’s perfect) will never be the same.

In our lives, we’re always so busy worrying and chasing and striving and avoiding and whatever else, we’re unable to stop and realize just how much we mean to those around us. Do you have any idea what your value is to those who love you? And even to those who just kind of like you? Can we ever know just how much we’re worth?

I don’t know if Joe ever knew how much he meant to so many. I hope he does now.

When someone dies, it’s common to say “Rest in Peace.” But that would be an insult to Joe.

Run and Jump in Constant Noise, my friend! You will be missed.

Love,
Shirelle

69 Shirelle Asks: So what do you think of my site?

Shirelle Asks: So what do you think of my site?

I’m really proud of this website. I’ve been working on it for months and months, helped immeasurably by two very special friends. My old dear pal Rob Spielman, of Soapbox Graphics, has served as a trusted and creative consultant. And the wonderful Sherice Jacob of iElectrify has been the architect and contractor of this edifice (that’s all big words to say she built the site). She’s a lovely and terrific person, even if she does share her home with two disgusting cats!

We’ve done everything we could to make AskShirelle.com clear, fun, and easy to use. Now what we need are your thoughts: What do you like about it, and what could stand some improvement? We’re already working on changing some things, but the more we know, the better it’ll get. So our ears are up, and we’re sitting at attention, eager to hear anything you have to tell us!

Speak!

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