Sunday, February 21, 2010

Setting Myself Up for Success

Shopping for clothes (so I'll look better and thus be able to help more animals at events, of course, because I need that justification to spend the money) got me thinking about setting up for success.

It's a common phrase when talking about training animals. You want to set your pet up for success. It's why my foster cats spend at least a week confined to the bathroom in my tiny studio apartment. It's inconvenient as heck for me, but it gives them and Toby a chance to become used to each others' scents. If you just throw two cats together, it's very likely that something will go wrong, especially if it's the home territory for one of those cats. Once things go bad between two cats, it takes a long time and a lot of difficulty for the people to get things back to neutral. So I set Toby up for success, I wait and I have patience.

When I do introduce the cats, it's always observed and for short periods of time and they get separated as soon as either seems upset or anxious. I think this is why I've only had one incident in the time I've been fostering. And that cat leaped for Toby as soon as he caught a glimpse. Toby tried to turn tail and run, but the foster got a good enough swipe in that he ended up needing to see the vet for an infected abscess. I tried to set them up for success that time but failed. It's okay though. I'm human and humans sometimes fail. Thankfully nothing worse happened.

But with the shopping Saturday, I realized I was taking one small step toward setting myself up for success, but that I needed to do more because I had been setting myself up failure every morning.

I've been trying to get out of the apartment earlier in the morning. I'm not a morning person whatsoever. I've tried, but I'm not. So it comes down to my morning routine, making sure it's stress free (because of how I am, anxiety can affect me pretty badly in the mornings) and quick. I realized today that I've been setting myself up for failure in the mornings by having a closet mostly full of clothes that don't fit. Which every morning not only reminds me of an area of my life that (especially when tired and cranky) I can consider a failure, but also means I spend time pawing through my closet seeing blouses I used to love to wear to work, that I can't wear.

Back in the fall I wentthrough my apartment and round up two large storage bins worth of items to donate (including the storage bins--see Studio apartment mentioned above). It included shoes I haven't worn in years, books I never reread, random clutter I had no need or use for, and clothes that were more than two sizes too small or that I simply didn't like. But I kept a lot of blouses that were too small because I loved them and jackets that my upper arms can't fit into. I don't want to give them away because I really do think that, within a year, I'll fit back into them. However, I just left them in my closet cluttering it up and giving me trouble in the mornings.

When Toby was chewing paper towels and waking me up at 3am, I realized that I wasn't setting him up for success by leaving the roll of paper towels out after cleaning. So (and this I realize is obvious) I removed the towels and did set him up for success. Now, most nights, I make sure that the roll is places in a drawer or on the fridge--out of Toby's normal nighttime prowling routine. When I remember to do this--I don't wake up at 3am to the sound of Toby eating a roll of paper towels.

Why wasn't I doing this with myself? Why wasn't I removing the obstacle to my morning success? Probably because it was easier with Toby to see the situation clearly. I still sometimes make mistakes--while sick I woke up to Toby curled up in a bed of clean lotion tissues he had pulled out of the box that I had left on the cocktail table. Overall, it's not personal for me to look at Toby and analyze his environment and influences when trying to figure out why he isn't doing what I want him to do. With myself? I just thought it was my own darn fault I couldn't get an outfit together in the mornings.

Well, yes and no. It was my fault. It was my fault that I didn't set myself up for success. What woman could quickly put together an outfit staring at a closet full of ill-fitting clothes? So...I set myself up for success. Before putting away the fruits of my shopping laborsI took everything out of the closet that doesn't fit me perfectly right now. Now, I'm not following the usual advice for clutterbugs and getting rid of it immediately. I'm doing a version of Apartment Therapy's outbox. They're in a box in my closet and not in my way. I won't even open that box until I notice my current clothes are getting loose. I'll reevaluate in a year. Right now, having those clothes in a box on the floor of my closet means I'll be set up for success in the mornings.

I'll also be reminded to do laundry more by how empty the closet looks. You have no idea how easy it is to put off doing laundry when your closet "appears" to be full of clothes still.

I think I need to do this more often, look at failures in my life not as simply something I haven't been able to do, but separate from it the way I do with Toby. With Toby I look at what tempts him into "bad" behavior and then figure out if there is an easy way to remove the temptation. I need to just do that for myself. So from now on, I'm setting myself up for success. When I find myself repeatedly engaging in behavior I don't like, I'll look at what tempted me into that behavior and do what I can to remove that temptation.

I should show myself the same understanding and kindness I show to Toby and the animals at the shelter. We all should.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For DC readers--lost dog

Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, news is getting around about a lost little sheltie in AU Park/Friendship Heights.

Her name is Gigi and she had only come to her new home for three days from the Northern Virginia Sheltie Rescue. She's young, shy, and runs quickly when she thinks she's cornered.
Her parents are keeping a search blog at

If any DC ites live in (or just happen to be in that area ) keep an eye out for a little sheltie running loose without a person and call the Hunns (her parents) at 202.528.7724

I know I'd be frantic if Toby were lost. If you aren't in the area, send around to any friends you have who might be able to keep their eyes peeled.

Social networking can do so much good, let's help this family reunite.


March 6, 10am-noon, Busboys and Poets
My first event with the RV! Really excited that Kelly trusts me this much! I've run small events before. My largest ever was VegFest. VegFest was awesome--all day event, two shifts of volunteers, multiple dogs, two cars broke down on my way there (my car died that day--with a pit bull puppy inside) and me forgetting to eat all day because I was so nervous. Also, I think we got more than half the dogs adopted.

I like my day job and I'm good at it (no ego problems here), but there's a great kick from finding out you're trusted to do something that, to you, feels really important. I've been thinking about motivation a lot lately and realized that trust really is one of the best forms of praise possible. I loved when a superior at work told me that I was one of the few people she could trust to handle proofreading a document. It was long, tedious work that, without the praise, would have dragged. However, because the job was treated as something particular to my skills (ocd-tendencies, extreme attention to detail, extreme focus while reading, etc) and not just work no one else wanted to do, I wanted to do it and felt pushed to do it perfectly. I found some errors and completed the task before the deadline. The praise made me happy and being happy helped me work harder.

I do the same thing with Toby. Victoria Stillwell does that with dogs. (Disclosure: It's Me or the Dog is one of my favorite shows). Pam Johnson Bennet, my favorite feline behavior author, also believes in positive training. Positive training works on dogs, cats, and people better than punishment. In Office Space the main character says that his main motivation is to do as little as possible so as to provide as few opportunities as possible for people to reprimand him. That's not unusual. If you punish, you're not teaching and rewarding new behaviors, just making it more difficult for the individual (dog, cat, person) to feel they have a chance at making you happy.

So closing advice? Look for opportunities to praise others. Thank your doorman for holding the door and tell him how much you appreciate his friendliness. Tell your cat "good boy!" when he does something good. And give trust and responsibility to people when you praise them. It might surprise you what they'll do to prove themselves worthy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Image Issues

"some freakish, garish beauty pageant" was used by a:

A. Mamapop reader to describe Toddlers in Tiaras
B. pop culture aficionado to describe Lady Gaga's music videos
C. veterinarian to describe the UK's biggest dog fancying dog show

If you guessed C, you're right! Wayne Pacelle quoted the RSPCA's Dr. Evans in his post about dog shows and the documentary showing that, in the UK at least, the pursuit of the "ideal" conformation is leading to severe inbreeding and serious diseases and disabilities for dogs.

Now, I am not opposed to responsible breeders who genuinely want to improve the genetic stock of the breed. I hope that collies are still around in 50 years and I know that likely takes work. There's a wonderful breeder I know via a book club who also rescues stray dogs and carefully controls her small breeding operation. I do think that breeding should be regulated and should have more than a physical appearance as a goal. I think that the health of the animals should be first and foremost in a breeder's plan.

When the pursuit of pet pulchritude leads to widespread genetic problems or animals who can't do normal animal things, there's something wrong.

On the opposite side are those people who care so little about how their animal looks that the animal also ends up sick. My first foster cat was never brushed and allowed to get so fat that he couldn't groom himself. As a result, poor Nik had severe painful matting on his back that had to be shaved off when he came to the shelter. A cat who doesn't groom himself, like Keen before he settled in at casa-la-Bethany, is showing signs of depression that should be addressed. Mange, fleas, matting, and more can all be results of a lack of grooming.

It doesn't surprise me that people go to both ends of the grooming spectrum with pets, we do it with ourselves. This country seems to be constantly worrying about eating disorders that range from anorexia to food addictions--sticks to stouts? Lucy March touched on the issue of women dressing in baggy gray clothes. Penelope Trunk has written multiple times about how people shoot themselves in the foot by not dressing well and taking care of their appearance (I disagree that this should include $80 eyebrow waxings, I enjoy reading her but I don't always agree with her specifics).

My response: recommitting myself to responsible grooming for my pet(s) and myself. Keen doesn't have any health issues now because he is licking himself again, but his white paws are looking a little dingy so I'll give them a gentle cleaning with some great smelling cat foam. Me, I'll break down and buy new jeans so I'll look great at my adoption event this weekend. Penelope did say that better looking sales people have higher sales so maybe this will help me get more dogs adopted ;)

Really, I'm shopping for the dogs.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Serving the Public

I've stumbled a lot in life. I stumbled into meeting my boyfriend. I stumbled into volunteering my shelter. I stumbled into owning Toby. I stumbled into my job.

The second most important thing I stumbled into (first is owning Toby) was my college program, Philosophy, Politics, and the Public at Xavier University. I was lucky enough to go back over the weekend to see some of my old professors and talk with the current students plus some of the other alumni.

PPP (my program) stressed public service and the public good. We discussed public intellectuals, political activism, and using philosophy and the search of the good life to improve the world. It was wonderful. Four years of not simply intellectual pursuits for the ivory tower, but how to use them for the good of people. I loved the classes and discussions and the firm belief that we were people who could make a difference.

Admittedly, most of the change is directed at people and issues directly related to people. One thing I love about my professors is that they believe in what I'm trying to do. They value animals, too, and realize that public service isn't only for people. They also seem to understand that so many animal issues also do affect people.

Breed specific legislation not only puts lovely dogs at risk of euthanasia, but also breaks up families and devastates children who don't understand why their beloved pet is being taken away. Pushing for mandatory low cost spay and neutering for the casual owner doesn't just keep dogs and cats off the street and out of shelters, but eventually might free up funds for people problems that are harder to solve. In addition it will help keep the feral cat problem in check and many people who don't like animals certainly would be happier if there were fewer feral cats while those of us who do like animals want the problem handled in a humane fashion.

Helping animals helps people. No matter what we were taught in college, I'm sure we all feel the drive to make the world a better place. I've seen some people who say that any charity that doesn't focus solely on solving immediate health and finance problems for people. I'm glad my professors didn't feel that way and understand the larger picture. I do believe in helping people. I think that we're all called to particular charities and passions to improve the world. I think that there are lots of people who are focused on people. I do give to people causes sometimes. I donated to Haiti relief and support Habitat for Humanity and donate to other groups occasionally. For me, however, the animals are the way I feel called to serve the public. I don't do it in a big or official capacity, but I do what I can. We all should serve the public however we feel called in whatever capacity we can. If you can do feel called to help the animals, more power to you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Patience, Human

Despite my favorite professional compliment (ever!) being that I'm "meticulous and patient," in my personal life, I'm horribly impatient.

I like to have plans figured out far in advance, my packing list is written up days before I actually pack, I hate waiting for rsvps, and get anxious if things aren't hopping right away at a party. I like to have things turn out great immediately when I've put work into them. Ideally, I'll show up, give my best effort, and then immediately have great results.

Sometimes life does work that way. Most of my foster cats have bonded with me quickly and shown great affection to me within a few days of coming home. I fight my impatience and keep them separated from Toby, but they reward me for that by crawling in my lap, giving me headbumps and flank rubs, and being happy to see me even when I'm not providing food at the moment. I'm even good at being patient with animals in short-term ways. I can sit quietly in a room with an animal for 30 min at a time multiple times a day in a week until the animal finally comes up and investigates me. I have short-term patience when I'm training Toby. But patience in getting an animal to show affection toward me after almost a month...that's difficult for me. Extremely.

Keen, other than the first day I was sick, hasn't really warmed up to me. He does come to the door when I come home (sometimes) but he looks at me and then walks away. I have yet to get a real headbutt or flank rub from him.

I feed him wet food that he likes, he does let me pet him while he's eating and for a few seconds when I come over to where he's lying in the hallway. The other night he let me sit 3 feet from him but got up and moved when the next night I tried for 2 feet. He shows me his stomach when I get up at 3am for cough syrup (yeah, the cold's not totally kicked yet) and stretches in that friendly way cats have. He's purred when I've picked him up a few times, other times he'll just lash his tail.

I know that he's 15 years old. I know that he was yelled at for being affectionate and cuddly so he's probably hesitant to be that way again. I keep going over in my mind the steps and ways to work with shy cats. I sit close, but not touching. I pet when feeding and keep an eye on his tail and ears and stop as soon as he seems upset. I avoid eye contact. I avoid startling him. I avoid making him feel trapped. I engage him in playbond time. In sum, I'm doing all I can to be patient and it feels so much like not doing anything, except for the playing. Admittedly, the playtimes are very short since he's old and gets very excited before stopping and napping after about 2 minutes.

One of my favorite songs in Wicked tells us that some believe that people come into our lives for a reason, teaching something we must learn. If we expand that to animals, I think Keen is here to teach me what no adult ever could--to be patient over the long term. He's a good cat. I just need to trust that, with time and unconditional (and appropriately shown) love, he'll come around and show some of the affection he used to have.