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seeing #Blackfish

photo source: blackfishmovie.com

photo source: blackfishmovie.com

I wrote a few months back about anticipating the release of Blackfish, the documentary about Tilikum, a killer whale captured, then raised in captivity. I must admit, though I’d committed to myself to see it, I let it come and go through the local theaters, thinking of excuses as solid as the ones I use when I skip my workout. It was when I saw it advertised on television that CNN would be premiering the film that I realized if I wasn’t going to the film, it was coming to me. I set the DVR.

It sat in my feed for a couple of days, then yesterday I mustered up the courage and pushed aside denial.

I expected the film to be centered only around the treatment of killer whales and their lives in captivity–why they shouldn’t be in captivity. It was about that, but it was equally about the cover-up by Sea World, mainly, of, not only known concerns about the animals, but about the safety of their trainers. The trainers who universally loved the animals and who built close emotional relationships with them were often kept in the dark and lied to about the reality of the situation they were central to. This was news to me.

I grew up going to Sea World, San Diego at least a couple of times a year. As I mentioned in my previous post about Blackfish, it wasn’t until I was halfway through college that I changed the course of my career from that of a killer whale trainer. What the Blackfish interviews captured from the trainers about how they got started was exactly how I felt. There is just this magnificent wonder. There is a burning desire to be near these animals.

But even if one doesn’t go so far as to become a killer whale trainer, there is still the magic of being in their presence that can’t be denied. Few of us have the means to go to the native waters of these pods of killer whales, so, instead, we go to Sea World, where we can view them close-up in a seemingly controlled environment and score ourselves a hot dog and a stuffed toy in the process. Good ol’ family fun. But at what cost?

If you want to know the answer to that question, see Blackfish, which, here in the U.S. is currently being shown on CNN and is available for order on DVD. I’m not one to cry out boldly about politics and sensitive issues, as I have friends, family, and colleagues on both extremes of the political spectrum. I have close friends who frequent Sea World with their families. I see their treasured photos with Shamu on Facebook. If you’re one of those people, I’m not going to turn on you. I believe you don’t know. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be so proud of those photos. See Blackfish.

It’s akin to my philosophy about eating meat. I’m not going go shun you for doing it. Heck, I’m an almost-vegan who enjoys a beef burger every so often. I get it. But know where your meat comes from. Make an educated choice, not one in denial. See Blackfish before you go back to Sea World.

I practically grew up at Sea World. Though I haven’t been back since my college days, I could still probably navigate the park with a blindfold on. It was like a second home. If I can say good-bye to it, so can you.

My kids (age six and four) watched Blackfish with me. Yes, it upset them, but that’s okay. I want them to know the truth and be able to make their own decisions. I paused the film (thank goodness for the DVR) in several spots to help them understand. A few minutes into the film, they asked, “so we can never go to Sea World?” At the end of the film, my four-year-old daughter declared, “we’ll never go to Sea World because it’s not okay to treat the killer whales like that. It’s wrong.” My six-year-old son sat there in silence with his head down.

And that sums it up. It’s okay for them to know the truth. And it’s okay for you to know it, too. See Blackfish.

You can check out the trailer, here:


okay…so now I want a pet tarantula

IMG_1043No joke.

We did the coolest thing after school yesterday! Our local library hosted a session with Travis Potts, local “Spider Man.” Not the kind that swings from building to building rescuing damsels in distress and battling villains, but a hero to the public, just the same. He’s a tarantula fanatic, and he brought his pets to share with us.

I have a morbid fascination with spiders. I think they are super creepy, but, yet, I can’t take my eyes off of them. Kind-of like a train-wreck. And there’s Charlotte. Who doesn’t love Charlotte? Spiders are completely enchanting. So when we heard that there were going to be spiders at the library, I was completely pumped. Porter, my six-year-old son, was excited, too. And Campbell, my four-year-old daughter, told me she didn’t want to go, but I made her, anyway, and when they opened the door to allow us to approach the spiders, she shriveled and cried, but, because I’m such an awesome mom, I drug her in. Yeah, I suck a little. SPOILER ALERT: She lived. And she loved it.

Travis brought four live tarantulas, and we got to view them and ask questions.

He shared all sorts of information about them that I didn’t quite absorb because I was keeping my eye on the creepy buggars, but as he talked about them and answered these crazy kid questions, the spiders became less creepy to me, and to Campbell. Porter dove right in. He asked tons of questions, and then when Campbell finally let her curiosity get the better of her, she asked more than tons of questions. I think she may have driven Travis insane. He got a small taste of what I deal with every day:

Excuse me. How much venom do they have? Excuse me. How many spiders do you have? Excuse me. Do they bite? Excuse me. What are their names? Excuse me. I think the baby one is really cute. What is her name? Spidey? Excuse me. What do they eat? Excuse me. How old is this spider? Excuse me. What is her name? Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me…

My daughter is a total chatterbox, but at least she’s semi-polite. With the excuse me bit. The first question of hers that Travis addressed was “how many knees does a spider have?” I chuckled a bit because spiders don’t have knees. So I made eye contact with Travis to let him know that Campbell was so naive to ask about spider knees. How cute.

Travis answered Campbell’s seemingly absurd question and explained in all seriousness that spiders have eight knees. And, better yet, if a leg gets caught in something, they can purposely separate at the knee to preserve themselves and then grow back the leg gradually with each molt. Huh? Yeah, that’s what I was totally thinking. I learned today that spiders have knees! Wow!

Porter asked some really valid and well-timed questions. So between the two of them, we learned a lot. And then I asked some questions, too, like how he got into this whole mess. He chuckled a little bit and explained that he took his son to a reptile show about four years ago and ended up with his first tarantula, Rosie. I loved hearing how he just stumbled upon being the local spider man. He taught us about their warning signs…how they “kick their hairs.” Porter was fascinated with that.

IMG_1050

Porter questions Travis while Campbell tries to edge in.

The spider with the knees that Campbell asked about was his first, named Rosie, because she’s a Mexican Red-Knee (the official name to officially slam it home to me once again that spiders have knees). She was really beautiful, once you got to know her. According to Travis, her breed is one of the ten most docile tarantulas, and a great one to start with, if you’re going to go arachnid. We even got to see her feeding.

IMG_1049

Rosie.

There were others. L.P. was an abbreviation for his scientific name–it escapes me–as well as being a “little Potts,” and he will someday be 12″. Wow! He ate a cockroach right in front of us and spun some silk to make himself more comfortable while he ate.

IMG_1047

L.P. eating a cockroach.

And, then, there was Max from Argentina who was named after Travis’ friend, Max, from Argentina. Max was huge. Impressive.

Max

Max from Argentina.

Campbell’s favorite was the “so cute” baby one who hasn’t been named, yet, because Travis wants to get to know her, first. Well, that’s awesome. Campbell took it upon herself to attempt a name, but I think Travis is looking for something more original than “Spidey.”

Baby

Baby no-name.

I am beyond thankful that my children and I had this opportunity to experience tarantulas up close. What was once creepy is still creepy, but not quite so much. Travis talked about how he can hold Rosie, and it made me want to hold her. And for the first time in my life, in the presence of spiders, I didn’t have the urge squeal as if I was in a horror movie.

So I asked one last question, which, is of course, the ultimate FAQ: “Have you ever been bit?” His response: “Not yet. But I know it will happen.” And it’s worth it to him. And that is completely awesome.


dead-legged by my dog

N.A.S.H.A. waits until the littles have asked me for ten things in a row. She lets me sit down for precisely fifteen seconds, and then she punches me in the leg. Usually.

Sometimes, if she really wants something, she doesn’t wait for me to sit down. She waits until my knees are locked, and then she punches me right in the sweet spot, giving me a dead-leg like I’ve never had. The girl only weighs eleven pounds, so it’s not about heft, but about perfection of the skill. She has absolutely perfected it. This happens on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times in a day.

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Look at her, just mocking me.

But this morning, she took it to a whole new level. Not only did I have my knees locked, but I was taking that sweet first sip of my piping hot coffee. BAM! All over my face and PJs. (Don’t worry, I’m okay. It wasn’t that hot.) And then she sat down, mocking me.

Does your dog ever do this to you, or am I the only moron that responds to it by giving her the treat she’s asking for, reinforcing the behavior not only with my attention but with food? Because it’s so cute and smart that she knows how to ask for a treat. She has trained me well.


i am not a prejudiced pet sitter: Blog the Change for Animals

As a professional pet sitter, I can’t tell you how many times people say the following things the first time I speak to them on the phone:

“Do you take care of big dogs? I hope you don’t charge extra.”

“Sweetie is a Rottweiler, but she’s really nice…she’s never bitten anyone…she loves kids…you’ll love her…”

“He’s a Chihuahua, so he’s little. So you don’t charge as much, right?”

“She’s a Golden Retriever. She’s a lover, and she’ll be super easy.”

And my all-time favorite “Do you sit for Pit Bulls?”

I always provide the same answer: “I don’t discriminate based on size or breed. Every dog deserves the same amount of attention and love. I won’t take care of a dog that shows hostility toward me, regardless of the breed or size, and I take wonderful care of all animals that will let me, regardless of the breed or size. There is no difference in price.”

Sure, Goliath’s poop is HUGE, but that’s not his fault. I’ll pick up his, and I’ll pick up Chi-chi’s, just the same.

I have slept in bed with many a Pit Bull’s tongue in my face (in a good way) and I’ve been barked out of town by a Golden Retriever. I have learned through experience not to prejudge the animal. I greet each animal with the energy that is appropriate for the energy he shows me, whether that be positive or negative, big or small. Just like people, dogs are individuals and deserve the right to shine (or not).

So let’s judge them, but let’s judge them fairly after getting to know them. Just as most of us refuse to judge our human friends by their color or size, might we do the same for dogs? My motto: assume the best, but be prepared for the worst. I apply that to everyone I meet.

Hi! It’s nice to meet you…

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BlogtheChange


do our girls need doll-people dog dolls?

When I was pregnant with my first child, a couple of my friends gave me some lovely gifts in a beautifully-lined wicker basket that was about the size of a laundry basket. I deemed that the toy basket for my newborn son and vowed that he would never have more toys than could fit in that basket. My children would not be spoiled. They would play with blocks and other unbranded toys that would challenge their imaginations and grow their minds.

And then I became an actual parent, not just a hippie fantasy parent.

We outgrew the basket immediately, and soon we couldn’t live without Transformers, Diego, and Superman. Things felt a bit out of control, so I had to draw the line. No guns. Absolutely no guns. Then came friends. And they had guns. Water guns, Nerf guns–you name it. So then, the things in my house that were not guns became guns. Sigh. And then we got a Nerf gun as a gift, and now we have a gun collection and a glass jar full of various ammo.

You might think I have no backbone when it comes to my kids. You might be right.

I do my best to get all of these things from our favorite kids’ consignment store, and my kids swap toys with their friends all the time, so while we consume and consume, we try to be as conscious about it as we can.

I thought all this toy stuff would get even worse with my daughter, but it didn’t. She was surprisingly happy to play with the blocks and Hot Wheels we already had. At four years old, she’s now into anything dress-up, including makeup, jewelry, and tattoos. I’m cool with that. She’s expressing herself by making up all types of scenarios about going to work and being royalty ad being a dancer/rockstar/doctor/teacher. With tattoos and lots of lip gloss.

She has a couple of beloved stuffed animals, but, aside from that, she’s never really been drawn to anything doll-like.

I have never been so happy about that until I saw the commercial for Pinkie Cooper and the Jet Set Pets.

dollpeopledogdolls

toy image source: toysrus.com

I’m not versed enough in child psychology or feminine perspectives to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning article about all of the negatives or positives this toy can do for a child’s self esteem, but I will say that my gut reaction was, “WTF?”

So here we have dogs–no humans–no, dogs! Oh, I don’t know…I’m so confused. They don’t look like dogs or humans. What do I know?

They are dolls targeted toward young girls. They have Barbie-like bodies, fashionable clothes, dog-like heads that are not proportionate to the body…Oh, what am I saying?! How do you make a out-of-proportion dog head proportionate to an out-of-proportion female body. And then there is the hair/ears. I mean, if it’s a dog head, it should have ears, right? But, no. In place of dog ears, we have long, silky hair (oh, and you can switch out the hair with the other dolls, ensuring consumer purchase of the whole collection of dog-people dog dolls).

They seem to have makeup on, don’t they? Does makeup apply well to fur? Because it is a dog head, right?

Okay, so it’s a toy and doesn’t have to be realistic. I’ve often been accused of not being able to let go of my adult brain and go-with-the-fantasy-flow. So I ask myself, what’s my problem with these toys? And why did I tell my daughter “no” before she even had a chance to say she liked them?

Is it the sex part? I mean, these dog-girls are sexy. But then, they have these big baby eyes. So now they’re child-like and sexy at the same time. Why am I semi-okay with Barbies and okay with dog toys, but am having a visceral reaction to these toys? If not the sex part, then maybe it’s the creepy part. They are creepy, right?

What message are we sending…that’s always the question. I’m not claiming to know. But I know that our little girls need not be this sexy, and our dogs need not be this sexy, and they definitely need not be sexy and babyish at the same time. I guess their creative aspect is that they can switch their hair. But what do they do? At least Barbie has a career or two. Maybe the uplifting self-esteem affirming message to our girls in all this is that it’s okay to be sexy even if you have a face like a dog?

If you expected this to be some in-depth psychological study, I’m sorry do disappoint. I have none of the answers. What I feel, however, is that this toy is insulting to dogs and to young girls, and I’m not buying it.


Wordless Wednesday: catnapping coco

Wordless Wednesday: catnapping coco

BlogPawsWedButton


perhaps the best client i’ve ever had

I was dreading the moment when Mona Chica’s parents would come to collect their other fantabulous pooches. Two others, to be exact. If you read my post, she died in my arms last night, you know we’ve had a really rough week. Since Mona Chica passed, we’ve been dealing with the emotions of it all. It’s rough. Not just for me, but for my whole family. And since then, we’ve been caring for Mona Chica’s older brother and sister.

Until today.

As a professional pet sitter…I’m thinking that’s now an oxymoron. Because there is nothing professional about crying on the phone when you tell your client that their pet has passed. The professional part was that I downgraded from all-out bawling, which I reserved for my family. But, then, a week later (they were on a cruise, don’t judge)–today–when they came to collect their other animals, once they started to cry, so did I. And we hugged, which is also not considered professional in the professional sense. Mona Chica’s mom remembered that Campbell (my 4-year-old daughter) was over the moon to take care of a Chihuahua, her dream doggie. So she brought this for Cam:

20131008-200422.jpgUnbelievable, right?

Let me break it down for you if you haven’t heard: I was taking care of these dogs for the first time. Though the clients knew their Chihuahua was sick, they didn’t know how sick. Mona Chica’s death, though not unexpected, was shocking. Then, when returning from their stay away, immediately after dealing with her beloved’s remains, upon collecting their other dogs, they presented my daughter with a toy Chihuahua (Mona Chica look-alike), simply because they knew Campbell had been excited to help me care for Mona Chica.

I think these brand-new clients touched something in me, and in Campbell, that we didn’t realize before, and probably won’t fully realize for some time. I didn’t think as much about my own daughter’s feelings of failure as I did about my own, the professional pet sitter, or as I did about my clients, who had suffered the ultimate loss. Sure, our family went through the emotions of loss and talked it out, but I never even conceived that my girl might feel a bit of failure that the dog who she most likely felt ultimately responsible for died in our care.

We now have a new Mona Chica in our lives. And though she can’t truly compete with the original Mona Chica, she’s something special, and she lets my daughter–and me–know that we’re something special. And that we did the best we could. And that loss sometimes just happens anyway.