Tales from a Renaissance Fair

This past weekend, I had the great opportunity to go and enjoy a Renaissance Festival. I’ve always loved them. The costumes, the buildings, the reenactments. They all add to a kind of magic that fills the air. I was super excited to go. I hoped it would reignite my passion for my stories or give me some ideas–you see, I’ve been in kind of a slump lately and haven’t been working on my stories as often as I should.

I remember going through the front gate. It was wattle and doub styled like the medieval days with iron gates and banners strung about. People in costume and out of costume were walking by and I was trying not to stare too much at the people dressed up. My brother had already given the lady at the gate his ticket and I was next with mine and my mom’s tickets. The lady was dressed up as a medieval peasant and I was trying not to admire her outfit too much. I’m an extremely awkward person, so when I walked up, I didn’t know what to say. I just held out the two tickets with both my hands. She said something, a jest about having no choice but to take the tickets, but she was wearing a mask and that made it difficult to read her. My mom ended up responding to her while I just stood there having no idea what to say or do while I waited for the woman to take the tickets and tear them so we could enter. Eventually, she does and she hands them both back to me. I hope I at least muttered a thank you, but I felt so awkward about the situation that I just wanted to get away from it.

Then we were inside and the awkwardness I felt melted away as soon as I looked around. We were at a fountain, the style of this area mimicked a main market just outside a castle’s gate. Lots of people were walking around in costume. I saw plenty of doctors with plague masks, warriors, elves, and there was even a show of dancing fairies to our right. Yes, the show was just people dressed up in fairy costumes, but with a small tweak of imagination, they were flying with their ribbons and creating colorful lights and patterns in the sky. Ren Fairs always reminded me of one the major cities in my novel and seeing those fairies brought it a little to life.

We move on. My family and I start going shop to shop with the quest of building our own outfits. I’m going for a kinda Xena Warrior Princess theme and I already have a pair of awesome, leather pauldrons for it (pauldrons are shoulder guards for those of you who don’t know). The shops were all wonderful. Beautifully handcrafted wears lined the shelves and walls. Be it paintings, clothing, goblets, weapons, and all the medieval like. We ended up walking into one shop called the “North Tortuga Trading Company.” They had a lot of pirate wears–shinies, seashells, and clothing. Their shop was even decorated to reflect their theme with fishing nets, skeletons, and a flag. Walking in, my imagination went wild. These were honest people, making an honest living, but in my mind’s eye, we were walking into a pirate’s shop where every good on the table was stolen from somewhere across the vast seas. The lady who owned the shop was decked out in pirate’s garb, looking like the captain of a mighty vessel. She was very friendly and nice, but I imagined she bartered with every person that came in to get the most coin out of their pockets. We walked out without buying anything, but given the character I’m trying to build, I imagined we were thrown out for accusing these scallywags of stolen wares. Shops that trigger my imagination like that get two thumbs up in my book. I always make sure to get their card–and I have quite the collection of cards–so I can come back and purchase something later down the road.

Eventually, we make it to the artisan’s row. Metalworkers, blacksmiths, and leatherworks. They’re all lined up with their creations and signs offering lessons on how to make their beautiful creations. My mom and my brother are big fans of blacksmiths (they love the smell of the forge), so naturally, they move on ahead to get a good look at the blacksmiths working–equipment, wares, and all the like. I try to follow them, but–like always–I get distracted. I lean over a rope railing to admire down at the leatherwork all laid out upon a table. There were pouches and weavings–very beautiful items–and then I get caught by the maker–an older man with roughened hands and an outfit to match his craft. He smiles at me, then grabs a wooden bowl from his table and holds it out. “Dragon’s Tear?” he asks.
“Oh no, thank you,” comes my automatic reply. The man only has about five left in his bowl. Five little flattened, glass pebbles. They obviously weren’t real dragon tears, but something you could find in an everyday shop. I didn’t want to impose and dwindle this man’s stock of tears when there are likely children who would enjoy them more than I.
“Aw, go on,” the man nods to his bowl. “You can have one, free of charge!”
Now, my annoying bashfulness takes over. I smile back at the man and give a light nod. When I reach into the bowl, I take the brightest one out of all of them; a beautiful blue. I thank him and the man nods back to me and returns to his work. My brother ushers me back to the blacksmith, but now I’m distracted by the little, blue pebble in my hand.

I can’t help it. It hits me as I’m walking away. As I’m feeling over every smooth edge of this Dragon’s Tear. There’s a story in this tear. There’s a story in the interaction I just had. A young, peasant girl who aspires to be greater–a warrior, or a knight. Yet, she can’t rise above her station. Then one day, a mysterious artisan enters the market. Eyeing her potential, he offers her a single, blue pebble: a Dragon’s Tear. But people hand out fake Dragon’s Tears all the time. She doesn’t realize this one is real and it sets her off on an adventure that turns her world upside-down.

As if I need another story to write. I guess this one will get filed later, I suppose.

One of my favorite things to do at a Ren Fair is people watch. It helps ignite the imagination, makes others feel better about the hard work they put into their costumes when they catch you admiring, and you catch different interactions you may not have seen before. I especially like watching the people who work at the Ren Fair. All dressed up in the garb of the times, they stay in character throughout it all and when they pass each other, you can catch snips of a jest, a blessing, or a lengthy regard to royalty.

I’d encourage everyone to support their local renaissance fair. The people here do a lot of work to keep the magic alive. You just have to take the time to slow down and see it.

Writing Exercise: I remember…

A couple days ago, I was reading this webpost about advice from famous authors. I never got to finish it and I can’t find it back–you see, I was trying to read it and work with dogs at the same time and we all know that’s never successful. I ended up losing the article from my phone and by the time I went to look for it back, my phone refreshed all of it’s featured articles. However, one thing I do remember from the article is a writing exercise one of the author’s suggested to the creative mind flowing or just keep you writing in general. Just start with the words: “I remember…” Because apparently that’s a hard sentence to NOT finish. The author suggested keeping a journal and have each page start with “I remember…” However, you shouldn’t link memories. Don’t let the memory from the day before dictate what you write the next day. Change it up.

Well, I started thinking about that exercise and honestly…I don’t want to write what I remember. Not only will I probably remember wrong, but I couldn’t remember anything at the time that I wanted to write about. How would my memories help progress my writing anyway? So, I decided to change up the exercise. I’ll remember something, but not something from my life specifically.

You remember Justin? The main character from my novel (which I will someday publish)? Check it out:

I Remember; Justin’s Favorite Treat

I remember, as a kid, sneaking out in the middle of the day. My father was in his lab working on whatever alchemists do and my mother was cleaning the house from top to bottom since we were going to have company that night. I was bored. My father didn’t want me in his lab, but he didn’t want me leaving the house either. I tried helping mother, but I ended up just getting in her way. Eventually, I noticed my best friend across the street. He was waving his arms to get my attention. From the look in his eyes, he had an adventure planned. It wasnt hard to sneak out. My father never paid me any mind and my mother was too distracted. I was able to slip out the front door.

My friend ended up leading us to the main market of the city. We both liked browsing the stalls and fantasizing what we would buy if we had any money. Our favorite shop was the blacksmith. We’d go there and drool over the swords or listen to stories from the travelers or soldiers who were stopping by the shop for new equipment. One time we even met a squire doing an errand for the knight they served. He had great stories.

Anyway, this particular day–when I snuck out–we didn’t go to the blacksmith. My friend ended up leading us to the baker’s stall. He had a lot of desserts out in preparation for the Warrior’s Festival–a time when the entire kingdom comes together to enjoy jousts and other tests of warrior skills. I remember the smell of the vanilla tarts that day. They were fresh from the oven and even had almonds sprinkled atop them. I wished I had money. Those tarts from the baker were the best dessert this side of the castle walls. My best friend was drooling over the chocolate pudding cups. Unfortunately, our lingering was upsetting the baker and we were shooed away.

I suggested we head to the blacksmith, but somehow I ended up at the market fountain by myself. My friend ran off. He did say he would be back, but he was gone for quite some time.

When he did come back, he had a vanilla tart and a pudding cup in his hands and he was grinning like a fool. I asked how he got them and he said the baker just gave them to him! He handed me the tart and started eating the pudding. I couldn’t believe it! Yet, I should’ve known better.

I was halfway through the tart when the baker brought soldiers to the fountain. He pointed right at my friend and called him a thief! Called both of us thieves! In my confusion, I defended myself, but my friend couldn’t hide his guilt. It was hard to believe he stole those treats, but he was always the one getting us into trouble. The soldiers warned us that thieving had a penalty of us losing our hands, but they were willing to let us off with a warning. They grabbed us by the arms and dragged us to our homes.

We reached my friend’s house first. When his father found out, he was more annoyed than anything. My friend ended up having to help him strike the butcher’s block for the next week. Apparently, since his hands were free enough to steal, then they were free enough to work.

I dreaded every step back to my house. My mother, naturally, was worried and she had started looking for me when she realized I was gone. She was relieved seeing me with the soldiers. My father, on the other hand, was furious. He took one look at soldiers and realized that I was in trouble. He didn’t even ask what I did! He just grabbed me by my shirt, pull me into the house, and I was beaten as punishment and warning to never commit a crime again. I stayed out of his way the rest of the night and when our company came over, I kept my head down and kept out of the way. Whoever they were, they were important to my father. I think they were other alchemists, but I’m not sure.

The next day, I figured I would stay inside and stay on my father’s good side. However, my mother had other plans. She got some money from my father so she could go to the market and pick up food for the week. I got to with her. The first place we stopped at was at the Baker’s stall. She spent what we were supposed to be using for food on a vanilla tart just for me! She said it was our secret. We wouldn’t tell my father. When we came up short for the week, my mother just explained to my father that the market prices went up. He never questioned her and to this day, he still doesn’t know. I’ll never forget what my mother did for me.

Writing Prompt: Your Favorite Room

In the place you live, there is one room. One room you like to go.
For me, its my own. Where I’m never alone and I know where to find my bow.
The walls are all filled and give mystical chills that make my heart thunder.
Just take one look. You’ll know it belongs to a dreamer full of wonder.

There are maps of a kingdom, pastels of cities, and characters all my own.
All from a story–a majestic story–that I’ve come to call home.
Home is the magic. Believe in the magic, the magic of imagination.
It’s better than knowledge–more important than knowledge–I don’t care for your hesitation.

Then there’s a storm on the sea, a sword (or three), and fantasy filling the shelves.
What shelves? Not enough. The games are all stuck and the books are squished themselves.
Skulls line the top and from higher up the dragons roar with might.
Each one of them waiting, anticipating, a story that reaches new heights.

Now, let’s not forget the desk that sits by the window open wide.
Such a cluster. Such a mess, but it’s all to attest to the clutter that fills the mind.
Notes for stories, and notes for research, and notes to remember the day.
But energy is lax and motivation is sapped. I wish I could have my way.

A way to a novel, bound proudly in leather with a scar to mark it’s path.
Such adventure! Such magic! One day I will have it and these broken tears won’t last.
For now, I lean back, and enjoy a good stare at my favorite room of the house.
Beautiful chaos a cluster, but it’s all that I can muster to chase out all my doubts.

Deep breath and head high. I’ll reach for the sky. My dreams gotta go to work.
Another story on the wall. Another fantasy standing tall and all I can do is smirk.

Writing Prompt: On a Quest

Include the following in your story: medieval, derive, corn, daughter, molten, oar, rhythm, ears, antique, yammer.

Light was a hazy breath upon the eastern skyline. Colors of royal orange and lily pink tickled the whisping clouds. I lifted my groggy head from the side of the boat. Back and forth, the waves rocked my ship like a child’s teeter totter. Morning light shimmering like ribbons on the top of the water. Their trickling rhythm like a lullaby to my ears, but the morning light yammered at my consciousness. How could I enjoy such a beautiful sunrise when my world was coming to an end?

This wasteland of waves never ended. With the rags that I had, I had protection from the blistering Sun, but my mouth was deprived of all water. I could give in to the temptation of the ocean, but the salt would only end me faster. A groan broke from my lips when my stomach rumbled with the ache of hunger. How long had I been drifting? I don’t even know, but my ribs seeped through my skin. What I wouldn’t give for even a single kernel of corn.

My journey began months ago. I used to be a wealthy man, white collar, and respected. Yet, one day when I came home from work, I found nothing but a note and a molten feather waiting for me. The note…it was a ransom. My daughter had been kidnapped.

My daughter. My only shining light in my world of business and corruption. I had to find her! I’d give it all up to get her back… And I have. All I have left is this raft, these rags, and hope.

I started my search by trying to derive the origin of the feather. It might as well have been an antique, a medieval species now extinct, but I didn’t give up. I scoured every library, spoke to every expert, and I finally had a destination. An island and the heart of the devil’s triangle. No boat would go near it. No plane ever touched it. The Bird of the molten feather had to be there! Had to! I had to find the people who stole my daughter! I paid outrageous prices to get this far and that money now resides at the bottom of the ocean. The boat. The captain. The crew. They all laid at the bottom of the ocean. A furious storm whipped up an hour into the triangle and I’m the only one left.

I don’t even know where I am. Clouds block the stars. Only the sun told me the compass directions. I could be outside the Devil’s triangle and I wouldn’t even know it. I’m at my wit’s end. Who knows how far land is? Who knows if I’ll find my daughter?I knew how far land was in any direction.

It was when the sun broke the line of the horizon when I saw a shade silhouetted against the skylight. My eyes must be deceiving me! It looked like the shade of land, but the outline of a fiery Phoenix lifted up from it! My breath caught my throat, and I sat up faster than a seagull’s flight. Land. Land! Land with a fiery bird! Oh, my god, I’ve found it! I scrambled for the oars, a new strength of hope in my limbs. I made it! I’m here! I’m going to find my daughter!

Little Dragon

Little Dragon reading a book

Little Dragon enjoying the look

Of a story with knightly tales,

Where adventure, wonder, and magics hail

Engrossed in the story, Little Dragon does fly

Over fields, plains, and castles high

All the while tucked in bed,

Sword battles ring inside his head.

Someday, he knows, he’ll have an adventure

All on his own and exploring nature.

He’ll battle monsters and save princesses

And do absolutely anything he wishes!

But others openly do not approve.

Like his father, so grumpy and rude.

“Dragons can’t be knights! We eat them instead!”

“We kidnap the princesses and bake them in bread!”

“No more foolish motions! Drop them outright!

“A dragon could never be an honorable knight!”

Hiding under the covers of his bed,

Tears rain down from Little Dragon’s head.

He could save a princess. He could be brave.

He’d be called a hero for saving the day!

But dragons are vicious and dragons are mean,

And dragons only cause people to scream.

Why must he be different? Why must he know,

About knightly heroes and tales long ago?

He looks at his book and picks it right up.

To raise it and throw it with a mighty chuck.

But it sticks to his hand. He can’t let it go.

He can’t lose the dream that he loves so.

He sits on his bed and hugs his book tight.

And his whimpers carry through the night.

“Little Dragon, dear, tell me what is wrong?”

His mother comes in with voice like a song.

Little Dragon sniffles and just shakes his head.

So his mother sits down right next to his bed.

“Little Dragon, don’t cry. There’s no need to worry.”

She points to his book. “Tell me what’s in your story?”

“Horrible dragons doing horrible things,”

Little Dragon says, whimpering.

“Dragons are villains and dragons are cruel.”

“Why must I be the one to break this rule?”

“Nobody likes me. Not even father.”

“I’m just too different. Why should I bother?”

His mother sits up to set him in her lap,

and she gently starts rubbing his back.

“Little Dragon, dear, I wish you could see,”

“It’s okay to be different. It’s what the world needs.”

“Who are we to bake princesses in bread?”

“Or lay bones of knights along our beds?”

“The world needs a heart as brave as yours,”

“To bring about the right kind of change, of course.”

His mother taps him right there on the nose.

“I know you can do it. Don’t you suppose?”

Little Dragon looks back down at his book.

And furrows his brow with a quizzical look.

Maybe she was right? Maybe he should listen?

And bring about change so the world could glisten,

With hope and heart and fear no more.

Where dragons are heroes down in their core.

“I’ll be all alone,” Little Dragon sighs. “How will I make them see?”

“With actions, my dear,” his mother says sweetly.

“Be righteous and noble, with heart so true.”

“That no one would dare call you rude.”

“Don’t act the part, just be a knight.”

“Do it now while the time is right.”

“Others will follow, eventually, you’ll see.”

“You’ll be the dragon who changed history!”

Little Dragon smiles and is inspired once more.

“I’ll be the one to write my own lore!”

He jumps on his bed and holds his book like a sword.

“I’ll be a knight all can adore!”

Why We Care

Something people don’t really think about day to day life at an animal shelter. You come, pick out your animal, and take them home without much thought to their life before their life with you. I work at an animal shelter. It’s my job to take care of the dogs. I clean their kennels, set them up with fresh blankets and toys, feed them, provide enrichment, take them on walks or play groups, train them, and a lot more that I won’t go into. Some dogs are only at the shelter for a short while before they get adopted while others will be with us for a long time. It always puts a smile in our hearts to hear that one of our dogs is going home to their forever family and we celebrate when a long-termer go home.

As much as there are perks to working at an animal shelter, there is one thing that can be unbearable. One thing that makes every canine care technician question their job choice:


No one likes to talk about euthanasia, right? When an animal has to be put down there’s always someone who wants to fight back. There have been more euthanasias than I can even believe since I started working at the shelter and I’ve only been here since last October. If you talk to some people, they’ll tell you they’re against euthanasia. A dog doesn’t deserve to be put down no matter what. Some people see euthanasia as a result for dogs with medical issues and at our shelter, we’ll put dogs down if there’s nothing we can do to improve their quality of life. If they have a condition where they’re in constant pain either now or later down the road and we can’t fix it, we’ll euthanize. But, we also do behavioral euthanasia.

Most people will understand if you say you’re putting a dog down because of medical reasons, but when it comes to behavioral reasons, that’s when you’ll get backlash. There are many behavioral reasons that can bring on euthanasia and the main one is aggression. If a dog is considered a danger to people, they’ll get put down. Another reason is fear. If a dog is constantly living in fear of people, their environment, etc and nothing we do helps them out of that fear, they’ll get put down to put them at peace. If you follow my blog, you’ll remember my post: It’s Okay to Cry where I tell the story of Indiana Bones and Dusk. Two dogs who were euthanized for aggression. This time, I want to share the story of Yodel.

Yodel. Who names a dog Yodel? I’ll be honest, when I found out we had a dog named Yodel, I felt bad for the dog. It’s a strange name and I certainly would never pick it. Yet, Yodel came to our shelter in January as a transfer from a different shelter. I don’t think anyone really knew her breed, but she was tall, white, and if you looked close enough, she had brown spots on her ears. When Yodel was tested behaviorally, it was easy to tell that she loved people. She loved meeting people, spending time with people, going out with people. She was all about people. Dogs, on the paw, she didn’t care for. She tried to bite the other dog in her dog test and would get super reactive when other dogs were around. So, she got set as a “no other dogs” dog and was made available for adoption.

I have to confess. When Yodel first came to our shelter, I didn’t like her that much. She was jumpy in her kennel, pulled on walks, didn’t listen on walks, and had a really high-pitched bark for a dog her size (which is probably why she was named Yodel). For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the best way to work with her. So, I avoided her. One of my other coworkers ended up falling in love with her, so she became that coworker’s “dog” and that coworker trained Yodel the most–even became Yodel’s favorite coworker–and I was fine with that.

Shelter life is stressful for dogs which is why I support “adopt, don’t shop.” However, shelter life for Yodel was a whole new level of stressful. She would get worked up in her kennel, get reactive when people walked by, and constantly jump–wearing herself out. To help her stress, we moved Yodel into one of our suites on the quieter side of the shelter and she did do better. She’d still get super reactive when dogs walked by (we’d try to put a sheet up multiple times, but she was a master at pulling it down), but we were also seeing more times when Yodel just chilled in that suite, napped, or even played with her favorite toys. Yodel even got into the habit of roping me into a game of tug-o-war whenever I would clean her suite. She’d pick up whatever toy was there and we’d play for a while. I felt guilty playing with her because I was supposed to helping my coworkers, but I didn’t just want to leave her hanging. Our relationship got better with those tug-o-wars and they helped distract her from her stress. Thanks to the training of her favorite coworker, she was even becoming enjoyable when anyone would take her on a walk. Everyone was hopeful she’d get adopted soon and she did have a couple chances.

The first adopters interested in Yodel were a young couple with a one-year-old, and they were wanting their first dog. Everyone at the shelter was a little hesitant about the match. When it comes to Yodel, we would’ve preferred a family who had more experience with dogs since Yodel is a special case. I believed Yodel would be good with kids, others…not so much. In a way, Yodel reminded me of my furry nephew and he’s a good boy with my niece, so I believed Yodel would do good with this little girl too. I remember taking Yodel’s head in my hands during our good-byes that day and telling her to try and relax while she was gone. I didn’t care if the adoption didn’t work out (I wanted it too, but it didn’t seem likely), I was just grateful Yodel would get out of the shelter for a couple days–God knows she hates it at the shelter.

The adoption fell through. Yodel accidentally knocked the one-year-old over at the home and the young couple freaked out and returned her immediately. We got Yodel back in her suite and hoped for another adopter to come along.

When springtime came, we did our best to spoil Yodel. With her reactivity and jumpiness in her kennel, Yodel was losing weight that we had to feed her 4 cups a day to help her keep her frame. So, to help her stress levels, we would move Yodel to a play yard where she could be outside in the cool, spring air and just chill. The picture featured in this post is one I snuck of her sleeping in the play yard. She loved it out there. She could watch other dogs that went by, run around, sunbathe (she LOVED sunbathing), and be away from the noise and chaos of the shelter. It did wonders for her. There were times, we’d leave her out there most of the day and her stress levels went down–she finally gained weight. Yet, spring doesn’t last forever and summer came along. It started to get too hot outside and we couldn’t risk anyone forgetting her out there because then she’d overheat.

Which meant she was back in her suite throughout the day. Back in the stressful shelter. A lot us of wanted to get her into foster. Get her in a home environment where she could learn to relax and just be out of the shelter. However, because Yodel is a strict “no other dogs” we didn’t have a foster available for her. All our fosters had other animals that Yodel couldn’t interact with. It also didn’t help Yodel when her favorite coworker, her trainer, left the shelter for a better life.

A couple of us on the Canine Crew still took Yodel out for her walks. I didn’t as often as some, but when I did walk Yodel, I noticed she wasn’t getting trained like she did with her favorite coworker. I’d work with her every time I took her out, but I didn’t take her out that often. I didn’t consider her one of my favorite dogs. We all loved her, but we were also busy with other tasks we needed to do.

Eventually, Yodel’s stress got to the point where she needed to get out four times a day instead of the typical three. It would help with her energy levels, help her get out of the shelter more, but I can’t say whether or not she actually got out four times a day. I know I didn’t take her out. I’d like to believe that my coworkers did, but we might not have had the time and its very plausible that we forgot. Eventually, Yodel went up to our behavior center. It was quieter up there. Not many dogs or people walked passed the kennels, so we figured it would be better for Yodel. I didn’t see her very often after she went up there. I believed things were getting better for her, but then we got the planet dogs and the transfers.

I don’t remember when the planet dogs came in (they were named after all the planets, ergo: planet dogs). They came from a questionable environment and each one of them had some sort of issue whether they were too timid, too iffy in general, or just a bit aggressive. They all went up to the behavior building. Then, we had a week where our shelter took in 57 dogs from a puppy mill. The next day, we got 27 from a shelter transfer, and over the weekend we got 36 dogs from an out of state transfer. A lot of the puppy mill dogs had behavior issues (because puppy mill animals have major issues). Which meant that quite a few of these dogs would be heading up the behavior center. More dogs at the behavior center means the behavior center gets louder with barking which means more stress on Yodel. The quiet space she’s used too is now screaming with dogs she can’t see. I didn’t put two and two together when all these transfers happened. We were a full shelter now and with Yodel up at the behavior center…I hate to say it, but she was out of sight, out of mind.

I did have hope for her though. I’d see her picture on the adoption floor and I believed that someday, someday, she would find her forever home. Everyone loved her. So, surely, she’d go home some time! I thought she finally would when I found out another adopter was interested in her.

I don’t know the details about the adopters who took Yodel. I was off work when she left, but I heard the next day that the match made my coworkers wary. Something about it didn’t seem like a good fit and sure enough, Yodel was returned and she was returned with a couple concerns. According to the adopter, Yodel was restless in the home–unable to relax–and she fixated on the cats. (The adopters were warned to introduce Yodel to the cats slowly, but the information we were given led us to believe they didn’t do that.) Yodel was brought back up to the behavior center and I didn’t realize how things were getting worse for her.

It was our behavior team that took care of Yodel the most in those days. They’d get her out and walk her when they could and asked us to do it when they couldn’t. I know we didn’t always get to her. We should’ve, though. It would’ve done her some good to see Canine Care Crew that she knew and bonded with. One night, I’m getting ready to go to the store and I get a call from one of my coworkers who’s still at the shelter. She’s in tears and she tells me that it’s been decided that Yodel was going to get euthanized the very next day.

For some reason, I was strangely calm. I asked her if different coworkers know and I ended up hanging up so she could call them. I guess a part of me should’ve known it was going to happen some day. Not a lot of our long term dogs make it out of the shelter. Why would Yodel be the exception? I didn’t think anything of it until I was laying in bed that night. I started thinking of all my memories of her and everything I should’ve done for her. I balled my eyes out. If I would’ve done more, she likely wouldn’t have gotten to this point.

It was hard getting ready for work the next day. I knew I needed to be strong for my coworkers. None of the ones I was working with that day knew Yodel as long as I did–they only knew her for about a month or so. To top it off, it was my day to help clean the behavior center. To clean Yodel’s kennel and prepare her last meal.

When I saw her that morning, it finally hit me how she was being housed. She had an indoor/outdoor kennel–able to go outside whenever she wished; however, her the indoor part was all walled off. There were coverings over the glass because Yodel would get overreactive with the other dogs when they walked by and her reactivity was scaring the other dogs. No dog wanted to go near her. I tried to say good morning, but all she wanted was out of that kennel. I decided then that I would take her on all her walks that day. Get her out of her kennel as much as I possibly could. So I asked the center’s manager when the cleaning was done if I could take Yodel out.

She said no.

Apparently, there had been an incident with Yodel the day before. Yodel actually bared her teeth and growled at the behavior member who walked her the most. I think it was because she hates her kennel so much. Her stress was so high that she wasn’t thinking straight. Because of that incident, the manager didn’t think it was safe for me to get Yodel out. I stiffly nodded and told her I understood (even if I didn’t agree) and I went to help my team walk other dogs instead.

One dog walk later, another coworker of mine who absolutely LOVED Yodel comes to the canine office area in tears. She had just come down from seeing Yodel–fed Yodel a bacon cheeseburger–and she was crying because she wasn’t allowed to go into the kennel with Yodel and love on her like she always did. I did my best to comfort her, but what could I say? I agreed with her. It wasn’t right that Yodel was stuck in that stupid kennel for all of her last day. Yet, there wasn’t really anything we could do. When things calmed down, I walked another dog, but I couldn’t get my mind off Yodel. All I could think about was how Yodel was spending her last day in a place she hates more than the vet. A place that’s causing the stress that’s leading to the bad behaviors that’s leading to the euthanasia. I wanted to get her out and I decided I had to see her.

I went back to her after that walk. I brought my treat pouch and in the outside of her kennel, Yodel did all her tricks. She was fine. She knew me. She didn’t growl. Didn’t hard stare. She was a good girl! Yet, she kept pressing against the side of the kennel, wondering why I wasn’t letting her out or coming in myself. From the look in her eyes, she was begging me to take her out of that kennel and it was breaking my heart.

Then, the center manager found me out there. I didn’t notice her at first, but when I did, I was trying to brush away my tears and hide how upset I was. She had a leash in her hand. She took Yodel out of her kennel, handed her over to me, and told me that when I brought Yodel back, I needed to put her back in through the outside of her kennel. My voice cracked when I thanked her. I wasn’t even going to question it. I got Yodel away from that building as fast as I could.

We walked the property. I contacted my coworkers and they all came out to see Yodel and she loved it. She rolled in the grass, pressed against each person, did her training, and sniffed everything! She had to meet every person she came across–even people she didn’t know! She just loved people. When it got too hot outside and she was getting tired. I didn’t have the heart to take her back to her kennel. So, we hopped from building to building just meeting people. We have one building that’s calm and quiet because of the service it provides and that’s where Yodel and I spent most of the day. She loved it in there. She explored every corner and almost fell asleep on the floor with someone rubbing her belly. She was finally relaxing. When she got her second wind, we took a tour around the main building. We met different departments, she was fed Cheetos, flaming Cheetos (surprisingly enough, she loved those), ate a bunch of treats and anything else anyone wanted to give her. She also laid in the middle of different hallways when she was tired and everyone who passed by had to acknowledge her. I tried to find as many people as I could just so Yodel could say “hi.” When we ran out of places to go, I checked the time. There were still two hours until Yodel’s euthanasia and I didn’t like the thought of her being back in that stressful kennel. So, we went back to the building she was finally relaxing in and we played there with ropes and plush toys, enjoyed belly rubs, filtered water, and loves until it was time.

Leading Yodel to the room where she was to be euthanized in was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was in tears the whole time and I kept trying to think of ways I could save her from it. How much trouble would I get in if I just put Yodel in my car and drove off? But I didn’t have anything I could for her. She wouldn’t get along with my dog at home and the decision about Yodel wasn’t mine to make. Thankfully, the room where it would happen was a comfortable room. It had a couch, was a decent size, and had lots of toys and treats in it. I brought Yodel there and she immediately joined me on the couch. I let my coworkers know that she was there so they could say goodbye and unfortunately, not everyone who loved her could say goodbye. Her trainer no longer worked at the shelter and wasn’t allowed to come in. Others were too heartbroken to come. Yet, Yodel loved having everyone that did come there. She loved going from person to person to say ‘hi,’ get pets, lick their face, or play with a toy. From all the activity that day, Yodel was pretty exhausted, but she wasn’t going to let that get her down.

I just sat on the couch and watched her. I spent most the day with her, so I wanted everyone else to have a chance to love on her. Eventually, the behavior manager and the vet came in–I guess they realized I never brought Yodel back to her kennel. The vet explained the process so everyone there would be aware of what was going to happen. We were going to need to leave the room while they sedated Yodel, because there were concerns on how she would react to it. Once she was mostly sedated, we’d come back in and they’d administer the injection.

Tears had been flowing all day, but as soon as we left that room, rivers flowed from every eye. I was one of the last to leave the room and I looked back through the window at Yodel when a sound caught my ears. It was the wail of a broken heart. I turned around and my coworker was curled up on the floor with her face buried in her hands. This is the coworker that brought Yodel a cheeseburger earlier that day. No one in that much pain should suffer it alone, so I crouched at her side, held her shoulders, and rubbed her back. There wasn’t any words to say. How can you say: “It’s alright,” when a dog you don’t think deserves it is gonna die? My coworker eventually got up and looked me right in the eye. “I can’t do it,” she told me through sobs. “I’m sorry. I can’t be in there.” I told her it’s okay. There’s no reason to be sorry. She headed outside and I turned back to the window to check on Yodel.

Yodel was running around the room. The vet and the others in there must have injected her with the sedative, because she was looking stressed again. She even ran toward the door and clawed at it. It broke my heart. I wanted to run in, grab Yodel, and tell her “It’s okay! You’re okay,” but there was no telling what she was seeing from the drug and if I opened that door, she’d try to escape. She could end up hurting herself or someone else. Eventually, the people inside the room were able to get Yodel to lay down on a blanket. The sedative kicked in and we were allowed back into the room.

She was so still. It was strange. She’s a dog that never sits still and yet there she was on that blanket, not moving a muscle. I sat down next to her head and I just kept petting her. I don’t know if she could see anything, hear anything, or feel anything, but if there was a chance she did, I wanted her to know someone was there for her. I had been with her throughout the day. She deserved to have me there through this too. The veterinarian came over and inserted the injection in her back leg.

Now, Yodel won’t ever be stressed again.

I’m still not over it. It’s been a week and a day. I see her picture in our office. See her pawprint on my desk and I can’t help but think we should’ve done more for her. If I had gotten her out of her kennel more and worked her more, she would’ve been too tired to be stressed. It feels like I failed her. But, it’s a hard truth that some dogs just don’t make it out of shelters. If they don’t find the right family, the stress gets to them and that stress leads them to bad behaviors that can’t always be corrected. I never saw any of those behaviors in Yodel, but she was more comfortable with me than she was with others and she wasn’t in those stressful situations with me. There was no telling how she’d treat other potential adopters. Yet, you could list all the best reasons in the world and it still won’t make me feel better. To me, Yodel didn’t deserve to get euthanized. I understand why she was, but I don’t agree with it. I wish she had another chance.

There are lessons to be learned with every dog. After I left Yodel the day she was euthanized, I went to look for my coworkers to make sure they were alright. Two were comforting each other in the hallway and I found another under a tree outside. We talked. It’s easy, when something like this happens, to want to close your heart. Compassion fatigue comes on strong and you don’t want to get close to any more dogs because you don’t want to get hurt when the dogs don’t have a happy endings. You even start to get scared that the longer a dog is at the shelter, the more their days are numbered.

So, what do you do? Do you block your heart to protect yourself or keep caring? I was honestly on the fence while under that tree. I don’t know how many more euthanasias my heart can take. Then Yoshi came up.

Yoshi is a pittie that came in recently. He was getting walked by a behavior team member as a check up. I don’t know him very well, but he’s adorable. He walked right up to my coworker sitting under the tree and licked her face. He accepted pets from both of us and I learned that he was incredibly shy in his kennel, but was finally opening up. Seeing him interact with my coworkers reminded me why we care. We may have failed Yodel, but we can still give our other dogs all the love and care we possibly can in Yodel’s memory. We care about these dogs so that they do feel loved. That they can relax and enjoy life the best they can while they’re waiting for their forever family and if they don’t find their forever family. If they do end up getting euthanized like Yodel, then they still feel that love and care that every dog deserves.

That’s what I tried to do for Yodel. I couldn’t change the past, but I could do everything in my power that day so she could have a “best day ever!” A day out of that stupid kennel. A day where she could (sort of) relax. Dogs like her don’t get a forever family which means all they have is us and that’s why we care so much.

To Be Nice

You’d think it would be a given, right? Whenever you meet someone, go to a new place, start a new job, or even when you’re hanging out with a group you’ve hung out with a thousand times, you’d think it would just be a given that people would be nice. However, you have to remember that everyone has different backgrounds. Different experiences, and different things going on in their lives. The thought of being nice may not register with everyone.

“Nikki, why are bringing this up?” You may ask. Well, to answer your question, I’ve been seeing a lot lately that being nice is a skill that some people need to work on and they may not even realize it.

My team at work has quite a few people on it. We work together to make life the best it can be for our shelter dogs. However, with how many of us there are, it can be a struggle communicating. We all come from different backgrounds, were raised different ways, and our ages are all spread out from 19 to 31. So, when someone recently hired is older than someone who’s been there longer, opinions differ on who should be listening to who. Not to mention there’s how things are communicated and I don’t mean by text or email. I mean by tone of voice.

That’s the kicker isn’t it? Tone of voice. I could ask one of my teammates: “Hey, can you go do that?” But if I’m not careful of my tone, they could take it as demeaning or obvious like “Hey. Can you go do that?” I know with writing it’s hard to deliver the proper tone, but I think you get my picture.

Tone isn’t just in the asking though, it’s also in the response. Let’s say the team is having a group huddle. Someone brings up something that needs to be done and someone responds with a reminder along the lines of “well, if you do that, you’ll have to do this.” What if you were the one making the initial suggestion? How would you respond to the person giving you the reminder? Would be a calm and simple: “I understand. I planned on doing that.” Or would give attitude? Give them a: “So? I can do that.” Maybe for you it depends on which coworker asked you in the first place?

It’s kinda sad how human beings can treat each other. If you’re having a bad day and that comes out in the form of an attitude with someone else, you’re often the one who gets shamed. People blame you and accuse you of your attitude without trying to understand why you have it in the first place.

I’ve been watching my favorite show a lot lately. It’s DC’s The Flash on Netflix. One of the reasons why I love the show so much is because of how the characters fight for each other and not just physically. If one of them is having an off day, another one will help them through it. They’re selfless when it comes to each other. In one scene, a character named Iris has an outburst with her father. She’s frustrated with things going on and when he tells her news she doesn’t agree with, she lashes out on him. His response is what makes her father a great character. He doesn’t immediately lash back. Doesn’t get mad or defensive with his decision. He just leans back in his chair for a moment, raises his eyebrows, then says something along the lines of “okay, what’s going on with you?” The characters in the show are vulnerable with each other and they even take the risk to be vulnerable with their enemies to understand why people act the way they do. That’s something that isn’t seen often in real life.

I dare you to be vulnerable. When the attitude starts creeping up and you find yourself not caring how you treat others, figure out why that is. What’s the root behind the attitude and what will it take to pull it out? If you need to talk it over with someone, find someone you trust. If you feel like you don’t have someone like that, then write your confession in the comments here or on my Facebook or Twitter Pages. No one deserves to be in their fight alone.

The same goes for when you see someone with an attitude or just not being nice. Try to be the bigger person and pull them aside to ask: “hey, what’s going on with you?” They may not tell you, but at least they’ll know you cared enough to ask.

So, I dare you to be better. To be nice because you don’t know what everyone is going through. If you’re having a bad day and are taking it out on people, they might think they’re the problem and I know how horrible a feeling that is. The world could use a little more vulnerability. So, I dare you to be the change.

Your Worst Self

Do you know a time when you felt like you were at your worst? Maybe there’s a situation that just brings out the ugliness in you? Turns you into someone you don’t want to be and especially don’t like to be. Maybe you can think of a moment right now. How are you working on combating that?

I’ll admit. I become my worst self in traffic (I’m sure a lot of people do). I was stuck in traffic for an hour and fifteen minutes the other day and I did not like the person I became in that hour and fifteen minutes. I was unbelievably impatient. I got annoyed at every little thing–especially other drivers–and I found myself wanting to blame and get mad at the person who caused the traffic jam when I should’ve been more worried on whether or not the people causing the traffic jam were okay.

In my defense (a very poor defense, mind you), it was 90+ degrees outside and I was in my truck. My truck who has no working air conditioning. So, I’ve got the windows open, but I’m still sweating my skin off. Not to mention, when I hold the clutch too long, my foot starts falling asleep. I saw the traffic when I was getting off one highway and onto another. Usually, traffic jams on my highways don’t take that long. Yet, I was on that exit ramp for over 20 minutes. I was listening to the radio to learn what was causing the bad traffic, but no one was covering it! Eventually, my mom calls me and says that a truck overturned and spilled it’s contents all over the road. Contents that needed people in hazmat suits to clean up…and they were only letting cars through on the shoulder.

That’s a pretty good reason to be stuck in traffic. It wasn’t a typical “Oh, a guy got a speeding ticket and everyone is slowing down to stare at him.” It was an actual, “someone could be hurt” situation and yet, I’m losing my patience! How sad is that?

I know that having patience in traffic is something I need to work on. And you know what? When it comes down to it. Patience really is a choice. Are you going to choose to take captive your impatient thoughts and listen to the reason of “I can wait so no one else gets hurt?” Or you just going to ride your bad mood like a rabid monkey on a freight train?

I can honestly say it’s no fun to be in a bad mood–though some might disagree with me. Looking back on how I acted in that traffic jam, I’m actually ashamed of it. How am I representing well if I’m raging in traffic? If I rage while I’m by myself; would I do the same when someone else is in the car? I certainly hope not.

Think about a time that you’ve been out with family or friends and everyone is having a good time, but then someone with a bad mood comes over and starts acting upon that mood. They could be complaining, arguing, or even expressing that mood through facial expressions. The air suddenly chances and the good vibes are smashed with a mallet. That’s pretty much what happened when I got home after an hour and fifteen minutes of sweating in traffic. Still frustrated with the whole ordeal, I complained to my family, and I got a lot of bobbing heads of sympathy in return. They were very good about it, but I shouldn’t have been so focused on what the traffic had been like. I should’ve just moved on to what we had planned for that night and not drag around the past like a caveman with a heavy club.

Thankfully, there’s a lesson to be learned with every mistake and–honestly–I hope next time I get stuck in traffic, I do better. I hope I take deep breaths and make friends with patience or just start singing along with the radio to distract me from current stop and go. I hope I be the type of person anyone would like to know in heavy traffic.

So, that’s my worst self and how I’m trying to work on it. What about you? Where do you become your worst self and what efforts are you taking to change that?

Just Stand Up

“Alright, it’s time to go. If we’re going to catch that window, we gotta leave now.”

The bacon’s still sizzling when my uncle comes out of the bedroom. My cousin and I are spending the weekend down at my godparents’ lake condo. We just want to relax from daily life, go skiing, boating, the typical lake activities. It’s always unclear on when we actually head out to ski because no one has a schedule. However, if we go out too late the lake will get choppy or busy with traffic that skiing will be less enjoyable. You’d have to dodge debris and other boats, and survive the waves when they come through. My aunt started making breakfast for those who were up and I didn’t realize my uncle already has the boat ready. My cousin is still in bed.

“Is she alive in there?” My uncle asks, motioning to the room where my cousin is sleeping.

“She was breathing when I walked out of the room,” I reply. It probably wasn’t the answer my uncle was looking for, but it made my grandma laugh. My uncle heads back to his room without a word.

I look at my aunt. Are we going? Should I change into my suit? Wake my cousin? But she’s still sizzling the bacon and when I ask she says my uncle is probably in the bathroom and might be a minute. So, we’re not going yet? The uncertainty doesn’t help my anxiety. I love skiing and if you ask any of my family members, they’d tell you I’m a great skier. However, I’ve learned the hard way one too many times what happens when I start getting cocky on the skis. I’d wipeout–bad–or I’m not able to get out of the water at all. Other times, I start overthinking the process and I start frustrating myself instead of just enjoying the ride. Everyone in my family says I’m a great skier, and I’d hate to prove them wrong. Normally, I only ski once a year during the Diekemper Lake Week, but since my cousin and I came to visit for the weekend, I get the chance to go twice this year. Maybe if we eat breakfast first, I’ll be able to better mentally prepare myself.

Regardless, my cousin needs to get up. So I slip back into the room to check on her. She’s awake and ready to hit the bathroom for her morning routine. I decide not to change yet since I don’t actually know if we’re going out or not. Yet, when I head back into the kitchen my aunt is asking my grandmother to take over the bacon while we’re gone.

So, we’re not eating breakfast first. I have to swallow down my nerves. My uncle comes out of his room and tells me to get my suit on and heads down to the boat. I’m trying to mentally prepare myself while I change, but I can’t shake the anxiety. My cousin already said that she wasn’t going to ski because of her shoulder issues, which means that I’m the only one going. It felt like a lot for them to take the boat out so I could ski for 10-15 minutes. Which means the family spotlight will be on me. Which means I better be able to get out of the water so that them getting the boat out is worth it.

I’m not sure if I hid my loose nerves very well, but the next thing I know we’re all on the boat and heading out over the water.

“Whoever’s going first, get ready.” My uncle tells us.

My cousin immediately points at me. “Nikki’s gonna shred those waves, right Nik?”

Good grief, I hope so. I just smile back at her and focus on rubbing sunscreen on my skin. I don’t know why I’m so nervous. Like I said: I love skiing. Always have, but I’ve got this terrible pride factor of not wanting to look bad. My family is full of great skiers. My grandpa used to take my dad, aunts, and uncles out a lot. A few of my cousins can do it really well. What if I can’t get up this time? I mean, when I get tired, I struggle to get up and I’m still sore from work. What if this trip on the water is all in vain?

But there’s not use in showing my hesitation and talking about it would only bombard me with “Oh, you’ll do fine! You’ll crush it! You’re a great skier. Etc. etc. etc.” When the sunscreen is soaked in and I’m squished in my life vest, I go to the back of the boat.

“Are these the skis you use?” My uncle asks me. He and my aunt pulled a blueish-purple pair out. It’s their smallest pair of skis.

“I think so?” I reply, trying to sound confident. Since I did this in June, you’d think I’d remember which ones I wore. Yet, in my defense, there were a lot of skis getting swapped around in June. The best way for me to test these skis is to stick my foot in one. It’s an ungraceful struggle, but my foot fits. “Yup. Those will work.”

Now comes one of the worst parts. The sun is nice and warm overhead and its making the boat a buttery toasty–just the way I like it. Yet, if I’m going to ski, that means I gotta jump off this warm and toasty boat and into the water. The who-knows-how-cold water. Again, I didn’t want to seem hesitant, so I jumped right in.

Eyes closed and nose plugged, the sheer jolt of cold I was expecting didn’t send shock through my nerves. It was nice and refreshing like a waterfall in the middle of the woods. Not gonna lie, it felt good to be in the water again.

“Did your heart stop?” My aunt asks me when I resurface. She’s crouched on the edge of the boat with the skis in her hands.

“No,” I smile. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

She passes me the skis one at a time and nervousness flutters in my heart once again. The skis slip on easily in the water and they’re still as awkward as ever. I take deep breaths as I wait for the handle of the rope to get to me. The moment of truth was coming up. Would I be able to stand up? In June, I stood up right away, but after I got tired, I couldn’t do it again. I can still feel the ache in my arms and shoulders from carrying dog kennels the day before. What if I loose my grip on the handle the moment the boat shoots off? What if my legs spread the moment I say “hit it?” What if I shift my weight wrong? What if a wave hits me and throws off my balance the moment we go? I’ve got the handle in my hand and I already feel the tug off the boat. I don’t think I’m ready to do this yet.

It’s like riding a bike.

A slow breath slips from my lungs. Words that my grandpa used to say come ringing into my mind. Keep your skis straight. Sit like you’re in a chair. When the boat goes. Just stand up.

“Right,” I mutter to myself. I’m getting too into my head about this and that’s the last thing you want to do while skiing. It’s better to just “hit it” and go and let instinct take over. Like riding a bike.

I get myself into position. “Slack off!” I shout to my uncle and he gets the boat in gear. The rope tightens and I feel its gentle pull. I’m getting my balance in the water when I notice I’m losing the straightness of one of my skis. I could try to fight it to get it back in place, but there’s no telling what else I might lose while I do that. “Hit it!”

My uncle guns it. My arms tense under the pull of the boat. “Stand up! Stand up! Stand up!” I rapidly tell myself. There isn’t really a way to describe the feeling. One second, I’m in the water with anxiety festering like a knot inside me and the next, I’m on top of the water and the anxiety slips away as easy as breathing. Thanks Grandpa.

Now, the fun part begins. I test out the skis in the safety of the wake. I always have to remind myself how to turn one way or the other and once I’m comfortable–not arrogant–I shoot out of the wake, ready to fly.

Intelligence Test

Are you ready for some nonsense? Sometimes you need a little to get you through the day. This is the test I took back in 2014. The goal is to get creative. So, let me know how you would answer these questions below:

  1. What can you catch on your tongue?

A galaxy. Catch a galaxy on your tongue. Feel the fizzle and bursts of the stars and the sour black holes. Catch a galaxy and clench it tight. Smile and see it shine through your teeth. Hold it out for all to see. the beauty and elegance there on your tongue. Just be careful not to swallow.

2. How do you wash your hair?

Run outside and roll in the grass to comb out your tangles. Then, get up and grab some leaves to scrub out the filth. Run back inside and pour apple juice on your hair singing “Oh Susana!” the entire time. Finally, dry with your own underwear. Make sure to wear it on your head for the entire world to see.

3. Can you inflate a balloon?

Of course I can! You grab a balloon and fart in it until it inflates. With the inflated balloon run up to a stranger and pop it! When you smell your own fart, wave the stink away while saying to the stranger: “Eww, you just farted!” Then grab a new balloon to do it again.

4. What can you do with a hen?

You can teach it to drive. Let it sit lower than the steering wheel and run over everyone in town. Then tell it it’s doing a great job! Go to the store and show it all the eggs saying that each one belongs to it. Watch it get so protective that it won’t let anyone do anything with the eggs.

5. What can’t you do with an egg?

You can’t light it on fire or toss it in a forest to watch it burn. Take an egg and teach it to whistle. Throw it on a trampoline and bounce it until it cracks. You can’t hatch the egg into a dinosaur or even grow it to be a cornstalk. Just make sure you don’t show it to the hen.

6. What can you do with an ax?

Use it as a pogo stick! Ride it like a unicycle! Use it to chop a femur. Care for it like it was your baby. Go and take care of the protective chicken at the grocery store. Why do you ax?