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(Cathrine travels and lives around the world. Sometimes she brings back some dogs. Sometimes she writes about them.)

The Immigrant Song: Howwwwl! Hoooowwwwl!

It's been almost a year since Magic and Jimmers arrived in Canada. They've had to make a lot of adjustments.

Ottawa is not dog friendly. With 2 million humans and 1075 square miles, if the total area available as dog parks, on or off leash, is 5 square miles, it would surprise me. There are some large areas in the 'burbs, accessible by car. If you don't have a vehicle, there is almost nothing: most green spaces are No Dogs, on leash or off.

It's no wonder the majority of dog walkers ignore the signs. Despite very strict dog bylaws, Ottawa is seething with dogs. At least, our downtown university area is. Students are crammed to the rafters here: the university has doubled in size in the last decade. It's astounding how many bring dogs, and how many home owners have one or more.

That was the first shock for Magic and Jimmers: other dogs! In Beograd, they lived with other dogs, but those were The Pack, and Magic was The Boss. Dhaka had street dogs, but we avoided that problem by taking them to an open area along the river where they were more likely to meet goats and mongooses than dogs.

Magic HATES other dogs. She also disliked, intensely, on sight, squirrels, joggers, Canada geese, small children, anything mechanical a sharp noise, vehicles that swish through water, bus doors, bicycles and skateboarders. (Okay, I agree about skateboarders.) Jimmers found everything terrifying, except squirrels, with whom he developed an obsession. The only reason he walked at all was that Magic did all the defensive work, and he only had to back her up.

I learned quickly that eight legs and a low center of gravity trumps two legs and the strongest leashes when two frantic dogs are attempting to defend themselves and their person from random Shih Tzus and passing cyclists. Soon, I was restricting our walks to very early morning and after 23:00, and inquiring frantically about professional trainers.

Then, the temperature dropped. I don't mean winter: I mean autumn. For dogs who came from the tropics, anything under 20 degrees Celsius was the Ninth Circle of Hell. And Magic has a nose that can detect the *exact* temperature, to three decimal places, before a paw hits the porch!

I have become expert on dog clothing, and I do not mean the froufrou outfits that sense-challenged persons inflict on genetically warped fashion victims. Velcro is NOT the best fastener: easy on is easy off where my dogs are concerned. And that little hole in the back only accommodates a leash attached to a collar: dogs in a harness are SOL. Then there is the issue of reflectivity at night. Reflective piping on the edges of a coat is useless: where are the dog coats with big honking strips of reflective tape on the front, sides and tail end? And that's before checking construction and care instructions.

After a few expensive failures, my dogs were outfitted for the weather.

And then it snowed.

The first snow fall saw Magic trying to walk without actually putting her feet on the ground. At one point, she tried to shake off all four paws at once, with predictable results. Jimmers just gave me his martyred dog look that clearly said that, while he would follow me to the ends of the earth, did we really have to live there?

Then Jimmers discovered rolling in snow, and had to stop every three minutes to smear street grit all over his expensive new parka. Magic never accepted winter: a walk in the snow with her is a forced march at the fastest clip she can impose.

The plus side is that bylaw officers don't enforce the No Dogs bylaws, since they assume that no one in their right mind would linger in the open at -20 degrees. They may be right, but there we all were, shivering in the wind and shoveling frozen poop into our doggie bags.

By the time winter came, we had started training. The first trainer, recommended by someone who should have known better, was into dominance. This might be okay for normal dogs, but I soon found that intimidation is counter productive for special needs dogs with a history of abuse. It worked at first, maybe because the dogs were stunned at my betrayal. After a few weeks, the reaction set in: their problems got worse, as they redirected the anxiety and aggression caused by my dominance behaviour toward the cold and unfriendly world.

Fortunately, I am literate, and had been reading. We switched to a positive trainer who took us to a behavioural veterinarian and, between them, they have made an amazing difference to Magic and Jimmers.

Magic has forsworn her aversion to squirrels, most joggers, geese, small children, mechanical noise, vehicles that swish through water, bus doors, and bicycles. Skateboarders remain fair game, possibly because she can read my mind. Other dogs are allowed to exist, provided they stay at least 1/2 block away, preferably seen in butt end view. And we continue to work on it, with slow and steady improvements.

Jimmers can now go out, for short periods, without Magic's protection. He no longer has to be carried: he will go happily, provided there are no strangers walking or talking within four lots of the house, and no machines operating. He knows he only has to stay out long enough to do what a dog's gotta do, and then he can come right back. It doesn't sound like a lot, but for Jimmers, it is a huge step forward. And he is slowly acquiring friends, people from the cat rescue I help who visit just to talk softly to him and feed him treats. He's still unsure -- lots of lip licking, looking away and walking very, very slowly in curved lines -- but his love of treats is gradually leading him to engage with at least a few humans other than my husband and me.

An immigrant's life is never easy: just ask all the very educated cab drivers lined up at the taxi stand. At least my dogs don't have to deal with ethnic discrimination, political exploitation, or language difficulties: dog seems to be universally spoken, with only dialect differences to overcome. That's why we estimate that they should be as trained as they can be in another 18 months.

Just in time for our next posting abroad, in fact. I just hope, where ever we get sent, they have some good, big dog parks.

4 Comments to “Magic and Jimmer's First Year in Canada”

  1. NK says:

    They are both beauties, will you keep sending us updates please?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful, loved this. Catherine's patience is phenomenal.

  3. MKlwr says:

    I hear you on the dog parks! I wish they had smaller areas where you could let your dogs off leash. Though I have heard from people that the fenced area north of Landsdowne is used to let dogs off leash. And there was talk of making the graffiti wall lot at Slater and Bronson an off leash area. I don't know if it's official yet, but they have put a barrier where the gate gap is, so dogs can't get out easily, and I've seen people there in the morning when I was taking the bus to work.

    Bruce Pit and Conroy Pit sound nice, but they are big, and if you have a dog who doesn't have a reliable recall, it's hard to let them off leash there.

    The big advantage of the burbs otherwise is that, because of flooding issues, each development needs to have a storm management pond of some sort, and developers just make it into a small park/conservation area, so that's a nice place to go for walks. It doesn't have light at night, but on moonlit nights, it's not so much of an issue.

    All that said, I think we should look at the dog parks Toronto has (like the one Fred takes Simone to), and lobby the city to make some of those here.

  4. MKlwr, in Sandy Hill, our area, there is one (1) off leash area, unfenced, tucked out of sight along the Rideau River, behind a non-profit housing development. It is about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a football field, with only one way in. All the rest of that park and all the other ways in are No Dogs.

    I have contacted the City more than once. Never got a reply or a call back. I am told, third hand, that the number of dogs in a given area is calculated based on the number of licenses issued for that area. Of course, if the student's dogs are licensed, which about half seem to be, it is often in their home town or in the neighbourhood where their parents live. I am also told, second hand, that there is a strong anti-dog feeling in those areas of the bureaucracy in charge of parks. I can believe it, only because I lived for 4 years in an area of Alberta where there was an anti-cat bias.

    If you know any way to get through to these -erm- folk, please share! At the moment, I'm working with a neighbour who owns some rental housing to pay for fencing the back yard -- very costly -- in return for allowing my dogs to go in there twice a day for 15-30 minutes and run off leash.

    Cause a dog's gotta do what a dog's gotta do...

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.