Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why the blog? (and a Pre-pendix)

Before social media, I was a huge fan of blogs and blogging. THEN...dundundunnnn...along came the famous/infamous behemoth we know as Facebook.
It was the perfect thing when I relocated from my lifetime home back in Michigan to the Poconos in Pennsylvania. When I signed up for Facebook, I intended to only use it to keep in touch with family and friends who were back home. Before I moved, I had really no interest in it. However, I thought it would save me time and I would make less phone calls, not have to send a lot of emails and texts to keep in touch. Guess what? I have lost more time in all my years of social media-ing then I would've lost just sending those emails and making actual phone calls!

It was fun at first. Join Facebook, they said. It'd be fun, they said.
Then the time wasting began, the unnecessary drama, and seeing a lot of things I honestly had zero interest in seeing. One of the biggest problems is all the misunderstandings that happen. Too often people think everything is about them, and most of the time it isn't, it's just that people are posting from their own point of view, on their own page, and people reading take things the wrong way, Sometimes they take opinions too personally, or, in the worst cases, some people reading just live for drama and want to start arguments. I never had any interest in any of that. I just wanted to share my life out here with friends and family. It started out simple enough, but it seems the nature of social media doesn't allow for it to stay a tiny part of one's life

When I adopted Trudy, one of my current puppy mill rescue dogs, it made Facebook a bit fun again.
I started Trudy's page in July of 2014 and it was great as people followed my journey to adopt her and her story of going from frightened puppy mill dog to being in a forever home. I always tried to add educational posts in and not just have it be all fun and games, although it seems all the most popular things on Facebook are in fact, quite silly. If you don't believe me, look at hits for any goofy pet videos from YouTube or viral videos that get shared. They're almost always ridiculous and there is usually nothing educational in them.
Yes, we all need to laugh, we need to lighten up. We need fun. But I've noticed that almost anything "viral" is never serious. I wish just for once, a no more puppy mills video would get as many hits as "kitty cat massages sleeping dog".  Alas, that's too much to ask, I fear.

I have made so many great connections on Facebook and on Trudy's page, so I'm not totally knocking it, but let's just agree it is what it is, SOCIAL media.
It's the online equivalent of running into people at a coffeehouse. That's not a bad thing, but most of the time, it's not my main interest. I guess I'd rather meet at a library or a museum, maybe at a historical site.

I'm so happy that I've helped some people find their dogs through Trudy's Facebook page, as in the case of LindaJo and Dolly. There was also an italian greyhound named Juliet who was in National Mill Dog Rescue along with Trudy, but who took a little longer to find her forever home. I shared and shared Juliet's photo, hoping someone would see her and adopt her. I was so thrilled when I heard she was adopted, and thanks to Facebook, I am online "friends" with her new mom, Cierra. To go back to before I actually even knew about NMDR or "Porsche" (who became Trudy), I wouldn't have even found her (or did she find me?) had it not been for meeting Pam and Lil' Olive through mutual friends on Facebook. So, without that, Trudy and Eliza probably wouldn't be here. I give social media kudos for connecting people the way it does, but for all the great things, it has many failings as well. I think we've all had our "bad" online experiences. The number of them is as great as the members of Facebook, I dare say. We take the good with the bad, and as I said, it is what it is. It's definitely perfect for some people and not for others. That's not uncommon, that's the way of the world. We are all different and all have our own interests. I have thankfully finally found the niche that social media has in my life and that's where it will stay. My spotlight now is on my blogging, going back to my humble beginnings on the internet, my long-lost love...blogs.  I think we all need to bring blogs back. In fact, I already had a few friends on Facebook who wrote to me to say "hey, I'm kind of thinking of trying this blog thing..." and I have offered to help them and set up "blog hops" where we link to each other's blogs to share information and stories. Oh, how I have missed Blog Hops! Once you try them, you might see why, if you're like me. It's my online equivalent of hanging out in Border's Books all day (another thing I miss desperately).

As an "educator",-the term I've applied to myself in the dog world-  I feel that after over a year of posting on Trudy's page, I'm still falling short. It's not exactly the forum I'm looking for. It's not the right place to post long articles or stories. People just don't have the attention span on social media (hello, Twitter?) they have when they're reading blogs or news outlet sites.  When you read a blog, you know you're in for a READ. You sit down and get ready to read a whole article, most of the time. It's not about skimming, or just skipping over things that don't interest you. You're on a blog for a reason, you're there to read and learn something, usually.
When I post on Trudy's page, I'm often disappointed that I feel people aren't really seeing or getting what I'm really trying to do, but now I realize that's not the reader's failing, it's mine.
Being on social media is like going into a coffeehouse (as previously mentioned) and trying to get everyone there to listen to a lecture. They don't want a lecture, they want small talk. I was doing the right thing in the wrong forum. I have no judgments about blogs versus social media. They're two different forums, apples and oranges, but I need to be in the right place to feel like I'm accomplishing what I've set out to do online, which is educate in an entertaining way, but more at length and with a lot more background then social media affords.

One of the problems with social media is the way people "follow" pages and receive notifications. Facebook, sadly, has been failing at that a lot lately. They have a new function that I think most page followers don't know about where they can follow pages "First" or "Default", which means that even my close friends and immediate family do NOT see things I post because they don't know that they can set that and they have my pages on "default", so they either never see my posts or they are so buried in the news feed that they never get to them.
At times, I'm feel as though I'm talking to no one. Trudy's page has over 2,000 followers on Facebook (which is nothing compared to most dog's pages), yet there are only a small handful who I think actually even see the posts I spend time creating. The thing is, I'm not doing it for MY benefit, so if no one is seeing the posts, then it's actually a waste of my time. I live with Trudy. I know her. I don't need to post her stories and life on social media. I live it daily. I only do it to help others out there see what life is like with a dog who spent 7 years in a puppy mill, and in doing that I hope people see that she isn't just a number or a disposable animal, nor is she "livestock". She's a dog with a personality, a soul, a desire to try to have a life rather than just to exist. In doing that, I hope I show people why we should not have puppy mils. There's a problem though.

You know what people on Facebook respond to? Silly photos. Jokes. Anecdotal stories. It's true! I've posted serious things about mill  dog rescue and will get a small smattering of "likes" and maybe two comments. I post a silly photo of Trudy in a monkey costume and I get hundreds of likes and so many comments it's hard to keep up with them all.
Yes, that's nice, it's fun, but this IS a serious issue and people on social media are often there for free entertainment, not always to be educated. That's ok. I understand that sometimes people go on social media to look at friend's and family posts, not to see "heavy" topics or things that make them upset. In fact, I have been avoiding social media more and more because of the latter. I don't like seeing sad, disturbing or graphic images, which is why I vowed to never post them on any social media. That does not mean I'll stop talking about these things. I want to educate but I'm not one for shock value or horrific imagery. I can close my eyes and see the horrors of puppy mills, for example, without seeing them in my news feed on Facebook. That is one of the reasons I never post them on Trudy's page, and I will not post them here. Yet, these things do exist. People need to learn about the "dark side" of pets and we need to educate to try to make the world a better place for the animals we love so dearly.
So how do we do this differently? Something is amiss in social media. Even when posts are educational AND entertaining, they lack the impact of a blog post or article most of the time. At least, this is something I've noticed over time.
Trudy in the famous Monkey Jammies

Another issue on social media sites is that I often feel like I'm preaching to the choir.
Most of the people reading Trudy's page are other mill dog families and they already know everything I'm saying. I want to reach a much wider audience. I want to really, truly HELP those who do want to make a difference and potentially help end the puppy mill industry in our country. I'm hoping by blogging I'll possibly reach a wider audience through online searches on this topic. Maybe one or more of my blog posts will get shared or linked to by rescue groups or bloggers, or even shared on social media. Did you ever notice that people share outside blogs and articles on social media more then actual posts that originate there? We shall see. If anything I write ever goes viral, even among rescue groups, I'll be thrilled. I just want this information OUT THERE, not trapped in one specific, small, remote place in a huge social media site.

This blog will feature MANY different topics, Some will be fun and silly, but I have always, and I will always strive to sneak some education in with the fun when I post those things.
There will be articles on training, on cooking and baking (treats and home cooking for dogs), food and nutrition, health issues, rescue and adoption articles and topics, product and book reviews, dealing with pet loss and grief (sadly, something I'm somewhat of an expert on now), and much more.  I have 15 years of experience both in rescue, as a dog professional (trainer, groomer and pet sitter) and as your above average crazy dog mom to share, and I think it's about time I passed on all this knowledge I've gained in that time.

Honestly, I want to get everything I've experienced and learned in that time written down before I lose my mind and don't remember it all anymore.  I have so much to share and I think a lot of it could benefit those who are new to experiences with dogs that I've been through at least once, or several times in my life.

I want to add this small appendix first- so is it a pre-pendix? Usually an appendix is at the end of a book, but I feel like this needs to be said first, before I start posting actual blogs.
I will, in many articles, discuss "puppy mills" and I want to talk about that so down the line, everyone understands what I mean when I discuss those.

I want to share a few things just in case someone who is a "newbie" to this issue is reading this, and I hope they are. I'm typing this and imagining that some readers have never heard of a "puppy mill". I have to say, they are one of my target audiences.
Most of my acquaintances and friends know all about mills, but there are many more out there who do not and we need to focus our attention on educating those individuals, not just talking among ourselves.
I won't go into long definitions of a puppy mill here, but if you want to find out more about exactly what I'm discussing, googling puppy mill will give you more information then you could ever want to see. You will, in fact, probably see things you wish you didn't. I'm not saying to avoid learning about mills. Everyone needs to know the truth about the commercial breeding industry. If you are faint of heart, avoid the videos and don't do an image search. After a decade and a half, I still can't stomach seeing most of the photos and videos. I have seen enough horror that mills create to last me for several lifetimes without seeing any more. 

Let's also be clear, I'm NOT against reputable, responsible breeders. That might anger some hardcore rescue folks, but that's the way it is. I'm a realist. People WILL always want puppies. They will want and need dogs for certain jobs or functions (working dogs, service dogs, companions, sporting dogs, etc.) and they will not always be able to find highly specialized dogs as puppies in rescues to fit their needs. These people usually do go to reputable breeders for their puppies. But there are enough still going to pet stores and buying puppy mill puppies from them, many times unknowingly supporting a cruel system. 

A small digression: I am not a supporter of any sort of extremist beliefs. That doesn't make me less caring or compassionate. It doesn't make me LESS of a dog "rescue advocate".
It does makes me a realist. It's unrealistic to expect every single individual or family in our entire country to ONLY adopt from rescues, nor should they, and I'm taking on that topic in my next blog posts, actually.  
I recently read another blog about how rescue dogs are not for everyone. It was a very well written blog and it really inspired me to get back to work on my writing and education on the topic. 
First time dog owners, for example, are often better off researching breeds, finding what dog will work best for their situation and locating a very reputable breeder to help them and support them throughout the dog's whole life. The breeder acts as a counselor to guide them through first time puppy and dog ownership. A good breeder will offer a lifetime of support, there for the family during the tough times, offering advice and help that no rescue group can possibly offer, as the rescues are staffed by only (or mostly) volunteers. As well meaning as rescue groups are, they can't possibly be there for a dog's whole life, answering phone calls, texts and emails every time an adoptive family needs help or advice. I don't know of ANY rescue group who offers the kind of support that is given by a truly responsible breeder who takes pride in each puppy they bring into the world. I'm talking only about the breeders who consider their dogs their signature, their pride and joy, and they're going to stand by them no matter what. They will take back the dog, no question asked, if necessary so it doesn't end up in a shelter. Many of these reputable breeders, in fact, do foster dogs for pure bred dog rescues. I know quite a few personally who do that. They take so much pride in the breeds they work with that they are for the betterment of the breed through not only responsible breeding, but through rescue work as well. Those are the "good guys" and I will always defend them.  
You know what puppy millers, factory farms, commercial breeders and those who support them (lobbyists and dirty politicians) love? They LOVE when we are all fighting among ourselves, picking on reputable breeders who don't deserve judgement.  Why? Because divided we all won't make the impact we could if we all-rescues, shelters, reputable breeders, exhibitors (show dog people for the layman), no puppy mill advocates, trainers and educators- ALL banded together against the big, bad puppy mill "machine". 
I've said it before and I'll repeat it over and over: United we can make a difference. Divided, we are just chipping away at a huge industry that doesn't even feel it when we protest. So, before you jump on the "let's shut down all the breeders" bandwagon, know the real enemy, and don't lump the good ones in with the bad. Think of how you don't like it when people do that to you, and act accordingly. 
Hopefully that clears up  WHO and WHAT  we are discussing here: corporate farming, big Ag, commercial kennels and puppy mills- those that fit this description: (from Google)

"pup·py mill
noun: puppy mill; plural noun: puppy mills; noun: puppy farm; plural noun: puppy farms
an establishment that breeds puppies for sale, typically on an intensive basis and in conditions regarded as inhumane."

There are other grey areas as far as dog breeding is concerned. There are hobby and "backyard" breeders and  online-sale puppy millers (the millers who pretend to be reputable breeders but are in fact, running puppy mills). Many puppy millers are hiding behind fancy, flashy, pretty websites and they lie and say all the nice things they think puppy buyers want to hear, tricking the less educated (on what to look for in a breeder, not in general) buyers into thinking they are buying from a reputable breeder, when they are in fact, purchasing a puppy mill puppy. I am trying my best to point this out and help educate puppy buyers so they do not fall into that particular trap. I'm sure that will be the topic of a future blog post, although many articles have already been written on that topic. 

So, we know who I'm talking about, and now that hopefully I've clarified enough so that none of the responsible breeders will take offense. I do actually want them on my side, as I've always been on theirs. I'm no longer a fan of the sweeping "adopt, don't shop" saying as much as I used to be.
One blog I read last month talked about how we need a new catchphrase. People will shop. That's a given. We just want them to "shop" in the RIGHT places. I've been working on a a new phrase, to no avail.
How you do put "Adopt if you can, but only if it's right for you and if you're a first time dog owner, please find a highly reputable breeder who will support you and help you as needed, but still, adopt if you can..." into a nice little three word phrase?  (see, I can still be funny!)
If anyone can solve that one, please let me know!

Until then, I'll be here, blogging away now and then. I'm hoping this all serves as a good introduction to what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I almost feel that with social media, blogs are getting ignored. I'll have my fingers crossed that maybe I can help change that. I will post on Trudy's page occasionally, but it will be more like CliffsNotes to this blog and it won't be the center of my attention anymore. That isn't a bad thing. I appreciate everyone who has been there on Trudy's journey with me, and I will continue to share that, but I hope that more people will read this blog and my educational articles here. Here, there are no "likes", no friends or highlights. You are all just readers and I'm just a writer, doing what I do, in the correct forum to (I feel) to share my thoughts with you.
Thanks for visiting.