C is for Cypher

Cypher is the oldest member of our furry family. At 9 years and one month old we decided to take the plunge and clip him off for summer. He’s always had a huge very masculine type of coat with the long mane, chest coat and long hair everywhere else. He has not been in the show ring for a very long time and he doesn’t compete in agility anymore except on rare occasions. Cypher loves his Frisbee, family and food – possibly in that order. His epitaph, when he goes, will simply have the words “play, play, play” on it.

Cy as a baby next to his Matriarch – Raven.

Cypher came to us via plane just before Christmas in 2006. Eight weeks old and put in a little crate where he made the total 8 hour  car and plane journey to Perth from Sydney. He comes from a breeder in NSW known as Nahrof Kennels and has some very well known dogs in his pedigree. He was chosen for his attitude and his looks. Cypher has always been nothing if not handsome. He came off the plane full of confidence, outgoing in every way. Played tug ferociously from the get go and was extremely bonded to us and me especially from a very young age. I remember taking him to training for the first time at 3 months of old, down to our club and he was already off lead. As long as I had his favourite toy he never even considered visiting other dogs.  I had waited nearly 18 months for the right boy puppy to come along. My other dog, Raven, was now 6 years old and she was an experienced agility dog, a show champion with Obedience titles. It was time for a puppy as her father, Bear, had passed over 18 months ago.

Cy’s first bath. Ridiculous levels of cuteness really.

Cypher is just so keen and such a happy chappy to be around. He tried so hard to get everything right when we started training and with the most enthusiasm possible. I remember him at 6 months being a demo dog for Stacy Peardot at her seminar here in Perth as she used him to show how to use the tug drive to encourage tight turns. He was used as a demo dog for Daisy Peel to show how she’d start of teaching running contacts. He always did and continues to do everything with nothing less that one hundred per cent of his exuberance and attitude. He’s won classes at the Border Collie National in 2009 and qualified for finals at the ANK Agility Nationals. He rose from Novice to finished Masters title within 6 months. He was keen and fast in agility and just loved doing anything with me.

Cypher has one characteristic that has made life difficult in some situations though. He doesn’t trust other dogs not in his pack. And his distrust is expressed vocally. Like everything he expresses. Cypher is a very vocal boy and from the very first day we got him he was this way. He’s not a barker – only when people are at the door but he is a growler. He growls when he’s happy, when he’s excited, when he’s getting a belly rub, a butt massage, when he’s playing tug, when he’s playing with his pack, when he’s doing agility and when he’s doing any tricks. He just growls. He growls when people pat him, he growls when vets examine him and he growls if dogs he doesn’t know come too close. He’s been attacked once and the large cause of it was his very poor communication skills. He even growls when he sees a very pretty female dog who smells nice he stands there wagging his tail and growling. He is, as I like to refer ignoring all pretenses of PC-ness, a canine communication retard. We’ve had 9 years and one month of this type of communication. As a puppy I had no idea what to do with it. Rewarding for when he was quiet or reprimanding for when he was growling, nothing worked. In the end I accepted two things 1. I wasn’t a good enough trainer to fix this and 2. This is just him, his personality, the way he is. This is his one quirk that has, admittedly over the years, brought much mirth but also some regret as it meant I couldn’t relax and let him just run with any other dogs down the park. On balance it’s a pretty small negative when weighed against all the positives that exist for him.

So last night Tim and I made the decision to take some clippers to him and shear him off for Summer. We’ve never done it before and he’s always had such a big coat. He lay there loving the attention as it certainly took the two of us a good hour to get through it all. When he jumped up and shook himself he looked so puppyish it made us laugh out loud. One of the girls had to come up to him and check him out, she thought he looked a little strange I imagine. I’m sure he’ll be much cooler for it and will definitely dry a lot quicker after swimming.


Cy prior to the Great Clipping of November 2013

Cy after the Great Clipping of November 2013

So here’s to Cypher and his endless enthusiasm, his trust of me and his happy feet always ready to go where ever I am and do whatever I ask.


B is for Blackfish

Blackfish is a documentary that aired recently on CNN. It’s one that was brought to my attention about a month ago now via a FB status update of a friend in the US. I kept an eye out for it and we nabbed a copy once it had aired. I knew it wasn’t going to be a comfortable documentary. Blackfish is a very potent and persuasive text that demands viewers consider whether orcas in captivity are a good idea. Unequivocally the answer is no. I sat and watched it with Tim. We’ve both been to Seaworld and seen the orca show. Tim as a child (even as 6 year old he sensed something looked very wrong about the whole picture) and myself in 2010. Seaworld spends a lot of time, effort and money into convincing the world that the educational benefits of coming to their park and seeing the Orcas perform for the crowd are substantial.

I learnt very little other than the fact that I was glad I was wearing sunglasses because watching those massive and beautiful mammals perform for the crowd just elicited such a profound sense of sadness in me that I teared up. I couldn’t quite fathom just how wrong it felt watching these whales basically perform like circus animals (and hasn’t the world moved on from those types of circuses anyway by now?) in this tiny space compared to where they had come from. Oh they’re born in captivity it’s okay – they’ve never known the open oceans so they’ll never miss it. They’ll also live significantly shorter lives with a distinct drop in quality. This documentary just laid all those feelings bare and showed exactly the reason behind my reactions. Two things were revealed as clearly as the crisp, beautiful black and white markings on these whales – One, it is heinously wrong to keep them captive (given what science has uncovered about them so far re their emotional and social intelligence being so high off the charts they haven’t found their limits) and two, the lengths of deceit, hypocrisy and disinformation Seaworld management will go to in order to keep the money rolling in are diabolical.

The documentary maker, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, made herself available for viewers to go online and ask questions via the very useful reddit website. She had been inspired to create the documentary after reading this article here. One of the most popular questions from the public was – I’m just one person but I want to do something to stop this. What can I do? Her answer was to not give Seaworld any more money, to tell people why you’re not supporting the Orca’s in captivity and to join any protest groups that choose to stand out the front of the Seaworld parks helping to inform the public.To spread the word and awareness as far and wide as we could regarding the documentary.

As a teacher I feel very empowered with the last idea. Blackfish is going to become a standard text for my students. Every student I teach is going to see this documentary at least once. We’ll talk about it, we’ll do some further digging, look at the arguments from all sides. We may even debate and have groups involved in taking on representing the Seaworld juggernaut, the employee trainers, the public. There are many creative literacy activities we can do around it. Looking at the ethical and philosophical aspects, looking at the sustainability of captive populations and the impact on the wild populations. The possibilities are endless.

As a person who has now witnessed an Orca family in the wild off the coast of Alaska and seen them up close it is undeniable to me that these amazing marine mammals should only ever be seen in the wild for that is where they are the most emotionally, physically and socially happy.

A link to a recent article describing the fallout from the documentary can be read here.
A PDF paper on Orcas in Captivity is here. Seven things about Orcas you’ll never learn at Seaworld

A is for Anything

There comes a point in time when you realise that those posts in the draft folder are never going to get finished.

When you realise that mindset is everything and if your mind isn’t set right then whatever it is you think you want to happen is not going to happen.

When you realise that you’re more concerned about what you do with your time than about how much you have left.

When you realise feeling grateful and privileged and comfortable just doesn’t cut it on the self respect front.

There are many things I would like see happen in my life. I’d like to write a successfully published novel. I’d like to be a better trainer for my dogs. I’d like to surround myself with colleagues who I feel confidence in, I’d like to be physically fitter, healthier and comfortable. I’d like to worry less about the things I cannot resolve in a matter of moments. I’d like to read more, listen to music more and be with my dogs more. But do I have the mindset for all that? Wanting is not as powerful as it is made out to be. Goal setting is key comes the cry. One step at a time chants the old adage. Take each day as it comes is another, largely futile, sage piece of advice. Every failure is just another way you’ve found that doesn’t work.

There comes a time when you realise that tired adages and worn out sayings are just there to make the depressed individual feel better and everyone else look contemplative.

They say (they being the many authors’ interviews I’ve read) that the key to being a writer is to write everyday. I’m starting today – November 1st – with A.

A is for anything that I feel like writing about. On a Markus Zusak kick right now (instant similar age group achievement envy when I realised we’re practically the same age and look at his writing success) and reading The Underdogs trilogy of books. His writing is very poetic in style. But it’s his characters that shine. The Wolfe brotherhood is a truly great sibling relationship.  I must finish The Book Thief one day. I don’t like books that make me cry. This one did so I kinda delayed the further likely inevitable distress. A good writer makes his audience feel.

Kids are simultaneously so incredibly fascinating and incredibly frustrating all at once. The Joy of Teaching. I wonder if that book has been written yet.

Write what you know they all say. I find it problematic to bring it all together – the worlds I know. Television, dogs, school, teaching, agility. Faced with the seemingly impossible task of starting. I’ll start here. One entry a day till I get to Z.