The almost dog

Last month, I did a crazy thing.

It all started innocently enough on July 14 when my cousin shared on Facebook her local animal shelter’s post about a Mastiff-mix dog named Matteo. She commented, “Three dogs in a small house would be too much for us…but give this guy a look or a share. Love the gentle giants!”

matteo

Matteo

Look at that face! What’s not to love?!

I see dozens and dozens of posts just like this one every single week on Facebook from all over the country, and this particular dog was located more than 500 miles away from me. Something in his eyes drew me completely in, though, so I took the next baby step. I commented.

comments

If my cousin had made any other reply than the one she did, or made no reply at all, nothing would have come of it and we’d all have just gone on with our lives. But once the thing was set in motion, there was no stopping it.

On the Monday after she posted Matteo, she went to the shelter to meet him, and I followed along with her in my first-ever FaceTime conversation. Matteo was enthusiastic but not unruly, highly interactive with his visitors, and quick to sit for a treat that he took oh-so-gently. He even gave my cousin a quick kiss, which confirmed his considerable charm. I was sold. She was sold. We both so wanted this to be a love match.

On Tuesday, I made the decision to go meet Matteo and, with luck, bring him home with us, so my to-do list kicked into high gear. I had to figure out how to get there, how long it would take, how much it would cost, whether my homeowner’s insurance would allow me to have another dog, and so on. Did I have a collar and leash? A bed? A crate? Enough food to feed him? It was a 12-hour drive to get to him, and I knew he would be adopted quickly so I could not wait.

Fortunately, the shelter is closed on Wednesdays and no adoptions would take place, so I had a little time. There was a scramble trying to communicate with the shelter during their maddeningly limited telephone hours and open hours, but I was able to confirm before I left town that he was still available. So on Wednesday morning, I packed a bag, put the little dogs in the car, and off we went down the long, long road from here to there. I felt I was going on a blind date with every intention of coming home married. But I was ready, and I had the ring in my pocket in the form of Ruby’s old collar, fitted out with a shiny new tag for what I hoped would be my new big dog.

matteo collar

Put a ring on it

Two days of driving across four states later, I pulled up to the shelter half an hour before it opened on Thursday afternoon and waited nervously, very nervously. Matteo is so big, and my dogs are so small. We had no information about how he interacted with small dogs. I can handle a big dog and I already knew I’d love him, but the doggie meet-and-greet could go wrong in any number of ways, and that’s what was going to make or break this match. We all had to love one another or it wasn’t going to work.

The shelter is run by the city, and it is a busy, crowded, noisy place full of dogs and people in constant motion. I had a long wait and some paperwork to fill out before a volunteer finally brought Matteo out and put us together in a small yard. Just as he had with my cousin, he sat nicely for a treat and took it gently and allowed me to pet him without a single hesitation. He was frantic to be out of the kennel and out of the yard, so much so that I could not hold his attention without a treat in my hand. The shelter had named him Matteo at intake so the word meant nothing to him. There was no calling him to me or really, any interacting with him to be done at all except giving treats. I felt a chill.

Getting him together with my dogs seemed to be almost more than the shelter could accommodate. They insisted on having two handlers, one for Matteo and one for the littles, to ensure that no negative interactions occurred and that my dogs would feel no need to protect me from a strange dog. The female volunteer who took Matteo radiated anxiety about the meeting—her face seemed locked in a grimace of dread the entire time. The male volunteer who took my dogs, on the other hand, could not have been more blasé about the whole thing. He continually reassured me that all was just fine, while the female handler balked at each new iteration of interaction between the dogs. They progressed smoothly from walking past each other on leash to circling and sniffing each other on leash to moving around the yard together freely off leash to walking with me all together on leash. “That’s it, that’s as good as it’s gonna get for a first meeting,” the male handler said. “I think they’re good.”

My concern at that point was that Matteo seemed to want to interact only with the female handler and not with me or my dogs. There were no play bows, no nose-sniffs, no false charges or chasing around between the dogs, and Matteo never once initiated interaction with me. The three dogs essentially moved to separate areas of the large yard and ignored one another. I asked the female handler to leave the yard to let me see how Matteo would be with just us. With one last grimace, she walked out and closed the gate behind her. I turned to see Matteo running back and forth along the fence anxiously looking for her, and he would not return to us for the remainder of the visit.

Looking back, that’s the moment I realized Matteo was not going home with us, although it took me the whole rest of the evening to clarify that in my mind because I had invested so much time and treasure and emotion in getting there and meeting him and wanting this to work. But the fact was, no matter how I felt about him, he obviously felt no sense of connection whatsoever to me or to my dogs. He was not interested in joining our pack.

matteo

What a handsome boy

Despite all the effort expended, I chose to leave him there and drive home the next day, completing a journey of a thousand miles in 72 hours for what at first appeared to be, essentially, nothing.

It wasn’t for nothing, though.

I learned how big my heart is, and how much strength I have to do a very big, very scary thing for the right reasons. I also learned that my cousin and I make a formidable team and that I can count on her support 100%. I could not have done the thing without her.

When I got home, several people had just one question for me: “What were you thinking?!”

What I was thinking is, it’s been 9 years since I had a big dog that I felt could protect me and allow us to go places that I don’t feel safe going alone or with the little dogs. I was thinking, that absolutely beautiful boy got a raw deal by being dumped at that shelter, and I had the power to punch his ticket out to the sweet life. I was thinking, I can’t save them all, but I could save this one. I was thinking, I wanted to make a difference. And I almost did. If he had loved us back, even just a little bit, just for a moment, in that shelter yard, he’d be here with us now—probably snoring on the couch with the littles rolled up on either side to share body heat.

He was almost our dog. We were almost his family.

Matteo was adopted out the day after I got home, and I hope he now has the best life a dog could ever dream of—even better than the one I could provide. I hope he knows his name, and that he is loved, and that he is safe and happy wherever he is.

 

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Silly Facebook games

Two status updates recently seen on Facebook:

traffic-ticket-status

underwear-status

After I commented on one of these posts that perhaps their page had been hacked by their kids, I received this message:

awareness-game

I won’t feel bad if anyone calls me a spoil sport, because I’m ruining the game for everyone who reads this, and because I’m not going to play (or should I say, be a victim?). I have two reasons for this.

First, while there is a legit “Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign” page on FB, this particular game apparently is not put out by them. And when you think about it, saying one used one’s “boobs” to get out of a traffic ticket is really not respectful messaging for this particular cause. Even if it were, how is this “girls-only” subterfuge in social media effective in raising awareness? Is there anyone still out there who hasn’t heard of breast cancer by now?

Second, even if one wished to play the game regardless of its creator or purpose, I know how I felt after reading these oversharing statements ostensibly authored by people I know and like, and I would still feel that way if I hadn’t commented and they hadn’t let me in on it. I would not want any of my FB friends to feel that same way about me, especially all those lurkers who read everything and comment on nothing (you know who you are!). I also would not want anyone to take any such statement from me seriously, and surely someone would (but they wouldn’t comment and get the clue so who knows what conclusions they would draw). People poo-poo the idea that anyone takes FB seriously, but they do. I do. So I am not inclined to post a lie and hope everyone just thinks it’s a joke.

Breast cancer is not a joke. Breast cancer awareness games on Facebook are neither helpful nor funny, particularly to people who are living with that terrible disease. I don’t blame anyone for participating but I wish they would stop for a moment and ask themselves, “what good will this actually do?” before they play along.

Here are some facts about breast cancer, so I can at least say that I have done my part to honor the spirit of the game.

Infographic by Lauryn Vermass

Infographic by Lauryn Vermaas

Visit the National Breast Cancer FoundationBreastCancer.org, the American Cancer Society or Susan G. Komen to learn about ways you can help fight breast cancer, keep yourself healthy, and support those who have it.

cancer3

Seeing red

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week in a case that challenges California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8. I am not familiar enough with all the legal ins and outs to say what the outcome might be—whether they’ll decide that all 50 states must allow same-sex (or equal) marriage, or that all 50 states can decide for themselves whether to allow it, or what.

My hope is that the court delivers a unanimous ruling similar to the one they made in Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 case in which they struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage. To me, it’s exactly the same issue: Only one definition of marriage should exist in this country that applies equally to all citizens, and individual states should not be allowed to decide which consenting adults can and cannot marry based on nothing more than bigotry and prejudice.

The arguments against what used to be called miscegenation were all the same as those against equal marriage: God never intended it and does not approve, it’s bad for the children, it will lead to the downfall of civilization as we know it. All bullfeathers of the purest ray serene, and everybody knows that … now. I hope that someday soon the vast majority of Americas will regard same-sex marriage with exactly the degree of indifference with which they now regard interracial marriage.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is encouraging people who support equal marriage to change their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures to the symbol for equal marriage, which (naturally) is an “equals” sign:

equal-marriage1        equal-marriage2

The one on the left is the original version; the one on the right is the one the HRC is promoting for use this week. The red symbolizes love, which is what marriage equality is really all about.

I’ve been seeing a lot of red today as my Facebook friends and their friends have changed their profile pictures to the red symbol. I’m pleased and proud to see so many different people willing to publicly support equal rights for all citizens. This is a civil rights issue and a legal matter, not a religious or moral matter. Ensuring equal rights for everyone takes away no rights from anyone. If you’re opposed to same-sex marriage, don’t have one.

The We Do campaign organizes actions across the Southern United States in which same-sex couples are filmed going to their local courthouses and “requesting—and being denied—marriage licenses in order to call for full equality under federal law and to resist unjust state laws. WE DO actions make the impact of discriminatory laws visible to the general public and illustrate what it looks like when LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered] people are treated as second-class citizens under the law.”

There are several videos of these actions available. The one below brought me to tears when an older lady plaintively asks the very young clerk, “Can you tell us what steps we might take to become full and equal citizens under the law before we die? Can you help us with that?”

That’s all that we’re asking for: full and equal citizenship under the law. I am very hopeful that this battle will be won before I die.

Oh, and by the way, I thought the red symbol was nice but not quite fabulous enough for my taste, so I am using this one instead:

marriage


Related: Standing up for family values

 

Feeling disconnected

I read in the career advice columns that one must maintain an active social media presence in order to be considered legit these days; in fact, if you don’t have a profile on every site with multiple pictures of yourself, people are likely to suspect that you aren’t actually a real person (see: Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax). I’m a real person and I make a real effort to actively participate in all the several social media forums of which I am a member. But lately I feel as if I have become essentially invisible across the board, and it’s distressing me.

I’ve been on Facebook for coming up on two years, and I still have only 36 friends (if I could friend every person I’d like to, I’d still probably have fewer than 100, but most of the others are people who I wish were on FB but are not). Two of those friends are my own dogs. Of the rest, only about 8 ever comment on or like anything I post. Comments on my posts are rare, and tend to be back-and-forth between me and one other person when they happen at all. I have friends who can post something as profound and thrilling as “meh, it’s Tuesday” and get 20 comments from a dozen different people inside of an hour. I am on FB every day and I am a copious commenter and liker. My posts–from WordPress as well as status updates, shares and other links–go up day after day with no response other than an occasional like here and there. Half of my FB friends have little or no interaction with me on or off FB. Another 30% will respond to me if I comment on their posts, but we have no other interaction unless I initiate it.

I’ve been on LinkedIn for so long I can’t remember when I joined. I’ve received less than a handful of invitations to join other people’s networks; every other connection I have, I initiated. Nobody contacts me through that site. The few times I’ve tried to tap my network for small favors such as in introduction to a mutual link, I’ve gotten promptly shut down. I called one guy in my network, a web designer, before my website launched and offered to pay him $50 to sit down with me for 30 minutes to review my site and give me his professional opinion of it. He accepted my price with alacrity, but then declined to meet with me and asked me to email him what I had so that he could “get around to it” whenever he could find the time over the next week or two. We did not end up doing business together because he made it so clear that he didn’t have the time and/or didn’t want to.

I’ve been on Pinterest for several months, and I follow everyone whom I know either in real life or from FB. Not one person I know has ever liked, repinned or commented on anything I’ve pinned. The few interactions I’ve had on the site have been with strangers, and those have been all repins. If that’s a “social” media site, you sure couldn’t tell it by me.

I have a business page on FB for my photography business, and I’ve asked my FB friends and my blog readers to “Like” it because until it reaches 30 likes, FB doesn’t recognize Shaw Pro Photo as a legitimate employer or let me customize the company page (which is different from the business page). After four months, only 20 people have liked the business page.

This blog has 168 followers, which is actually a fine number for being online less than a year, and I am pleased and flattered that so many people are interested in reading what I have to say. But my spam comment count exceeds my legitimate comment count, and my daily viewership is routinely in the single digits. I do have a couple of regular commenters, whom I dearly appreciate, but I wonder where the rest of you are and if you’re even still reading this.

The numbers do not lie. I am a member of multiple social networks that are neither social nor networked, at least not for me. I’m starting to feel as if, except for those 8 FB friends and two WP bloggers who do respond to what I post and whom I appreciate deeply, I am wasting my time trying to maintain social connections with people who just can’t be bothered to reciprocate. Where is everybody? Why do people join social networks and then just disappear?

I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad and I’m not looking for sympathy or pity. I’m looking for interaction, for connection and for a sense of community among my peers. I want more social in my networks. As my sister likes to remind me, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” So here I am, asking, even though, frankly, I am afraid that this could blow up in my face because you might think I’m a crybaby/whiner/attention whore/drama queen for even bringing this up. What I think I am is somebody who tries really hard every day to reach out and stay connected to other people and who would really, really like it if those people reached back to me a little more often. As I’ve said before, I favor dialogue in all instances.

There. Now I’ve said it.

Responses? Anyone?


Related: Still not connecting.

And now that I’ve written about it twice, I will retire this blog topic.

 

Speaking up will cost you

unfriended

The fallout has begun from my post of early this morning, with one friend already blocking me on Facebook (which, frankly, I expected) and others sure to follow her out the door. This is the price one pays nowadays for speaking up forcefully about a controversial issue. People who don’t like the message just leave. No conversation, no discussion, no debate and no apologies, not so much as a comment on the post. Just gone.

I’ve spent most of my life keeping my opinions carefully modulated when expressed but largely unexpressed when it seemed they might offend. Apparently this has created some false relationships in my life with people who claim to like and respect me but quickly retract those feelings when my opinions don’t match theirs.

So be it. Here’s my stand:

I don’t believe in vigilante justice; I believe in the rule of law as the foundation of a civilized society. I am not willing to walk through my life fully prepared to kill anyone who threatens me. I don’t want to live in world filled with people who do because no good can come of it.

I have no apologies to offer for saying what I think in my own blog. But I am happy to have a conversation with anyone about anything.

Facebook by the numbers

Now and again, I like to get a bit wonky with the data, just for giggles, and today I’m looking at my Facebook friends list to see just how far my connections go.

FB says I have 38 friends, but two of those accounts are inactivated.

Friends: 36

Of those 36, two are my dogs (shh, don’t tell FB).

Human FB Friends: 34

Of those 34, I can say with certainty that four of them never log in and therefore aren’t going to be counted in this little survey.

Active Human FB Friends: 30

One of these friends does not allow her friends to see her friends list, so she can’t be counted, either.

Active Human FB Friends with Visible Friends Lists: 29

Okay, whether it’s 36 or only 29, that’s not very many. There are two reasons for this: 1) many people I know, like, interact with in real life and would like to be friends with on FB are not, in fact, on FB; and 2) with only two exceptions (who had people I do actually know vouch for them), I don’t friend anybody on FB whom I have not met in real life. That thins the ranks of my potential FB friends considerably. I have my standards, and I hope never to utter the phrase “hit me up on Facebook” to anybody I’ve only just met. I see no reason to share my online social life with people I would not feel comfortable inviting into my house in real life. Nonetheless, I consider my FB social life to be both active and fulfilling, with much regular and enjoyable interaction between me and about a dozen people.

Where the data crunching part come in is that I was interested to know how many other people I’m connected to through this highly select group of 29 Active Human FB Friends with Visible Friends Lists.

Total FB Friends of My Friends: 9,590

Nearly 10,000 people could potentially see something I post just in my tiny little circle!

Some other data points:
  • Average Number of Friends: ~320
  • Lowest Number of Friends: 23
  • Highest Number of Friends: 1,153

Interestingly (to me), one family group of only seven people–three sisters and four of their six children–account for nearly 5,000 of those friends-of-friends (their per-person friend average is just over 700). They are a very socially adept clan. Imagine the reach of their circles of friends. It just spirals outward around the world at frightening velocity. The numbers don’t lie. So when you think about “privacy” in the context of FB, you have to realize that there simply is none.

To see a rather sobering graphical depiction of FB’s reach, check out http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/. Click on the graphic to watch FB’s default settings of who can see your personal data expand from year to year. It’s really quite chilling.

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The image at the top of this post is from http://kiwicommons.com/index.php?p=9612&tag=facebook-is-bringing-us-closer-together

Still not connecting

I finally broke down at the mall yesterday and got myself a smart phone with a data plan. So now I have this blog along with email and Facebook and the entire internet in my pocket every minute of every day. Oh yeah, and I have a phone with reliable reception, too. I need never be out of touch with anyone ever again.

Operators are standing by …

Here’s the funny thing, though. My fully plugging into the modern communications grid is not going to change certain fundamental facts. My phone will not ring more often now. Viewership of this blog will not increase, and those who do visit will not post more comments. The email trickle will not become a deluge. My friends will not post more often on Facebook or respond to what I post there any more than they already do. I can now just be that much more aware that, in fact, nobody is going to be trying any harder than they currently are to get in touch with me.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I love to keep in touch. I used to write multi-page letters by hand, then by computer, now by email, to anyone who would send me a letter back. I used to send postcards when I went on vacation; now I post pictures on Facebook. I call my family a couple of times a week. I send birthday cards. I check my email first thing in the morning, last thing at night and all throughout the day. I am ready, willing and able to respond to nearly any communication salvo fired over my bow because that’s what I do: I communicate.

But with a few notable and much-appreciated exceptions, most of my friends and acquaintances do not return the sentiment, let alone the salvo. Emails, chat messages, wall postings and voicemails to them seem to disappear right into the ether. There are days when one feels both invisible and inaudible.

I’m looking forward to using my new phone to do cool things like scanning QR codes and navigating through traffic and posting pictures to Facebook as soon as I take them. So many fun and useful tools are now at my fingertips. But the one thing I most want my phone to do is keep me in touch with the people I care about.